There have been thirteen separate rebellions by Coalition MPs since the start of the New Year – mostly, but not exclusively on the Tory side. They have occurred over a range of issues: Europe, fixed-term Parliaments (both Tory only), postal services (a mix of Lib Dem and Conservative dissent) and the Educational Maintenance Allowance (exclusively on the Lib Dem side).
The largest rebellion since Parliament returned from the Christmas recess occurred on 11 January, when 25 Conservative MPs supported Bill Cash’s amendment during the Committee stage of the European Union Bill reaffirming the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to EU law. Since then, there have been four more Tory rebellions on Europe, including a sizeable one this Tuesday when 20 Conservative MPs supported Peter Bone’s amendment calling for an binding in/out referendum on future membership of the European Union. The Coalition has now suffered eleven rebellions on the issue of Europe, involving a total of 54 Conservative MPs, 26 of them (very nearly half) drawn from the new intake, although the most persistent Euro rebels are generally the longer serving MPs.
As a result we’ve just witnessed the fifth consecutive month when the Coalition has experienced a rebellion rate of over 50%, something which, as we’ve noted before, is extraordinary.
Last night saw two further backbench rebellions by Coalition MPs on the issue of saving Britain’s forests from ‘nasty’ private companies. Four Liberal Democrat MPs – Tim Farron, Mike Hancock, Alan Reid and Adrian Sanders – supported a Labour Opposition Day motion criticising the Government’s plans to sell off Britain’s forests. They were joined by three other Lib Dems – Annette Brooke, Stephen Gilbert and Mark Williams – who cast deliberate abstentions by voting in both lobbies. Three Conservatives – the environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) and new MP Caroline Nokes – also rebelled against the Government.
In the second vote on the Government amendment, five Liberal Democrat MPs deliberately abstained by casting votes in both lobbies: Annette Brooke, Mike Crockart (who resigned from the Government over tuition fees in December), Mike Hancock, Alan Reid and Mark Williams. Only one Conservative – Dr Julian Lewis – cast a dissenting vote.
Although relatively small in size, last night’s rebellions mean that an important rebellions milestone has been passed. During the whole of the first Blair term from 1997 to 2001, there were a total of 96 rebellions by Labour MPs. In the first nine months of this Coalition, there have now been 97 rebellions. This first session has therefore been more rebellious than the entire first Blair Parliament.
We could also note another milestone in relation to the Liberal Democrats. Before Christmas, we predicted that the number of Liberal Democrat rebellions would exceed that of the whole of the last Parliament by the end of 2010 (that is, 39 from 2005 to 2010). It now stands at 44. Moreover, in the whole of the last Parliament, there were a total of 98 dissenting votes cast by Liberal Democrat MPs; in the nine short months of this Coalition, 144 rebellious votes have been cast by Lib Dem MPs.