How (not) to rebel
When the Spectator made me Backbencher of the Year for leading the rebellion against Margaret Thatcher’s flagship policy – the Poll Tax – you would have got long odds against me rejoining her government two years later, let alone later becoming government chief whip.
But it is possible to stick up for what you believe in and vote against your party, and also have a ministerial career.
Others better known than me have done so – though none have joined the government five times. Rebelling is not a painless option, and I would always advocate loyalty to the party – unless it means selling your soul to the devil.
So what is my advice if you simply can’t vote for a measure?
First, tell the whips why – and give them an opportunity to talk you round. Ask to see the minister if they don’t have the answers. Talk to colleagues who share your doubts, but plan to support the government.
Second, abstain rather than vote against, if your conscience can live with that.
Third, don’t become a serial rebel – there used to be a rule: “Don’t rebel on more than one issue, it confuses the whips.”
Fourth, explain to your local party Association what you are up to and why.
Fifth, where there are other government policies that you support, back them publicly.
Finally, when, having followed my advice, you become chief whip a little later, be tolerant of and patient with those who plan to vote against you. While I welcomed all those who loyally supported the government through thick and thin, I had quiet admiration for those who rebelled honourably.
But, please, don’t take it as far as Christian Wakeford and cross the floor.