Once upon a time, back when HE was Climate Change Secretary, Labour Leader Mr Potato Ed said it would be "profoundly irresponsible" to use one "mistake" as an excuse not to act.
Well, today we learn that he won't let THAT get in the way of EMBARRASSING the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Potato Ed is REFUSING to allow the Liberal Democrat Environment Secretary, Mr Chris Huhney-Monster, a "pair" for the Tuition Fees vote tomorrow. So Mr Huhney-Monster has a choice: come home from the VITAL Climate Change Summit in Cancun OR miss the vote and risk letting the Government LOSE!
This is a MASSIVE breach of protocol by Hard Labour and a really dirty trick by Mr Potato Ed.
"Pairing" is a LONG-STANDING arrangement between Government and Opposition Parties for two MPs, whose votes would otherwise cancel each other out, both to be absent. This allows Government ministers to get on with important business on behalf of the country and in return lets a Labour MP, er, get a night off*.
It's done by a formal agreement between the Whips Offices (which is just one of the reasons you can't "pair" with a rebel on your own side – never mind that if they're wound up enough TO rebel, they're hardly likely to agree to taking a stand by not being there!)
It's been used for TIGHT votes before to allow Hard Labour ministers attend important events such as – not un-coincidentally – the 2004 Higher Education Act (which you MAY recall was a bit of a tight pinch itself with seventy-one Labour rebels opposing, er, the Hard Labour Government manifesto-pledge tripling of tuition fees).
So, with the extra concessions we've won, how close IS the Tuition Fees vote?
Liberal Democrats plus Conservatories make three hundred and fifty-two of the six hundred and fifty MPs in the House of Commons. BUT the five Sinn Fein members do not take their seats, and Mr Speaker Cashcow and his three deputies do not vote either. And Hard Labour have, er, misplaced a seat because Mr Phil Woolas is a CONVICTED LIAR. So at full strength, the Liberal Democrat/Conservatory Coalition has an effective majority of EIGHTY-FOUR.
That means it needs forty-two rebels to bring the Government majority down to nothing.
There are eighteen Liberal Democrat Ministers, and Captain Clegg has announced that they will all vote FOR the Tuition Fees policy. (Or all bar one, if Mr Huhney-Monster can't make it!)
So even if ALL thirty-nine other Liberal Democrats rebel (and they aren't going to - scores on the doors from Mr Paul) PLUS the one or two Conservatory rebels vote against, that's only forty-ONE. And the Government gets a majority of TWO.
And Hard Labour themselves are ALL OVER THE PLACE on the issue of funding for higher education, with only today their Shadow Chancer being arm-twisted into performing a tarmac-melting hand-brake turn on the graduate tax, a policy that will – of course – just put the SAME burden of paying for their education on future graduates, which is why it's been referred to as "infinite tuition fees". So they will ONLY be opposing this rise in order to try and score a mythical point over the Government.
Climate Change is MORE important that Tuition Fees; even the CONSERVATORIES think so, even if Mr Potato Ed clearly doesn't. We can demonstrate we've NOT lost all our principles AND show contempt for Hard Labour's opportunism AND just squeak through!
So personally, I say Mr Huhney-Monster should skip the vote and DAMN THEIR EYES!**
*Yes, unfair. Once in a while even Mr Potato Ed must get an evening engagement too.
**Mr Blackadder says this, so it MUST by okay!