Corbyn and the whip

Have just recorded a radio interview on Jeremy Corbyn’s voting record. It’s fairly easy to sum up: he’s has always been rebellious. In the first parliament that he entered, in 1983, he was the sixth most rebellious Labour MP. From then on, he was always in the top ten, and between 1997 and 2010 he was the most rebellious. Over those 13 years in government, he defied the whip 428 times.  In the last five years, he dropped into second place but only just, one vote behind John McDonnell.

I was asked if he’d rebelled against specific leaders or specific policies. In terms of leaders, that’s Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.  And over certain issues? I once asked him what issues he would rebel on, and he was very clear that he didn’t rebel willy-nilly, only doing so over issues of war and peace, liberty and social-economic policy. I pointed out that this covered everything the government could possibly do.

Of course, for his admirers, this is evidence of integrity, independence, and ideological purity. His critics, by contrast, will see it as disloyalty, egotism and grandstanding. You pays your money, you takes your choice. It is perhaps worth asking how anyone so happy to defy the whip can expect others to follow it under their leadership – and this was a problem IDS faced after he became Conservative leader in 2001. On the other hand, Neil Kinnock managed to transform from 1970s backbench rebel to a fairly top-down 1980s Labour leader without too much difficulty.

Philip Cowley