We’re just finishing off our end-of-session rebellions report, due out next week. We’ve discovered just 12 Coalition MPs who have become more rebellious, session-on-session, since 2010. Of these 12 MP, in six cases, their increasing rebelliousness is because of departure from government at some point. In other words, they were loyal because they were in government; they begin to rebel once they’ve returned to the backbenches.
This leaves just six, backbenchers throughout the parliament, and who have become more rebellious year-on-year. Five are Conservatives, all from the 2010 intake: Tracey Crouch, Charlotte Leslie, Philip Lee, Chris Pincher, and Mark Pawsey. The lone Lib Dem is Tim Farron.
We are just compiling our annual end-of-session report on backbench dissent, to be released (with luck) in time for the Queen’s Speech. Watch this space.
For the first two sessions of the Parliament the most rebellious Coalition MP was Philip Hollobone. For the session just ended, however, he has slipped into third place. The most rebellious Conservative MP in the last session was – drum roll – Philip Davies.
Mind you, it’s not as if all that much has changed: in every session since the Parliament began the most three rebellious MPs have been the unholy trinity of Hollobone, Nuttall and Davies, and that remains true.
To mark the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, the editors of Parliamentary Affairs have drawn together ten articles dealing with the European Parliament, published by the journal over the last fifty years, showing how debates about the institution have changed (or not) over the years. All papers are free to access in 2014. They are downloadable from here.
We’ve been coming to Westminster to interview MPs for more than 20 years, and lots has changed about the place in that time. But one of the most dramatic has been the effect of the building of Portcullis House – and in ways that were unforeseen at the time and seem to have gone without comment since.
What was meant to be an auxiliary building – housing Members offices, some committee rooms, and some refreshment facilities– has become centre of the parliamentary estate, shifting attention away from the old Palace. (This is at least true of the Commons; it may be less true of the Lords). There always used to be a jibe about how the Palace of Westminster would function better as a museum, to which the retort, from anyone who knew anything about it, was that it was a working building. Bits of it still are, but large parts of it – and certainly the public areas – are now largely deserted for much of the day, save for tourists and groups of school kids. This is most noticeable, if only because it used to be so damned busy, in the Central Lobby itself, now so quiet much of the time you half expect to see some tumbleweed roll across the floor. Instead, it is now the ground floor of Portcullis House where you see journalists circle looking for sources or where you see MPs meeting constituents and each other. Friends in the lobby tell us that the Members lobby is also now similarly a shadow of what it used to be. We shape our buildings, said Churchill, and afterwards our buildings shape us.
The best beard and eyebrows in the House of Commons are to retire. Sir Robert Rogers, the Clerk of the House, (and Chief Executive) is standing down. His letter to the Speaker is worth reading. In it, he notes that having served in the Commons for 42 years – over 11 parliaments – ‘I can truly say that the House now is a more effective scrutiniser of the executive, and more topical, relevant, and independent-minded, than I have ever known it’.
So much for the decline of the Commons.
The view in the government whips office will be: that could have been worse. Including tellers, we make it 33 Conservative rebels on the Reasoned Amendment and 27 on Second Reading. These two groups almost entirely overlap, but not entirely, so the total number of Tory rebels was 35. Given Labour support made the outcome of vote inevitable, and a cost-free rebellion for any Conservative MPs with doubts, the rebellions could easily have been larger. Plus, they’ll be pleased that only two MPs were rebelling for the first time – both ex-whips, Michael Fabricant and Sir John Randall (although this is, in part, a reflection of how many Conservative MPs have now rebelled and how few have what the whips office would see as unsullied voting records).
Still, add in those who were voting with the government with gritted teeth but who still have serious doubts and you get very close to the numbers required to derail the Bill if Labour withdraw support.
There were also a smaller number of Labour rebels, but no one out there cares about dissent by Opposition MPs.
Here, courtesy of Philip Cowley and Matthew Bailey (who have trawled through them, so you don’t have to), are another six of the best British political history clips from the recent mass release by Pathe – beginning with the 1965 Labour Party conference (‘Tony Greenwood’s an intellectual of the modern school’) and ending with Harold Wilson at the Cavern Club, which includes Jimmy Savile and Bessy Braddock in the same shot.
Labour Party Conference (‘Women And Men Make News’ (1965)
Sonic Bangs For Aviation Minister (1965)
Vic Feather New Tuc Leader
Outsize Fashions (1953)
Premier At The Cavern (1966)
Today sees the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, or HS2 as it’s more commonly known. A decent-sized, if not spectacular, Conservative rebellion is expected. Two things strike us as interesting about the HS2 revolt.
The first is that it is an example of MPs rebelling because of direct constituency interests. Such events are fairly rare. Most rebellions have little or nothing to do with an MP’s constituency per see, usually reflecting the MPs broader world view. But many (most?) of today’s Conservative rebels will have obvious constituency interests.
With Labour support, the Second Reading should pass safely – which itself means that no one is overly bothered about the scale of the Conservative rebellion. But we are reminded of the view of the Labour whips in the Brown government, when faced with the prospect of trying to privatise Royal Mail. Like Labour now, the Conservatives then had promised support. But the whips didn’t trust them. As one senior whip put it: ‘It’s like General Custer, with the Indian Scout telling us that there are just a handful of Indians in the valley, with their camp fires’.
The whips’ nightmare then was to proceed with the Bill, only for the Conservatives to withdraw their support, after which ‘We are stuck with a bill, when we don’t have a majority in either House’. It might be worth today’s government whips reflecting on what happened to General Custer.
The latest issue of Demos Quarterly has a piece of research looking at the localness of MPs. Defining localness in three different ways – place of birth, schooling, and residence – they find that some 63% of the MPs from the three main parties meet at least one of these criteria. There are party differences: 73% Labour MPs are local, as are 82% of Liberal Democrats but just 51% of Conservatives (though they note that the more recent Conservative intakes are much more local).
In this study of voters’ views (£, alas) – with polling done in 2009 – the average estimate for the proportion of MPs who come ‘from the area they represent’ was 31%, noticeably lower than the 63% Demos found in reality. These two figures aren’t perfectly comparable: living near a consistency now (one of the Demos criteria) might not be seen by a voter as someone coming from the area (plus the Demos study defines local as being within 20km of the constituency, and not all voters would agree), but the disparity is so great that it is probably safe to say that MPs are in fact more local than voters realise.
Missed this when it came out earlier in the month, but the April edition of Total Politics has an interview with Lib Dem Chief Whip Don Foster, which includes this insight into the way the role of the whips office has changed over time:
In the past, the so-called black arts, the revealing of personal secrets, denying office space, denying membership of the committee, denying chairmanship of the committee, all these levers that were part of the [whips’] bag of black arts: they don’t exist anymore.
Parliament has got sufficient office space for MPs, parliament itself decides its membership of committees, committees themselves decide the chairmanship of committees… so the power of the whips has been stripped away by quite rightly handing those powers back to parliament itself… So what you’ve got to do is to persuade people of the importance of collegiality.
But you’ve also got to make sure that you bring legislation before parliament that’s not going to cause great friction. The job of the whip, the whole whips’ operation, has changed dramatically in recent years.
The same interview also reveals that Bath ‘has the country’s most successful sex toy business’. You learn something new every day.