One of the problems with division lists in the House of Commons is that there’s no abstention option. Absence may be sanctioned by the whips, it may be accidental, or it may be an act of defiance. This makes it very difficult to systematically identify deliberate abstentions. One useful tip is to look for consecutive divisions: MPs who are absent in one vote but present in the next are usually abstaining.
Which makes Michael Howard’s absence from the vote on Jon Trickett’s amendment on Wednesday night rather intriguing. Howard was certainly present for the next vote – on the substantive motion – where he voted for renewal, in line with the Conservative three-line whip. Perhaps he was just late arriving at Westminster and happened to miss the first vote? A former Tory leader surely can’t have doubts about Britain’s nuclear deterrent? He can’t have been defying David Cameron’s leadership, can he? Someone please tell us there’s an innocent explanation for this!
UPDATE: We’ve been told we should change the headline to “Michael Howard gets stuck in traffic shocker”. (Things are explained here). It’s a relief, frankly. Life is complicated enough without people like Michael Howard starting to have doubts about nuclear deterrents.