Category Archives: Briefing Papers

The coalition’s wobbly wings

For all that backbench behaviour has changed over the post-war era – with MPs becoming more rebellious, less willing to be lobby fodder – there has been one constant: rebellion has always remained the exception, cohesion the norm. Whilst the exact rate of rebellion has varied from year to year and parliament to parliament, the majority of divisions (votes) in the Commons have seen complete unity amongst Government backbenchers.

Yet so far this Parliament the opposite has been true: rebellion has become the norm, cohesion the exception. Out of the first 110 divisions in the Commons since Parliament resumed, there have been rebellions by government MPs in 59. That is a rate of rebellion of 54%, simply without parallel in the post-war era. This briefing note (pdf, 128k) explains the composition of those rebellions and puts them into some historical context.

UPDATE: Covered well in The Guardian, FT, New Statesman and Telegraph, plus Lib Dem Voice and the Western Mail.

A very loyal opposition

One nugget that we spotted, when going through our end-of-session calculations last year, was the extent to which the Conservative frontbench voted against a mere four bills at Second or Third Reading in the last session — just 15% of government legislation. This is part of a parliament-on-parliament decline since 1997. We provide the details in this very short briefing note (pdf).

The note’s been written up in today’s Times. The Conservative explanation is that this is all Gordon Brown’s fault: “He wants to manoeuvre us into a position where we are seen to be voting against motherhood and apple pie. So rather than vote against the Bill as a whole we try to change it later. There is a lot in the Equality Bill that we did not like at all, but they would have loved it had we been put in a position where we were opposing equality. Brown has also been trying to get us to oppose the 50p tax rate. But we won’t play his game.”

We think there’s something in this. But, as our note shows, the decline began before Gordon Brown became Prime Minister: the Conservatives opposed just 21 and 22 percent of legislation in the 2005 and 2006 sessions of this parliament, when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. So there’s also something else going on.

Record breaking rebels

Here’s our latest set of scores-on-the-doors, based on figures up to the end of the fourth session of this parliament, and as reported this morning by the Telegraph.

The headlines:

* Labour MPs defied their whips on 74 occasions, a rebellion in 30 percent of divisions, exactly the same as the preceding session’s figure.

* The Parliament as a whole is currently averaging a rate of 27 percent, on course to become the most rebellious in the post-war era. The current record is 21 percent, set by the 2001 Parliament.

* In absolute terms, that record has already been achieved; the 2005 Parliament has already seen more revolts against the whip by members of the governing party than any other post-war parliament.

* A total of 102 Labour MPs voted against their whips during the session; the total number of Labour rebels under Brown now stands at 137.

* Rebellion remains concentrated amongst a small group of Labour MPs. The top ten rebels in the 2008-09 session accounted for marginally under half (46%) of the total rebellious votes cast; the top 20 rebels accounted for exactly two-thirds (66%) of the total.

* John McDonnell took the top spot as the most rebellious Labour MP in the fourth session, clocking up 46 dissenting votes.

* He was closely followed by Jeremy Corbyn on 45. Corbyn’s total number of votes against the whip for the Brown administration alone has now passed the 100 mark, with more than 400 in total since 1997.

* The government suffered two defeats during the session as a result of its backbenchers defying the whip – on Gurkhas and Parliamentary Standards.

And one fact not in the paper: The Parliament as a whole has now seen six defeats, caused by backbench dissent, on whipped votes. No Parliament with a majority of over 60 has seen this many defeats in the post-war era.

Scores on the doors

As normal at this time of year, as we get yet another Queen’s speech, we have compiled our end-of-session report on the behaviour of the PLP in the preceding year. It contains a mixture of good and bad news for the whips. Here are some of the scores on the doors:

• Gordon Brown’s first complete parliamentary session as Prime Minister, saw Labour MPs defy their whips on 103 occasions. That compares to 96 occasions in Tony Blair’s whole first Parliament.
• A total of 103 was also greater than the number of rebellions in a single session by members of the governing party during any session for over 30 years.
• As a percentage of divisions, this constituted a Labour rebellion in 30%, ranking fourth during the 60-plus sessions since 1945.
• The rate of rebellion for the Parliament as a whole is greater than one rebellion in every four divisions – meaning it remains on course to see the highest rate of rebellion of the post-war era.
• The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty accounted for more than a quarter of the rebellious votes cast during the session.
• As usual, the good news for the whips was that most of the rebellions to take place during the session were not large: the mean was almost exactly eight, the median was just four, and almost three-quarters of the revolts consisted of fewer than ten Labour MPs.
• The largest, on 4 November 2008, during a debate on the Employment Bill; saw 45 Labour MPs vote against their whips. Every session since 1997 had seen at least one rebellion of a larger size by Labour MPs against their whips.
• A total of 104 Labour MPs voted against their whips during the session, and a total of 107 have already voted against their whips during Gordon Brown’s Premiership.
• Of the 50 most rebellious Labour MPs to vote against the whips during the Blair premiership, all but two have now rebelled under Gordon Brown’s leadership.
• The top 20 rebels accounted for 58% of the total rebellious votes cast.
• The most rebellious Labour MP was (yet again) Jeremy Corbyn.

The full report contains even more fun – along with full lists of every rebellion, and data on every Labour MP to defy the whip since 2005. What more can you possibly want?

UPDATE: Covered here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The past is another country…

After weeks of mind-blowing dullness, the only interesting vote of the entire Lisbon ratification is approaching. Most focus will be on whether the Government will be able to defeat calls for a referendum (answer:yes), whether they would still have won had the Lib Dems voted for a referendum instead of officially abstaining (answer: probably yes, although it might be a close run thing), along with discussion of the size of any splits within the various parliamentary parties (we expect to see proportionally larger splits within the Lib Dems than within Labour, which in turn will be larger than among the Conservatives).

There is, however, one other interesting angle to take, which is to compare the
stances taken by particular individuals in 1993 with those they will take in 2008. That’s what we do, in this short briefing paper (pdf, 35k). There could be up to 70 Conservative MPs voting for a position this week which is exactly the opposite of that they took on the Maastricht treaty.

A long way from equidistance?

We have been publishing regular updates on the Lib Dems voting for several years now, and have tracked a remarkable change in the party’s behaviour. Having previously been more likely to vote with the Government than against it at the beginning of the Blair Premiership, leading to accusations that the party was in bed with the government, the Lib Dems then transformed into a bona fide party of Opposition.

Evidence from the most recent sessions – available from this short briefing paper (pdf, 68k) – reveals that that transformation has continued apace. The session saw hostility to Labour at a new high, with the party voting with Labour in just 12% of divisions, and with the Conservatives in 71% of votes. The figures for the votes on the principle of government legislation were even more dramatic, with the Lib Dems supporting just one piece of Government legislation at Second or Third Reading (voting for the Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Bill), voting against the principle of the government’s legislation in 94% of the relevant votes.

We don’t draw conclusions as to what’s driving this transformation. We posted a very short version of the findings at Lib Dem voice this morning, and lots of Lib Dems (as well as being very defensive about the findings) are convinced that it’s not them that’s changed, but Labour. Maybe. But whatever the cause, the effect it pretty dramatic.

56 and counting

There were a total of four Labour revolts over the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on 9 January, as well as splits within both the other two main parties. The Labour revolts involved a total of 44 rebels, of whom 32 were voting against the Brown government for the first time. We now make it 56 Labour MPs who have voted against the whip since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. This short briefing paper (pdf, 40k) lists the rebels.

Dave’s Dissidents

To mark the second anniversary of David Cameron’s leadership tomorrow, we’ve produced a short briefing paper, giving an analysis of the voting of his MPs over the last two years.

None of the overall figures for rebellion are especially worrying for the Conservative whips. Conservatives are currently rebelling less often than Labour MPs and in smaller numbers; although a slightly larger proportion of Conservative parliamentarians has rebelled compared to Labour, few of these have cast more than a handful of dissenting votes, and even the most rebellious would find himself high up the PLP’s league table of troublemakers.

But there have been some striking divisions on free votes, and we find that more than half of the 2005 intake have rebelled already.

There’s also some interesting stats on the stance of the Conservative frontbench – they allow nearly four-fifths of Government legislation through on-the-nod, without a vote at second or third reading. In this parliament, they’ve contested the principle of just 21% of government bills.

This is significantly down on the 32% average for the whole of the 2001 Parliament, which was itself down on the 41% in the 1997 Parliament. This downward trend began before David Cameron took office, but it has become much more noticeable under his leadership.

End of session scores on the doors

As another parliamentary session gets underway, here (pdf, 278k) is our briefing note on the one that’s just finished, listing every Labour rebellion.

After the record-breaking events of the first session of the 2005 Parliament, the second session could seem like a bit of a let-down. From a rebellion in 28 percent of divisions – which was a post-war record for the first session of a parliament – the rate of rebellion fell in 2006-7 to 20 percent. And after the four Commons defeats in 2005-6 – also a post-war record for a government with a majority of more than 60 – the 2006-7 session saw normal service resumed, with the Government winning every whipped vote.

Yet the 2006-7 session still saw a Government backbench rebellion in one in five divisions, the fourth highest rate in the New Labour era (behind 2005-06, 2004-05 and 2001-02) and the seventh highest since 1979. The rate of rebellion for the Parliament as a whole remains one rebellion in every four divisions, which means the Parliament is still on course to see the highest rate of rebellion of the post-war era. The session saw 122 Labour MPs defy their whip (marginally up on the 114 in the preceding session), and the revolts over the renewal of Trident produced the largest rebellion ever by Labour MPs over their own government’s defence policy. The 2006-07 session may have seen Labour dissent fall back slightly, but it did not see it vanish.

120? We can find about 40…

Given the depth and breadth of dissent by backbench Labour MPs during the last ten years, and especially given the problems the issue has caused for previous Labour leaders, it is something of a surprise to discover that the issue of Europe did not produce any large-scale Labour rebellions during the Blair era. At least on the Labour benches, Europe has been very much the dog that didn’t bark.

Now, however, there is talk of a possible significant Labour revolt on the subject. The Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson is claiming to have the support of more than 120 fellow Labour MPs in calling for a referendum on the latest European Treaty. This short briefing paper looks at the rebellions over the last decade, along with the identity of the rebels, and considers the possibility of Prime Minister Brown encountering a large backbench revolt over the European treaty.

Its conclusion is simple: if Ian Davidson has secured 120 MPs prepared to defy their whips, then he must have secured the backing of an awful lot of Labour backbenchers who have previously not expressed any misgivings about the issue of Europe.