The Montgomerie view: some numbers

There’s an interesting piece in this morning’s Times (£) by Tim Montgomerie, putting the case for the Conservative backbench rebels: ‘The campaigns of the likes of Mr Halfon and Mark Reckless — against tax rises, against prisoner voting, against weak immigration controls — have pulled Parliament and party closer to the concerns of the British people’.  He also argues that it’s not really as if rebellion is all that widespread:

As Professor Philip Cowley, of Nottingham University, observes, the Government’s majority has been more than 50 in more than 90 per cent of all divisions. Few Tory MPs rebel regularly

Here’s the stats that support that claim:

This session, so far, has seen a coalition rebellion in the Commons in one third of divisions. Even the figure for Conservative MPs alone is 28%, one of the highest sessions in the post-war era, and the Parliament as a whole remains on course to be the most rebellious.  But that still means that a majority of divisions see no rebellion at all.

And even when MPs do break ranks, the numbers doing so are usually fairly small.  In all the divisions this session, the number of MPs voting against their whip has only hit 20+ on seven or more occasions. And the government’s majority has fallen below a still respectable 50 in just 8% of votes.  The equivalent figure for the last session was 9%, for the massive first session it was just 4%.

Such figures under-estimate the overall dissent on the backbenches both because they exclude abstentions (‘I am not voting for that!’ ‘Oh, well, perhaps you could stay in your constituency that day’) and because they excludes those important occasions when the government has allowed free votes, because it feared the scale of the opposition, but even so…

And whilst lots of MPs are now willing to rebel – almost 200 Coalition MPs have defied their whip to date, most of them Tories – most do not do so very often. Over 100 of those rebels have only voted against their whip on five or more occasions in almost four years.  Even the most rebellious, Philip Hollobone, still votes with his party far more often than he votes against it.  His 144 votes against the whip to date pale compared to the more than 1000 divisions to have taken place in the Commons since 2010.

Both views can be true.  In absolute terms, MPs do not still rebel very often.  But in relative terms – relative to how MPs used to behave – they are much more rebellious.