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Nadine, Nadine, Nadine

As Mike Reid used to say in EastEnders (well, sort of), whilst shaking his head in sorrow: ‘Nadine, Nadine, Nadine’.

In a Commons with so many MPs who would in general be willing to support some form of restrictions on abortion, it takes a special sort of genius to go down to defeat by a factor of more than three to one. But that was the fate of Nadine Dorries’ Report Stage amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, which was heavily defeated yesterday by 368 votes to 118. An analysis of the voting can be found over at the University of Nottingham School of Politics blog, Ballots and Bullets.

First day back, more rebellions

On their first day back after the summer recess, all three main political parties experienced small rebellions during the Report stage of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill. The legislation replaces the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which introduced controversial control orders for terrorist suspects who could not be extradited from the UK on human rights grounds.

Two long-standing Labour opponents of stringent anti-terrorists measures – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – opposed a new clause in the name of Hazel Blears that would have retained the Home Secretary’s power in the 2005 Act to direct a terrorist suspect to reside at a specific address that was not his or her home address. Later on, while Corbyn and McDonnell opposed a Labour amendment ensuring proper resources for the new legislation, two Liberal Democrat grandees – Sir Alan Beith and Sir Menzies Campbell – supported the move. Lastly, Tory backbencher David Davis, probably the most well-known opponent of anti-terrorist measures, voted against the Bill’s Third Reading.

The whips need a holiday

As MPs head off on their summer holidays, one group that will need them more than most will be the government whips. Our figures for the session to date show that there have been a total of 147 separate backbench revolts by government MPs since the 2010 election. That is more than in any single session since the end of the Second World War, and this session is not over yet. Indeed, those 147 rebellions constitute, in less than one session, more than in any entire Parliament from 1945 to 1970

The Conservative whips will note with concern that of their 86 rebels, a majority have now come from the 2010 intake.

Enjoy the summer break; we suspect there’s a lot more trouble waiting when Parliament resumes.

Then, now

There’s an otherwise interesting article on the funding of UK higher education in the latest Economist, marred by the curious claim that ‘Tony Blair’s efforts to increase tuition fees were more contentious in Parliament than his decision to wage war on Iraq’.

As any fule kno – at least if they’ve read this book – the Higher Education Bill of 2004 was certainly difficult for the whips; some 72 Labour MPs voted against its Second Reading.

But the largest Iraq rebellion saw 139 Labour MPs vote against their Government. This was – and remains – the largest rebellion against the party whip of MPs of any party, on any issue, since the revolts over the abolition of the corn laws in the 1840s. The difference was that Conservative opposition to the Higher Education Bill made the outcome of the vote doubtful whereas Conservative support over Iraq guaranteed a government victory. The passage of top up fees was therefore less certain. But there can be no doubt which was the more contentious.

For those who think rebellious behaviour is all a thing of the past, up-to-date stats on the current batch are now online from the University of Nottingham’s blog. There have not yet been any rebellions of a comparable size to those in 2003 and 2004, but the frequency of rebellion is currently much higher.

Localism rebellions

Not content with pronouncing AV dead for years to come following the decisive ‘no’ in the AV referendum, some members of the Tory right have made a point of flexing their muscles over their continued support for First-Past-the-Post. On Tuesday, during the Report stage of the Localism Bill, 21 Tory MPs supported an amendment in the name of newbie MP John Stevenson, which aimed to change the electoral system for electing mayors from the supplementary vote to FPTP. Fourteen out of the 21 rebels were drawn from the new intake, while four Conservative MPs were voting against the Government for the first time: Steve Brine, Nadine Dorries, John Stevenson and Craig Whittaker.

The Labour frontbench line was to abstain, but four traditionally-minded Labour MPs – Ronnie Campbell, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Dennis Skinner – voted for the amendment, while former Local Government minister, Nick Raynsford voted against.

In addition, over the last two days, the Localism Bill has provoked five relatively minor Liberal Democrat rebellions, involving a total of six MPs. On Tuesday, four Liberal Democrats supported opposed a Government new clause relating to planning permission. Later that same evening, four Liberal Democrats supported a Labour frontbench new clause which aimed to introduce a retail diversity scheme. They were joined by Tory maverick, Zac Goldsmith, who is into such things.

Our running total: 94 Tory rebellions so far this Parliament. We will probably get to 100 before the summer recess, even with the longish Whitsun break about to start on 24 May. It’s times like this, we’re glad we’re not whips.

Not a clean bill of health

Yesterday saw a Labour Opposition Day debate on the future of the NHS – at the end of which no Liberal Democrat MP voted in support of the Labour motion.

But dig a little deeper, and you can see signs of the Lib Dem doubts about the government’s policy for the NHS. Andrew George, who abstained on the Second Reading of the Health Bill on 31 January, cast a deliberate abstention last night by voting in both lobbies. And there is also a question mark over the large number of missing Liberal Democrat MPs. Dr John Pugh, a long-term critic of the Bill, spoke in the preceding debate against the legislation, but was then nowhere to be seen in either division lobby.

In total, there were 23 missing Lib Dems last night, of whom four were members of the Government (including the Deputy Prime Minister). So that leaves 19 missing Lib Dem backbenchers. We doubt all 19 had been given the night off.

And contrast last night’s limp turnout of 33 Members with the 48 Lib Dem MPs who enthusiastically voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Health Bill on 31 January. The two votes aren’t directly comparable but mustering fewer than six in ten of your parliamentary party in support of a key plank of Coalition policy hardly represents a full bill of health.

Newbies cause trouble

Today’s Independent on Sunday has a piece on the high rates of rebellion amongst newly elected MPs. It draws on this piece, ‘Pity Poor Patrick‘, on the Nottingham University Ballots and Bullets blog, which points out that those elected for the first time in 2010 are already more likely to have rebelled than those elected for the first time in 1997 did in the entire four years of that Parliament.

Lib Dem loyalists shrink yet further

On the face of it, last night’s small rebellion during the Budget resolutions against the extra charge being placed on North Sea oil companies is just a local rebellion for local people.

Four Labour MPs and two Liberal Democrats took part. Three out of the four Labour MPs represented constituencies in Scotland closely connected with the oil industry: Anne Begg (Aberdeen South); Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and Falkirk East), whose constituency is home to the huge Grangemouth oil refinery; Frank Doran (Aberdeen North); plus the former Labour Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks. Both Liberal Democrat rebels also hailed from the North East of Scotland: Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) and Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine).

At one level, last night’s vote is a good example of a constituency-related rebellion, something that used to be very rare, but is becoming slightly less so as MPs increasingly put constituency loyalty before party loyalty.

But there are some Westminster ramifications. Both Liberal Democrat rebels were casting their first dissenting votes against the Coalition. Last night’s rebellion clocked up the 50th Liberal Democrat rebellion of this Parliament (and a later dissenting vote last night – by Greg Mulholland against rates of alcohol duty – brought up the 51st rebellion).

In December last year, we pointed to the fact that Liberal Democrat loyalists were vanishing at a rapid rate. Back then, only nine backbench Lib Dems MPs (those not members of the Government) had not rebelled. They included four MPs – Lorely Burt, Simon Hughes, Tessa Munt and Stephen Williams – who abstained over tuition fees. That just left five wholly loyal backbench Lib Dems: former minister, David Laws; Tom Brake; Don Foster; Malcolm Bruce and Sir Robert Smith. Since then, Foster has rebelled, as now have Bruce and Smith, leaving just two loyal Lib Dem backbenchers: David Laws and Tom Brake, and one of those is widely expected to re-enter government shortly.

With carnage predicted in both the devolved and local elections in May, the tension between the Lib Dem front and backbenches can only come under even greater strain.

15, 15, 15

Last night saw 15 Conservative MPs vote against a draft European Council decision to amend Article 136 of the Lisbon Treaty, allowing the Euro countries to establish a stability mechanism. (They were joined by six Euro-sceptic Labour MPs).

Nothing remarkable in that, you might say, but this was the 15th Tory rebellion on Europe since the Coalition was formed in May last year. No fewer than 60 Conservative MPs have now voted against their party line on Europe. They include 28 new MPs.

Moreover, when Tory MPs rebel over Europe, they do so in decent numbers. The average Tory rebellion since May 2005 has involved just 7 MPs; the average Tory Euro rebellion sees 15 MPs break ranks.

Iraq v Libya. There’s only one way to find out…

Eight years ago, in March 2003, some 139 government MPs voted against the decision to invade Iraq, along with dozens of abstentions. It was the largest backbench rebellion on any issue, by any party, since modern British party politics began. Last night, just one government MP voted against military action against Libya, along with a handful of abstentions. The government won by 557 votes to 13, a whopping majority of 544.

There are multiple reasons that explain why one vote saw such a large revolt, the other so small. They are discussed here, at Nottingham University’s Ballots and Bullets blog.

UPDATE: More on Conservative military manoeuvres here. Guess what military escapade provoked the last Conservative rebellion before Iraq?