Save Jeremy Hunt: Tory MP quits Mauritius honeymoon to vote
David Cameron wants all hands on deck after Nick Clegg told Lib Dems to abstain in vote on Hunt's conduct
CONSERVATIVE backbencher Justin Tomlinson has been ordered to return from his honeymoon in the Indian Ocean paradise of Mauritius to vote for David Cameron this afternoon in a Commons debate over his decision to 'clear' Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.
Cameron needs all the help he can get to defeat Labour today after Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, ordered his 57 Lib Dem MPs to abstain in a Commons vote. There is little chance that the Tories will be defeated, but Cameron clearly does not trust the Lib Dems and fears they could still vote with Labour to inflict an embarrassing Commons defeat on the Tories.
The Lib Dems are furious over Cameron's refusal to allow an inquiry into allegations that Hunt breached the ministerial code by privately encouraging Murdoch's proposed takeover of BSkyB when he was supposed to be adjudicating as a neutral over whether the bid should be referred to the Competition Commission.
Louise Mensch, the Tory MP who has become a leading Cameron cheerleader (give her a job, Dave), downplayed the rift on the BBC Today programme this morning saying: "The Lib Dems are just being silly."
Housing minister Grant Shapps, invited on the show to talk about bricks and mortar, was left floundering, saying the split in the Coalition was a "reminder that the two parties came together in the national interest to deal with huge debt problems..." Cue belly laughs in the Labour headquarters.
In fact, the issue has become toxic for the Coalition, and is now threatening far greater damage.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is delighted that the trap he set by tabling today's Commons motion worked a treat. It has put increased strain on the Coalition and will help to convince more Lib Dems that after the next election, they should dump Cameron's Tories for Labour, if there is a hung Parliament.
Clegg will further distance himself from Cameron this morning by telling the Leveson inquiry that he believes Cameron and Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair got too close to the Murdoch empire. (Clegg's hands are clean, because until the 2010 election, the Lib Dems were regarded as a fringe group by Murdoch).
Meanwhile, while Clegg is otherwise engaged with Lord Leveson at the Courts of Justice in the Strand, Cameron will be facing an embarrassing session of Prime Minister's Question Time. If Ed Miliband cannot land some punches today on Cameron, he should give up.
Lib Dem MPs are saying the real issue in today's vote is Cameron's judgement. Clegg tried in vain for weeks to persuade Cameron to refer Hunt to Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on the ministerial code, after it was revealed Hunt had sent chummy emails and text messages to Murdoch's pushy European lobbyist, Fred Michel.
Instead, Cameron brushed Clegg aside and 'cleared' Hunt within minutes of the Culture Secretary appearing at the Leveson inquiry. To make matters worse, Cameron did not even bother to consult Clegg before doing so.
Cameron's high-handed approach to the Lib Dem leader infuriated Lib Dem MPs. That is why they banged their desks in jubilation when Clegg told them at a packed party meeting in Committee Room 11 last night they would be abstaining in today's vote.
In fact, Clegg knew there would be a split in his own ranks if he did not order his MPs to abstain. A number of Lib Dem MPs warned him that they would rebel and vote with Labour if they were whipped to vote with the Tories. Some of them are still so angry with Cameron they could still join Ed Miliband in the division lobbies.
The Liberal Democrats have broken ranks with the Tories only once before - on a motion condemning David Cameron's use of the veto at the EU summit in December.
Labour's motion says Hunt should be investigated over allegations he breached the ministerial code by failing to give "accurate and truthful information to Parliament" over his contacts with News Corp during the bid process and by failing to "take responsibility" for his special adviser Adam Smith. But the real target is Cameron, and his woeful judgement.