Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour whip

There is a long, and interesting, profile piece on Jeremy Corbyn in the latest New Yorker. It contains the claim that he voted against the whip on 428 occasions during Labour’s time in power.

This is a different figure from the one most often cited, of ‘more than 500 times’.

But it’s the right one.

How do I know? Because I calculated it for the author of the New Yorker piece, Sam Knight.

The problem with the figures usually cited for Corbyn’s voting are that they are derived from the (excellent) online vote aggregators, like The Public Whip. These are really impressive tools – which I use regularly – but they suffer from two flaws when it comes to calculating rebellions:

First, they count as rebellions votes where the MP is in a minority of their parliamentary group, but which were in fact free votes (this explains how, for example, Tony Blair is recorded as rebelling when in government). This has the effect of inflating the total number of rebellions.

Second, they exclude those occasions (rare in government, but more frequent in opposition), where a party’s line is to abstain but where a group of refusniks insist on voting. On such occasions the voting MPs appear cohesive, and so such occasions are not spotted as a rebellion. This has the effect of reducing the total number of rebellions.

So, at Sam’s request, I went back through Corbyn’s career, including the period before that covered by the data aggregators, focussing just on rebellions against the whip.

The total number of votes cast by Jeremy against the whip, from 1983 onwards is 617.

These are made up as follows:

1983: 19 – which made him the 8th most rebellious Labour MP

1987: 36 – 7th most rebellious Labour MP

1992: 72 – 3rd most rebellious Labour MP

1997: 64 – the most rebellious Labour MP

2001: 148 – the most rebellious Labour MP

2005: 216 – the most rebellious Labour MP

2010: 62 – 3rd most rebellious Labour MP

In other words, whilst Labour was in government, Corbyn was consistently the most rebellious Labour MP, rebelling a total of 428 times. In opposition, he was a little less rebellious, in both absolute and relative terms, but still consistently in the top 10 most rebellious Labour MPs.

Philip Cowley