Europe. The deficit. Syria. The nuclear deterrent. The big divisive issues of the age. Well this week we can add little old Sunday trading to that list as dozens of Tory MPs joined with a united Opposition to defeat the Government’s plans to pass decision-making power on the issue to local authorities.
Sunday trading has an unusual ability to unite the Labour left who want to preserve workers time-off with traditionalist Conservatives who want to protect Sunday’s for family time and the Church. And that unlikely coalition was comfortably enough to inflict the most significant defeat on the Government since they were elected last May.
Without question, this is another blow for George Osborne’s leadership ambitions. He has personally championed this reform, and the fact that large numbers of Conservatives preferred to go into the lobby with Jeremy Corbyn and Alec Salmond rather than their own Chancellor testifies to just how strongly certain elements of the Party wish to resist his efforts to ascend to the Premiership.
But of course no-one who knows their history would have been surprised by this week’s events. In the entire 20th Century the first time a majority Government lost a 2nd Reading in the Commons was when scores of Tory rebels overturned Margaret Thatcher’s whopping 144 majority to defeat the 1986 Shops Bill which aimed to deregulate Sunday opening hours.
Cameron and Osborne adore Lady Thatcher. But did they study her enough?