Two welcome things emerged from yesterday's Heathrow debate.
Firstly, Tory Transport spokesman Theresa Villiers admitted that there was, after all, a case for the expansion of airport capacity in the South East. Previously she had denied any need whatsoever.
Secondly, the fact that there were no Tory rebels at all demonstrated a first class whipping operation was in place. Even though I find myself on the other side of the argument, I can see that from a party discipline viewpoint, it was a job well done. If in government there is a small majority, this sort of iron discipline will have to be imposed with some degree of regularity.
I've asked myself several times over the last 24 hours what I would have done if I had had to vote last night. To have been the only Tory rebel would have required balls of steel. And it would have been a very lonely and isolated position. It's interesting to talk to people about their logic for rebelling against the party whip. Some will only ever do it on matters of conscience, some believe it is wrong to rebel on an issue which was in a party's manifesto and others believe you should judge each issue on its merits giving only a passing concern to what the whips say.
MPs have to recognise that they are elected under their party banner rather than because of their wonderful individual qualities. Therefore, they do owe a duty to their respective whips and the party's policy platform. But equally, they are elected as representatives rather than delegates, so they also have a duty both to represent the views of their constituents but also their own consciences.
The other balance to get right is the frequency of rebelling. If you become seen as a serious rebel you then get tagged as a 'maverick'. Mavericks can get a lot of media publicity, but their influence wanes with every rebellion. The Labour benches have about 20 MPs who can be expected to rebel on any given issue. We all know who they are. But they have virtually no impact with government ministers - the very people they are supposed to want to influence.
I am sure this will provoke comments from purists who feel that MPs should only ever vote the way they feel they ought to. Oh if only life were that simple. We don't live in a word of idealism. We live in a world of 'realpolitik' and those politicians who achieve things in their careers on behalf of their constituents and the country are those who recognise that.