Some Conservatives describe it as almost a revolution on the quiet, one for which there are, so far, few consequences: an outbreak of Tory MPs who are not voting against the government, but simply not voting at all.
Monday evening’s vote on controversial changes to the way people will have to pay for social care costs passed by just 26, a third of the government’s working majority of 77.
While 19 Tories rebelled, 67 recorded no vote.
Many of these were absent for good reasons – the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, was in Dubai – but Conservative whips estimate that up to 30 did so without permission. [Ed: Is that really how a democracy should function?]
“You could say that absenteeism is my silent protest,” said one senior Tory backbencher. “Maybe I’m getting old and cynical, but you can see these unforced errors coming, and while I don’t want to vote with Labour, I also don’t want to have to be led up a hill and then down again when we U-turn.”
Backbenchers say some Conservative MPs have effectively started to “self-slip”, a reference to the “slip” system where whips give MPs permission to miss a vote, whether as part of a pair with the opposition member or not.
Discipline had descended to the point that in the social care vote one Tory had been seen going into the voting lobbies, talking to whips, and then walking out after failing to be convinced of the government’s case.
“The concern is we do all these things and then U-turn, so you might as well not bother voting,” the MP said. “And I think we’ll see a lot more. As far as I’m aware, most of those who don’t vote aren’t being dragged in front of the chief whip.”