Lib Dem loyalists are vanishing

As a result of last week’s tuition fees votes, some 28 Lib Dem MPs, very nearly half (49%) of the entire parliamentary party have now voted against their whip. And outside of government, the majority of Lib Dem backbenchers have rebelled. Indeed, there now remain very few Lib Dem backbenchers who have remained loyal to the Coalition. Just nine backbench Lib Dems have not voted against the whips in this Parliament. Of these, four – Lorely Burt, Simon Hughes, Tessa Munt and Stephen Williams – abstained on tuition fees. That leaves five Lib Dem MPs on the backbenches who have remained wholly loyal to the Coalition thus far. In addition to David Laws, they are Tom Brake, Malcolm Bruce, and Don Foster (all of whom voted in favour of raising the cap on tuition fees on Thursday) along with Sir Robert Smith (abroad on business at the time of the tuition fees vote).

Last week’s majority was smaller than we had been expecting, not least because the Conservative rebellion was somewhat larger than we had thought (and, unusually, seemed to grow as the vote got nearer). But it’s important to note that it was still a fairly comfortable 21. That is larger than Tony Blair managed over top-up fees (and with a Commons majority double what the coalition enjoys) or indeed larger than Gordon Brown managed on pre-trial detention. As Paul Goodman noted yesterday in a perceptive piece of writing, it is hard to see where the next tricky parliamentary vote for the Lib Dems is in the foreseeable future. Even harder to spot at the moment is the possibility of a vote that will manage to unite the Tory right and the Lib Dem left, the unholy alliance required to defeat the government.