Most new governments enjoy a relatively peaceful time with their backbenchers when first in power. And at first sight, this appears to have been true of the new Brown government. The first month of Gordon Brown’s premiership produced a handful of small backbench rebellions in the House of Commons, but none were especially large or worrying.
Yet when compared to other post-war Prime Ministers, it is noticeable how many rebellions Brown suffered in his first month, how large they were, how quickly they occurred, and how many MPs they involved. In all of these four areas, the Brown Government has already set post-war records for backbench dissent.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 45k) gives the scores on the doors.
In all the discussion of Gordon Brown’s offer of government positions to Lib Dems, no one’s pointed out just how hostile the Lib Dems have been to the Government recently.
We have been publishing regular updates on the Lib Dems voting for several years now, and a remarkable change has come over the party. Having previously been more likely to vote with the Government than against it at the beginning of the Blair Premiership, the Lib Dems have now long been transformed into a bona fide party of Opposition. Our summary of the 2001 Parliament is here (pdf, 93k).
Our briefing note (pdf, 53k) on the last complete session, 2005-2006, shows that that transformation has continued. The Lib Dems voted with Labour in just 21% of whipped votes and against them in the remaining 79%. They are hardly ready coalition material at the moment.
The first ever backbench rebellion against a Labour government took place over defence policy. The Rev Herbert Dunnico, the then Labour MP for Consett, voted against the government’s programme of light cruiser construction – the Trident of 1924.
Here, in anticipation of Wednesday’s vote, is a short briefing paper (pdf, 71k) analysing the current rebellion. It discusses the scale of the likely rebellion facing the Government and explains some of the background. It also identifies a list of likely rebels and gives some simple historical comparisons.
Amongst other things, we point out that if – as we all expect – Wednesday’s vote is only carried thanks to support from the Opposition, it will then mean that the Prime Minister has enacted his key foreign policy decision (Iraq, in 2003) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition; he has enacted a key plank of his third term domestic agenda (schools reform, in 2006) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition; and he will have enacted his key defence policy decision (Trident, 2007) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition. This, despite enjoying comfortable to landslide majorities for his entire time in office.
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: This is the way to do it! Note the copious references to the source…
Wednesday 28 February saw the largest Labour backbench rebellion so far this session when 51 Labour backbenchers (including tellers) voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Neil Gerrard during the Report stage of the Offender Management Bill. This short briefing paper (pdf, 44k) examines the rebels – and the pattern of rebellion that enabled the government to survive rebellions involving more than 50 of its MPs.
For the record, there have now been 19 Labour rebellions so far this session, averaging just nine MPs per rebellion, a figure likely to be boosted by the impending Trident rebellion on 14 March. More on that later…
As promised (threatened?), here’s our end of session report (pdf, 1M) for the first session. The story’s pretty straight-forward:
• 95 rebellions in total, involving 114 Labour MPs
• More rebellions as a % of votes than in any other first session since the war
• More defeats than any government with a majority of 60+ has managed in one session since the war
• 89% of the rebels have ‘form’ – including all of the most rebellious 56 from the last parliament
• Leadership candidate John McDonnell is the most rebellious Labour MP, just nudging out Jeremy Corbyn
Also: one stat that’s not in the report, but which will be of interest given the nature of the Queen’s Speech – 54% of all the rebellions were on Home Office matters, including all four defeats. Trouble ahead, wethinks.
UPDATE: The Independent have done a good piece on the paper, linking it to the upcoming Anti-Terror legislation, as have the Guardian. The Independent’s diary has also picked up on our earlier work on the new 2005 Tory intake and their propensity to defy the whip. They quote Philip Davies as saying “David is relaxed about us having different views on certain issues.” We bet that such a relaxed line doesn’t last very long in government…
UPDATE 2: Ex-whip Tom Watson is not approving of the behaviour of his would be leader.
UPDATE 3: Turns out our paper got quite wide coverage. Not all of it is in online places, but those that are include Ben Bogan’s blog, The Daily Telegraph, the politics.co.uk website, Bill Jones’s website, and the Islamic Republic News Agency.
The high profile vote on Iraq on 31 October obscured another interesting division which took place on the same day. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries introduced a ten-minute rule bill that, among other things, would have reduced the time limit for legal termination of pregnancy from 24 to 21 weeks. Her bill failed by 108 votes to 187. The subject of abortion used to be a perennial topic of debate and vote within the Commons – there were, for example, 15 attempts to reform the abortion law between 1969 and 1987 – although the topic has somewhat faded from the political radar in recent years, since the last reform in 1990. Dorries’ bill stood no realistic chance of success – even if she had won the October vote, the bill would not have reached the statute book, such is the ease with which controversial private members’ bills can be blocked – but it was perhaps a sign that the issue is about to return to the political agenda.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 42k) looks at the voting patterns displayed in the vote, and at the way men and women MPs behaved.
One of the standard rules of parliamentary reform is that there is an inverse relationship between the importance of any reform and the amount of media coverage it attracts. The decision to allow MPs to make a point of order during a division without wearing a hat attracted considerable media coverage; the introduction of automatic programming of legislation – which has had real consequences for the scrutiny of bills – came into being without almost any external discussion. So it was on 1 November 2006, when MPs voted on a series of reforms to the legislative process and to members’ allowances. Many of the changes were passed without any discussion (or even mention) at all outside the House, including the wider use of the Special Standing Committee procedure for the consideration of Government bills, a reform which could do more to improve the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of bills than any other reform in the last twenty years.
Several of the changes – including the wider use of SSCs – passed without a vote. But in addition, MPs divided on four other issues, summarised in this short briefing paper (pdf, 44k).
In April, we produced a conference paper, summarises and discussing the rebellions seen so far in Labour’s third term for the annual PSA conference. We’ve just updated it, for the biannual Conference of Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Scholars, which took place last weekend, and it’s available from here (pdf, 170k), and summarises the state of play by the summer recess.
The headline figures have not changed much. We are currently seeing a Labour rebellion in 27% of votes, higher than in any other first session since 1945, and higher than in 1992-3, when the Maastricht rebellions were causing John Major such headaches, when rebellions were running at 23%. The 80 separate backbench revolts, have involved 112 Labour MPs, nearly all of whom had rebelled against the Government before: the correlation between the number of votes cast against the whip in the last parliament and now is currently running at 0.91. Whatever else is going on, it is not an uprising of virgins.
Very belatedly, as a result of masses of essay and exam marking, here (pdf, 36k) is our briefing paper on the final day that the Education and Inspections Bill spent in Report and Third Reading. Perhaps the most useful part of the paper is that it lists all of those to vote against any part of the Bill.
One of the oddities it notes (and which was pointed out to us by an observant reader of this site) is that one of the rebels at the bill’s Third Reading was Ian Stewart. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s rebelled (he did so on three occasions during the 1997 Parliament) and therefore this might not be all that shocking – except that he was (and appears to still be) the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary.
The scale of backbench dissent experienced over the last few years has forced the Government to relax the conventions of collective responsibility as they apply to PPSs somewhat – beginning with Iraq, where PPSs who failed to back the Government were not immediately dismissed as would have been normal, through to the recent pronouncements of both Ashok Kumar (on the leadership) and Stephen Pound (on Prescott) – but if Stewart’s vote is genuine, and not simply a Hansard mistake, then it will be a qualitative step up in what is considered acceptable. The idea that a senior minister’s own PPS could vote against one of that minister’s key bills and yet remain in post would be a novel constitutional development if it turns out that this is what has happened.
It’s possible it’s just a Hansard mistake – these things have been known – but so far we’ve seen no correction.
UPDATE: We’ve just spotted a small mistake in the paper, and which alters the figures for the numbers of each party who voted on Third Reading. We’ve changed the paper accordingly, but it doesn’t alter the basic facts: the Bill did not require the support of the Conservatives, but it did require support from Opposition MPs (Conservatives AND the DUP).
UPDATE 2: We’ve also been told that Ian Stewart did in fact resign immediately before the vote, in order to vote against the Bill. Note that Jacqui Smith’s PPS, Martin Salter, did the same in the run up to Second Reading. To lose one PPS from the department might be considered a misfortune…
The first day of the Education and Inspections Bill’s Report Stage only saw one revolt – but what a whopper! This short briefing paper (pdf, 43k) examines the rebels. Of the 69, only one was defying his whip for the first time.
A reminder: the comparisons for tonight’s Third Reading vote are:
* if it consists of more than 30 Labour MPs voting against their whip, it will be the largest third-reading revolt since Blair came to power, beating the numbers involved in the rebellion at the third reading of the prevention of terrorism bill in February 2005;
* more than 37 MPs, and it will be the largest since Labour first entered government in 1924; and
* if it consists of more than 41, it will also be larger than the Conservative rebellion against the third reading of the Maastricht bill, on May 20 1993.
Third Reading won’t see as large a rebellion as yesterday’s — they never are – but the chances of a record-breaker still seem high.