Despite ministerial resignations, we’re not yet all that excited about Wednesday’s vote on Trident. There seem to us to be two certainties which mean it’s less exciting than it might otherwise be: a) the government are going to win; and b) the government are going to win because they enjoy the support of the Opposition. We can’t see any chance of the rebellion being small enough to get this through without requiring Conservative support – and so there’s no will-they, won’t-they element. They won’t.
So all the attention is on the size of any Labour rebellion – and whether it’ll be a record breaker. The five issues to have provoked the biggest rebellions under Blair to date are:
Iraq (2003): 139
Higher Education Bill (2004): 72
Education and Inspections Bill (2006): 69
Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill (1999): 67
Health and Social Care Bill (2003): 65
All figures are for cross votes and ignore abstentions.
It might therefore be possible for this to be the largest domestic rebellion endured by Blair (if you want to class Trident as domestic), but there’s no indication that it’s going to break the 139 MPs who defied the whip over Iraq. A figure of 70 would make it the largest rebellion this parliament – topping the 69 who rebelled over the Education and Inspections Bill.
Another (higher) benchmark is with the revolt in 1977, which is the largest rebellion in government by Labour MPs on the issue of defence: then, 79 Labour MPs supported an amendment calling for a reduction in arms spending. Wednesday at least has the potential to top this, although we’re a bit sceptical.
Apart from anything else, we’re expecting lots of abstentions, which could lower any headline figure. The other complicating factor is the fact that there are two votes – the Trickett amendment arguing for delay and the substantive motion. If we were whips (which thank the Lord, we’re not sir), we’d be trying to divide the rebels, getting some of them to back one rebellion but abstain on the other. Two rebellions of 60ish will be less damaging than one of 80.