Speaking at the Whitchurch Branch of the North West Hants Conservatives, Sir George put the events of the past week at Westminster into context.
"There are good reasons for any Government wanting to avoid a defeat on the floor of House. Such a defeat is a public statement that the Government cannot get its policy through the House, and such a statement is particularly damaging only six months after a General Election. And this was not a minor defeat on an amendment to a Bill – this was a significant policy area in which the Prime Minister had invested some political capital. And such a defeat, as we have seen, calls into question the continuing authority of the PM.
Second, a defeat on the floor of the House crystallises divisions within a party and makes it more difficult to heal them thereafter. The names are indelibly written in the records of Hansard.
I know that a government will do all it can to avoid a defeat.
Sometimes you have no option but to go ahead with a measure – if the Government has signed a Treaty which requires ratification, you have to go ahead. If there is a clear manifesto commitment, you have to go ahead.
But on Wednesday, there was no such issue. It was an unnecessary defeat; the case for 90 days was weakly presented and the tactics were clumsy.
What went wrong? The Prime Minister wanted the security services to have more time than 14 days in which a suspect could be held. He could have got more than 28 if he had played his cards differently.
The Home Secretary had all the right instincts, but was overruled. After the PLP meeting on Monday, when hardly anyone spoke against 90 days, the PM assumed he could get it through. But the rebels were either not at the meeting or they were silent. And the PM sssumed, wrongly, that the Tories would crumble.
On Wednesday, the Whips knew they would lose but, by then, the PM was boxed in. When he said he would rather lose and be right than win and be wrong, he sounded like Michael Foot. Indeed it was a defiance of the Prime Minister's instincts ever since he became Leader, namely to do what is necessary to win.
This was a damaging and unnecessary defeat which has re-opened old wounds and caused fresh divisions."
Sir George said that, under one scenario, the Prime Minister's agenda for radical public sector reform would only get through with Conservative support. "That will bring back for Labour uncomfortable memories of Ramsay Macdonald."
At the supper, it was announced that Bill Judge would contest Whitchurch in the forthcoming Borough Council Elections.