• 20 OCT 2011
By Nick Wood | Mail Online
David Cameron's apparent decision to whip Conservative MPs in next week's vote on whether we should have a referendum on our membership of the European Union is to be welcomed. Why?
Because it will sort the men from the boys. Because it will give us the first clear idea of the scale of the Eurosceptic lobby on the Tory benches and the depth of such opinions.
Nearly 20 years ago, I was one of the political correspondents who tracked the progress of the Maastricht Bill which turned the European Community into the European Union and turbo-charged the drive for a fully fledged United States of Europe.
That Bill took a year to go through the Commons with John Major's Government hanging by a thread almost every week as a determined band of Tory rebels defied the whips and repeatedly voted against the PM.
The hard core of that grouping numbered about 25 MPs, but there were at least another 50-75 sympathisers who hated the federalising treaty and only voted for the Government out of loyalty or because they were manipulated by the threats, blackmail or inducements dished out by the whips.
Iain Duncan Smith, then a new MP, was one of the rebels. His threat was pretty straight-forward. Defy the Government and you will never get promotion to even the most junior ministerial post.
IDS told them to get lost - and wound up leader of the party. Proof, if it is needed, that the menaces and blandishments of one regime tend to die with that regime.
But the Maastricht votes served a purpose. They concentrated the minds of MPs and gave the country a clear idea of who stood where in the great European debate.
Next week's vote will serve a similar purpose. There has been much speculation of late about the scale of the Eurosceptic movement in Parliament.
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