At the end of yesterday’s backbench business debate, John Baron, who had put down a motion opposing the use of force against Iran, confessed that he knew he would prove to be ‘in a very small minority’. So it proved. When the House divided, Baron was joined by just one other Conservative, Steve Baker, as well three Labour MPs – Paul Flynn, John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner – along with two Plaid and one SDLP MPs a total of just eight MPs, and that’s including tellers.
In a thinly attended House and on a one-line whip, 285 MPs supported an amendment put down by the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, supporting Coalition policy and calling on ‘all options for addressing the issue [to] remain on the table’, including the use of force.
In this, there’s not much surprise. Europe aside, foreign policy issues have only caused tiny levels of dissent in the three main political parties since 2010 (and, on the Conservative side of the House before that too). In September 2010, just three Coalition MPs (one of whom was John Baron) along with 11 Labour MPs opposed the continued deployment of British troops in Afghanistan. In March 2011, Baron was the only Conservative MP to join 11 Labour MPs in opposing British military action in Libya.
For us, though, the most interesting aspect of the debate was that Speaker Bercow accepted an amendment to a Backbench Business Committee motion. He’s done this before, but he rules out Government MPs putting down amendments during backbench time. Sir Malcolm is no Government stooge, however, and so Bercow readily accepted his amendment.21 February 2012.
There’s an interesting piece in the Spectator by James Forsyth on the reassertion of parliament: an institution in decline has, since the election, begun to reassert itself, as a result of the ‘creative destruction’ caused by the expenses scandal and the massive turnover of MPs. The evidence of this revival – ‘what one might term a new golden age’ – is the flexing of muscles by select committee, specifically over phone hacking, and the backbench motions on the EU and prisoners voting. He also quotes some data on the very high rate of rebellion by Conservative MPs (wonder where they came from?).
We’re sceptical about almost all golden ages, especially when it comes to Parliament. But there’s no doubt that Parliament is enjoying a bit of a resurgence, though we’d quibble over the causes and over the time period. For one thing, this didn’t start in 2010. The Lords has been without a majority since reform in 1999, and was a growing source of frustration to Labour ministers up until 2010. Ditto the assertiveness of backbenchers and the growing importance of select committees. Easiest way to remember this: this Parliament is on course to be the most rebellious since the war. But before the most rebellious was the 2005 Parliament, and before that the 2001 Parliament. For sure, there has been an increase in assertiveness since 2010, but it is merely the latest stage in the growing independence of the British MP.
Also, left out of the Forsyth account entirely is the effect of Speaker Bercow. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea (especially not that of Spectator readers?), but his effect on the Commons has been positive and profound. Two of the three cases that Forsyth uses as examples of backbench influence – the debate on prisoners having the vote and the EU referendum vote – are a result of the new procedures initiated before the last election (again, therefore, not caused by it) and the establishment of a backbench business committee. But they achieved as much as they did partly as a result of the Speaker not allowing the government to move amendments to motions from the backbench business committee. Had he allowed that, it would have neutered them almost completely. Ditto for his allowing of repeated Urgent Questions, which has done much to refocus attention onto the chamber.
And last, one small point. It might well be true to say that Ed Miliband thought that by putting down a motion over Stephen Hester’s bonus he would split the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives and thus win a vote. But if true, it is a sign that Mr Miliband cannot add up. Because whilst no one party has a majority large enough to secure a majority, the Coalition collectively has a majority large enough to withstand a rebellion by every single one of the Lib Dem backbench MPs. That motion achieved what it did because of the embarrassment value of debating the issue in the Commons, not because there was any chance of a Commons defeat.10 February 2012.
Last Wednesday (1 February), Liberal Democrat MPs were involved in ten separate backbench rebellions: four minor ones on mayoral referendums, and six more significant ones on the Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.
Speculation was rife in the run-up to the voting that Nick Clegg would suffer a bloody nose at the hands of discontented Lib Dems. However, both whips and ministers got to work, offering loads of concessions, chipping away at the rebellions: those in receipt of Employment Support Allowances (but not Disability Living Allowance) would be exempt from the new £26,000 benefit cap; the grace period was extended to nine months for claimants who had been in work for the previous twelve months, eating up half a Labour amendment in one go; and £130m in transitional support was put on the table for the next two years to smooth in the changes.
In addition, there was what looked to us like evidence of divide-and-rule tactics, whips acquiescing on some rebellions in return for MPs’ support on other aspects of the bill. The end result was that the expected large Lib Dem rebellions fizzled out somewhat. Indeed, only where the Government chose not to make concessions did a reasonably large rebellion occur, 12 Lib Dems objecting to the new under-occupancy penalty on social housing tenants with no more than one spare bedroom. But that aside, the other five rebellions saw 8, 6, 4, 1, and 4 Lib Dem MPs vote against their whip.
And on the key amendment that had caused all the fuss in the Lords – blocking cuts to benefits received by children on the lower rate of Disability Living Allowance – not a single Liberal Democrat backbencher defied the Government.
The real significance of Wednesday’s rebellions is that we’ve now had over 100 Lib rebellions so far this Parliament (104 to be exact), which means that just over one quarter of divisions (26%) have seen Lib Dem MPs break ranks. Of these 104 rebellions, around six in ten (61%) have been on social and economic issues associated with the need to cut public expenditure. It's a clear example of the divide within the coalition's backbenchers: with a handful of exceptions, most Conservative MPs have been perfectly happy to see these cuts go ahead.6 February 2012.
Since the advent of automatic programming – timetabling, in other words – of most Government bills, the opportunity for miscreant backbench MPs to engage in old-fashioned filibustering has become much less frequent. But it’s not gone away entirely.
Most of the members of the self-styled awkward squad of the 1997 Parliament have now left the Commons, but Christopher Chope remains and he has been joined by a new generation, some of whom explicitly claim the late Eric Forth, the most awkward of the awkward, as their inspiration. Together they did their best to hold up the passage of the Daylight Saving Bill on Friday (a Private Members’ Bill) and the London Local Authorities Bill (a piece of private legislation) on Wednesday, neither of which are subject to the normal rules of programming.
Last Friday, for example, Chope spoke for an hour and-a-quarter during the Report stage of the Daylight Saving Bill, before a closure motion (requiring 100 MPs to be present to ensure that the relevant amendment is voted upon) stopped him in his tracks. Not to be outdone, Jacob Rees-Mogg picked up the baton, with a speech that included remarks such as: ‘China is very big. It must be acknowledged that the United States is also quite big, though not as big as China.’ At one point, he even quoted the book of Joshua:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the people avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hastened not to go down about a whole day.
Even Daylight Saving doesn’t keep the sun up for a whole day.
Before Rees-Mogg could go much further, he too was cut short by a closure motion, but thanks to the Awkward Squad’s antics, the Bill ran out of time.
Then, on Wednesday, they reassembled. Philip Davies spoke for 94 minutes during the Report stage of the London Local Authorities Bill, this time on the subject of litter control notices. Thanks to the verbal dexterity of Davies, the debate meandered into the use of turnstiles in public toilets. A closure motion again stopped him, but ‘flushed with success’ (Anne Main’s dreadful pun, not ours), Jacob Rees-Mogg quotations from the Magna Carta succeeded in talking out the time allocated to the Bill.
They are scheduled to resume their filibustering on the London Local Authorities Bill on Tuesday. Eric Forth would be proud of them, one and all.27 January 2012.
As of 8 November, we now make it 69 of the new Tory intake who have rebelled. That's some 47% of the 2010 intake, or 54% of those left of the backbenches once you strip out those newbies who are now PPSs.
They also make up the majority of the Conservative rebels. We have had 116 Conservative rebels so far, so 59% (very nearly six in ten) are drawn from the ranks of those who came in in May 2010.
Here's a trick we don't think we've seen before. Another big Conservative backbench rebellion on increasing the EU Budget was avoided yesterday when the Government simply disagreed with the relevant EU Documents.
European 'take note' motions can be a pain - it was on a take note motion that John Major suffered one of his Commons defeats - but the Government appear to have decided that they can 'take note' of the motion whilst also disagreeing with it. The text of yesterday's motion describes the Commision's spending plans as 'unacceptable' and 'unrealistic', as well as 'too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK', and says the proposed changes to fund the EU budget are 'completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction'. And then takes note of them!
The full text:
That this House takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 12478/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, 12474/11, 12480/11, 12483/11, 12475/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, and 12484/11, relating to the Commission’s proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2014-20; agrees with the Government, that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for very substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth, that the next MFF must see significant improvements in the financial management of EU resources by the Commission and by Member States and in the value for money of spend and that the proposed changes to the UK abatement and new taxes to fund the EU budget are completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction from the pressing issues that the EU needs to address; and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget".
Maybe this has been done before, but we can't remember it. Anyway, it's a neat trick to swerve what otherwise could have been a messy vote.9 November 2011.
We’ve published thoughts on last night’s vote at the Nottingham University Ballots and Bullets blog – along with an analysis of the Conservative rebels. We were struck there by the relationship between past rebelliousness over Europe and behavior last night.
That relationship held just as strongly on the Labour side. Sixteen of the 19 Labour rebels had previous form on Europe during this Parliament. Indeed, the top 13 Labour EU rebels so far this Parliament all defied the party whip by supporting the referendum: Skinner, Dennis (11 European rebellions before Monday); Hopkins, Kelvin (8); Hoey, Kate (7); Corbyn, Jeremy (6);Davidson, Ian (6); Campbell, Ronnie (5); McDonnell, John (5) Cryer, John (5); Field, Frank (3); Mitchell, Austin (3); Stringer, Graham (3); Stuart, Gisela (3); Wood, Mike (3).
Compare that to the 19 least rebellious on the issue, from whom just three rebelled over the referendum: Godsiff, Roger (1); Cooper, Rosie (1); McCabe, Steve (1).
The three others not on that list are Jon Cruddas (pro-European, but someone who supported a referendum on Europe in March 2008), Natascha Engel (the new chair of the Backbench Business Committee, on whose watch last night's vote was taken) and Andrew Smith, a former member of Gordon Brown's notoriously sceptical Treasury team in the 1990s.
So in general – as we’ve noted before – past behaviour explains current behaviour. If you’ve ever wanted to know why whips try so hard to stop people rebelling for the first time, and getting into the habit, this is why…25 October 2011.
Edward Leigh’s amendment to a Government programme motion for the Protection of Freedoms Bill on 10 October triggered the largest Conservative rebellion of the Parliament thus far. It saw 41 Conservative MPs (together with two Liberal Democrat and eight Labour MPs) support his move to allow time to debate the abolition of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which would have removed all references to offences based on insulting words or behaviour. (One Labour MP – Paul Flynn – voted no as the Labour frontbench abstained).
As well as the largest rebellion so far this Parliament, it also significantly expanded the pool of Conservative rebels to 99. The new rebels were Peter Aldous, Alun Cairns, Tracey Crouch, Ben Gummer, Simon Hart, Greg Knight, Jeremy Lefroy, Laura Sandys, Nicholas Soames, Robert Walter and James Wharton. All except Knight, Soames and Walter come from the new intake.
Eight new MPs breaking their duck just before Monday’s vote on a referendum on EU membership could not have come at a worse time for the whips; having rebelled now, rebellion then won’t be such a big deal. There is more analysis of Monday's vote at Nottingham University's Ballots and Bullets blog.20 October 2011.
The last two days have seen three Liberal Democrat rebellions on the Coalition's troubled Health and Social Care Bill, involving a total of eleven Lib Dem MPs. Yesterday, ten Lib Dem MPs backed a Labour amendment that would have ensured that the Secretary of State would be responsible for the provision of health services. The amendment was defeated by 304 votes to 255, but the rebellion had the effect of reducing the Coalition's majority to 49.
Four Liberal Democrat MPs went on to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill, while Stephen Gilbert cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The previous day three Lib Dem MPs backed a Labour amendment in the name of Emily Thornberry that would have deleted Clause 168 of the Bill, which abolishes the cap on the number of private patients who can be treated in foundation trust hospitals. The Coalition's considerable concessions in the last few months have helped to buy off many but by no means all the Lib Dem rebels.
These latest examples of Liberal Democrat dissent have helped bring up another Coalition milestone: the number of Coalition Commons rebellions so far this Parliament now stands at 150, a rebellion rate of a rebellion in 44% of votes. Sixty-six of these rebellions have involved Liberal Democrat MPs, a rate of a rebellion in 19% of votes.
As Mike Reid used to say in EastEnders (well, sort of), whilst shaking his head in sorrow: ‘Nadine, Nadine, Nadine’.
In a Commons with so many MPs who would in general be willing to support some form of restrictions on abortion, it takes a special sort of genius to go down to defeat by a factor of more than three to one. But that was the fate of Nadine Dorries’ Report Stage amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, which was heavily defeated yesterday by 368 votes to 118. An analysis of the voting can be found over at the University of Nottingham School of Politics blog, Ballots and Bullets.
On their first day back after the summer recess, all three main political parties experienced small rebellions during the Report stage of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill. The legislation replaces the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which introduced controversial control orders for terrorist suspects who could not be extradited from the UK on human rights grounds.
Two long-standing Labour opponents of stringent anti-terrorists measures - Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell - opposed a new clause in the name of Hazel Blears that would have retained the Home Secretary's power in the 2005 Act to direct a terrorist suspect to reside at a specific address that was not his or her home address. Later on, while Corbyn and McDonnell opposed a Labour amendment ensuring proper resources for the new legislation, two Liberal Democrat grandees - Sir Alan Beith and Sir Menzies Campbell - supported the move. Lastly, Tory backbencher David Davis, probably the most well-known opponent of anti-terrorist measures, voted against the Bill's Third Reading.7 September 2011.
As MPs head off on their summer holidays, one group that will need them more than most will be the government whips. Our figures for the session to date show that there have been a total of 147 separate backbench revolts by government MPs since the 2010 election. That is more than in any single session since the end of the Second World War, and this session is not over yet. Indeed, those 147 rebellions constitute, in less than one session, more than in any entire Parliament from 1945 to 1970
The Conservative whips will note with concern that of their 86 rebels, a majority have now come from the 2010 intake.
Enjoy the summer break; we suspect there's a lot more trouble waiting when Parliament resumes.28 July 2011.
There's an otherwise interesting article on the funding of UK higher education in the latest Economist, marred by the curious claim that ‘Tony Blair’s efforts to increase tuition fees were more contentious in Parliament than his decision to wage war on Iraq’.
As any fule kno - at least if they've read this book - the Higher Education Bill of 2004 was certainly difficult for the whips; some 72 Labour MPs voted against its Second Reading.
But the largest Iraq rebellion saw 139 Labour MPs vote against their Government. This was – and remains – the largest rebellion against the party whip of MPs of any party, on any issue, since the revolts over the abolition of the corn laws in the 1840s. The difference was that Conservative opposition to the Higher Education Bill made the outcome of the vote doubtful whereas Conservative support over Iraq guaranteed a government victory. The passage of top up fees was therefore less certain. But there can be no doubt which was the more contentious.
For those who think rebellious behaviour is all a thing of the past, up-to-date stats on the current batch are now online from the University of Nottingham's blog. There have not yet been any rebellions of a comparable size to those in 2003 and 2004, but the frequency of rebellion is currently much higher.5 July 2011.
Not content with pronouncing AV dead for years to come following the decisive 'no' in the AV referendum, some members of the Tory right have made a point of flexing their muscles over their continued support for First-Past-the-Post. On Tuesday, during the Report stage of the Localism Bill, 21 Tory MPs supported an amendment in the name of newbie MP John Stevenson, which aimed to change the electoral system for electing mayors from the supplementary vote to FPTP. Fourteen out of the 21 rebels were drawn from the new intake, while four Conservative MPs were voting against the Government for the first time: Steve Brine, Nadine Dorries, John Stevenson and Craig Whittaker.
The Labour frontbench line was to abstain, but four traditionally-minded Labour MPs - Ronnie Campbell, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Dennis Skinner - voted for the amendment, while former Local Government minister, Nick Raynsford voted against.
In addition, over the last two days, the Localism Bill has provoked five relatively minor Liberal Democrat rebellions, involving a total of six MPs. On Tuesday, four Liberal Democrats supported opposed a Government new clause relating to planning permission. Later that same evening, four Liberal Democrats supported a Labour frontbench new clause which aimed to introduce a retail diversity scheme. They were joined by Tory maverick, Zac Goldsmith, who is into such things.
Our running total: 94 Tory rebellions so far this Parliament. We will probably get to 100 before the summer recess, even with the longish Whitsun break about to start on 24 May. It's times like this, we're glad we're not whips.
Yesterday saw a Labour Opposition Day debate on the future of the NHS - at the end of which no Liberal Democrat MP voted in support of the Labour motion.
But dig a little deeper, and you can see signs of the Lib Dem doubts about the government's policy for the NHS. Andrew George, who abstained on the Second Reading of the Health Bill on 31 January, cast a deliberate abstention last night by voting in both lobbies. And there is also a question mark over the large number of missing Liberal Democrat MPs. Dr John Pugh, a long-term critic of the Bill, spoke in the preceding debate against the legislation, but was then nowhere to be seen in either division lobby.
In total, there were 23 missing Lib Dems last night, of whom four were members of the Government (including the Deputy Prime Minister). So that leaves 19 missing Lib Dem backbenchers. We doubt all 19 had been given the night off.
And contrast last night's limp turnout of 33 Members with the 48 Lib Dem MPs who enthusiastically voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Health Bill on 31 January. The two votes aren't directly comparable but mustering fewer than six in ten of your parliamentary party in support of a key plank of Coalition policy hardly represents a full bill of health.10 May 2011.
Today's Independent on Sunday has a piece on the high rates of rebellion amongst newly elected MPs. It draws on this piece, 'Pity Poor Patrick', on the Nottingham University Ballots and Bullets blog, which points out that those elected for the first time in 2010 are already more likely to have rebelled than those elected for the first time in 1997 did in the entire four years of that Parliament.17 April 2011.
On the face of it, last night's small rebellion during the Budget resolutions against the extra charge being placed on North Sea oil companies is just a local rebellion for local people.
Four Labour MPs and two Liberal Democrats took part. Three out of the four Labour MPs represented constituencies in Scotland closely connected with the oil industry: Anne Begg (Aberdeen South); Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and Falkirk East), whose constituency is home to the huge Grangemouth oil refinery; Frank Doran (Aberdeen North); plus the former Labour Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks. Both Liberal Democrat rebels also hailed from the North East of Scotland: Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) and Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine).
At one level, last night's vote is a good example of a constituency-related rebellion, something that used to be very rare, but is becoming slightly less so as MPs increasingly put constituency loyalty before party loyalty.
But there are some Westminster ramifications. Both Liberal Democrat rebels were casting their first dissenting votes against the Coalition. Last night's rebellion clocked up the 50th Liberal Democrat rebellion of this Parliament (and a later dissenting vote last night - by Greg Mulholland against rates of alcohol duty - brought up the 51st rebellion).
In December last year, we pointed to the fact that Liberal Democrat loyalists were vanishing at a rapid rate. Back then, only nine backbench Lib Dems MPs (those not members of the Government) had not rebelled. They included four MPs - Lorely Burt, Simon Hughes, Tessa Munt and Stephen Williams - who abstained over tuition fees. That just left five wholly loyal backbench Lib Dems: former minister, David Laws; Tom Brake; Don Foster; Malcolm Bruce and Sir Robert Smith. Since then, Foster has rebelled, as now have Bruce and Smith, leaving just two loyal Lib Dem backbenchers: David Laws and Tom Brake, and one of those is widely expected to re-enter government shortly.
With carnage predicted in both the devolved and local elections in May, the tension between the Lib Dem front and backbenches can only come under even greater strain.30 March 2011.
Last night saw 15 Conservative MPs vote against a draft European Council decision to amend Article 136 of the Lisbon Treaty, allowing the Euro countries to establish a stability mechanism. (They were joined by six Euro-sceptic Labour MPs).
Nothing remarkable in that, you might say, but this was the 15th Tory rebellion on Europe since the Coalition was formed in May last year. No fewer than 60 Conservative MPs have now voted against their party line on Europe. They include 28 new MPs.
Moreover, when Tory MPs rebel over Europe, they do so in decent numbers. The average Tory rebellion since May 2005 has involved just 7 MPs; the average Tory Euro rebellion sees 15 MPs break ranks.24 March 2011.
Eight years ago, in March 2003, some 139 government MPs voted against the decision to invade Iraq, along with dozens of abstentions. It was the largest backbench rebellion on any issue, by any party, since modern British party politics began. Last night, just one government MP voted against military action against Libya, along with a handful of abstentions. The government won by 557 votes to 13, a whopping majority of 544.
UPDATE: More on Conservative military manoeuvres here. Guess what military escapade provoked the last Conservative rebellion before Iraq?22 March 2011.
Things have been unusually quiet on the rebellions front in the last ten days or so. Normally, we would have salivated at the prospect of a Commons debate on control orders. Yet last Wednesday the Government's line that it was revising the legislation was sufficient to prevent any rebellion on the issue. There wasn't even a division.
Similarly, yesterday (Tuesday), we were all geared up for another round of Tory rebellions on the remaining stages of the European Union Bill. When Conservative backbencher, James Clappison moved a new clause that would have ensured the fullest possible publication of information when the Government's view was defeated in the formation of a new treaty, we thought, here we go again... But then Clappison withdrew his amendment. There wasn't even a Tory rebellion on Third Reading. What was Bill Cash thinking?
Instead, all we've had to content ourselves with this week was a lone Tory rebellion by Scottish-born Eleanor Laing during the passage of the Scotland Bill (yawn). She wanted to ensure that election counts were held overnight, now that the Scottish Parliament is going to be given most of the power over the administration of elections.
And that was it in terms of rebellions. All quiet... but don't expect it to last. The Fixed Term Parliaments Bill still has to return from the House of Lords, and so does the Public Bodies Bill, which has already been chewed apart by their Lordships. There's trouble ahead.9 March 2011.
Perhaps it's just us, but we think that the fact that the PLP has changed its Standing Orders - and in a way that will make it easier for the Chief Whip to slap the wrists (or worse) of MPs not seen as pulling their weight - is worthy of comment. Especially as targetting the slackers will, in some cases, be a very good way of getting at the rebellious.
Yet when the PLP adopted its new Standing Orders a couple of weeks ago, it seems to have gone without note. A brief analysis of some of the key changes to the Code of Conduct is now here, at the new University of Nottingham blog.
The mammoth Labour rebellions over Iraq, foundation hospitals and tuition fees now seem like from another era. But just because Labour have gone into opposition, and the media focus has shifted onto the plentiful divisions within the coalition, does not mean that all is peace and unity within the ranks of the PLP. As Gerry Adams once said, in a somewhat different context, they’ve not gone away, you know... Indeed, what is striking about the PLP since the election is not just how many of the old rebels remain, but how their ranks have been swelled by newbies and the previously loyal.
So far this parliament, there have been 37 rebellions by Labour MPs. That’s a rate of roughly one rebellion in every five votes, about a third of the rate at which coalition is splitting. So far so good for the Labour whips.
But when Labour MPs rebel, they have been doing so in reasonable numbers. The mean average is eight MPs, slightly higher than the Coalition average of seven – and a good deal higher when you consider the relatively small size of the PLP. The largest Labour rebellion of the Parliament occurred in November last year when 48 Labour backbenchers supported Fabian Hamilton’s amendment to the Equitable Life Payments Bill that would have extended payments to policyholders pre-1992.
Yet here’s the thing: when that rebellion occurred – with almost a fifth of the PLP taking part – almost no-one noticed. The media just weren't interested.
As we’ve argued in a chapter in Nigel Fletcher’s excellent How To Be In Opposition, one of the few benefits of being in opposition is that the media don’t focus on divisions in the same way.
“The best example of this came during John Major’s Premiership. For much of the period from 1992, the media focused with searing intensity on the divisions within Major’s parliamentary party – especially, though not solely, over Europe – and the term ‘Conservative party unity’ became an oxymoron. The Conservatives lost their reputation for unity (a reputation they had long enjoyed), with the blame for this laid largely at the feet of the party’s MPs. Yet during the 1992 Parliament it was Labour MPs, not Conservatives, who had been the most rebellious: Labour MPs had defied their whips more often, in greater numbers, and over a much wider range of issues , than had Conservative MPs. Yet no one noticed, and no one cared”
In turn, that makes rebellion easier. If the media aren’t going to report it, why not rebel? This helps explain why no fewer than 105 Labour MPs have cast at least one vote against their party whip since last May. That’s a whopping 41% of the PLP.
The names near the top of the list will be familiar to most Westminster watchers. Dennis Skinner, who loves taking the fight to the Government, has cast 26 rebellious votes, and is ahead of the familiar trio of usual suspects – the Unholy Trinity? – in the shape of Kelvin Hopkins (15), Jeremy Corbyn (13) and John McDonnell (12).
But glance further down the list of Labour rebels, and we can see a couple of interesting patterns. First, 17 new MPs have so far broken ranks, along with the newly-elected Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams, the winner of the Oldham by-election, who is recorded as having cast her (deferred division) ballot against a draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order last Wednesday (16 February).
Second, MPs who were wholly loyal before the election are now breaking ranks. There are 14 Labour MPs who were absolutely loyal during the Blair/Brown era but who have defied the whip in the last year. They include people like Hugh Bayley, Barry Gardiner, and Sir Gerald Kaufman.
Now that they are in Opposition, the fact that they feel able to rebel is, if nothing else, very revealing about how little being in Opposition matters. Almost no-one cares.24 February 2011.
With MPs away for a short recess, we've just published the latest scores on the doors at the new University of Nottingham research blog, Ballots and Bullets.
We point out there that not only has this Parliament already seen, in under a year, more rebellions than the entire first Blair parliament - it has now also seen more rebellions by Government MPs than in the entire period from 1945 to 1959. Also included in the post are the ten most rebellious Coalition MPs, nine of whom are Conservatives. What more do you want?22 February 2011.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill finally received Royal Assent last night at 11.50pm. There was one final tussle with the Lords on the issue of whether to set a minimum voting threshold for 40% for the AV referendum. When the issue pinged back to the Commons 18 Conservatives voted against the Government but to no avail. The Lords backed down, merely insisting that the Electoral Commission write a report on turnout.
That was the 33rd separate Coalition rebellion over the bill. Of these 24 involved only Conservative MPs, seven comprised both Lib Dem and Tory MPs, and just two involving Lib Dems only. The largest rebellion occurred on 25 October when 20 Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat supported a Tory backbench New Clause that would have cut the number of ministers from 95 to 87.
During the passage of the Bill, 55 Coalition MPs defied the party line: 45 Conservatives, ten Liberal Democrats. Between them, they cast 245 rebellious votes, but the vast majority of these (214) were cast by the Conservative rebels and the top ten Coalition rebels on the bill were all Conservatives, a list topped by Philip Hollobone who rebelled 21 times on the one bill. He was followed by Philip Davies (16); David Nuttall (15); Christopher Chope (13); and Bill Cash and Richard Shepher (12).17 February 2011.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies (PVSC) Bill is nearing its long passage through both House of Parliament. The Committee stage in the Lords alone took no fewer than 17 days and lasted more than 110 hours.
Not only has the Bill been mammoth in length, but it has also sparked a mammoth number of rebellions in the House of Commons. Up until last night, the Bill had witnessed 26 Coalition separate rebellions, accounting for a quarter of all the rebellions on the Government side so far this Parliament. Yesterday's deliberation of Lords amendments added a further six to that total, meaning that the PVSC Bill has seen precisely as many rebellions (32) as the contentious Lisbon Bill of 2007-08. The largest rebellion last night saw 20 Tory backbenchers oppose the Government's rejection of a Lords amendment that would have made the Alternative Vote referendum non-binding if less than 40% of the electorate failed to vote.
We look forward to the remaining 'ping-pong' between the Lords and the Commons, and which is usally the source of yet more revolts, and when the Bill finally receives Royal Assent, we will provide an overview of all the rebellions on the Coalition side.16 February 2011.
We've relatively little to add to the mass of coverage given to last night's vote on prisoners voting - except that, once you look at the division lists, you can see why the whips office allowed a free vote!
We note, buried in the comments on ConservativeHome, a really interesting observation by David Boothroyd:
One interesting thing about the vote is that the recent YouGov poll found that 9% of the British public supported prisoners getting votes. When backbench MPs voted, 22 supported and 234 opposed, which comes to almost exactly 9% - so on this issue, the division of opinion among MPs is the same as the public.
We suspect there are few issues of which that can be said...11 February 2011.
By yesterday, we knew we were close to Coalition MPs clocking up their hundredth rebellion. We were poised on 98. Then came another sizeable rebellion on Europe, 19 Conservative backbenchers voting against a motion taking note of the EU’s introduction of the Financial Stabilisation Mechanism. (It's worth noting that 18 Labour MPs - a bigger proportion of the parliamentary party - also rebelled over the issue).
The 100th Coalition rebellion was clocked up by the 11 Tory MPs who voted against the taxation of the financial sector. And finally Peter Bone was the only Conservative MP to vote against the annual police grant. So another milestone reached.10 February 2011.
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.3 February 2011.
A lethal combination of holidays, conference, illness, and now exam marking, has led to radio silence recently - although New Year's Eve saw the Independent run with some updated figures which we'd done for them, showing the overall rate of rebellion by government MPs running at over 50% still. As it noted, the most rebellious Conservative MP - Philip Hollobone - is now rebelling in over a quarter of votes, a record that puts even Jeremy Corbyn, the most rebellious Labour MP of the last government, to shame.
But in our absence, we did like this piece by Tim Montgomerie (who cites the right sources). Note that he thinks the government could be in trouble over prisoners voting, as does Garry Gibbon. Fun ahead!14 January 2011.
As a result of last week’s tuition fees votes, some 28 Lib Dem MPs, very nearly half (49%) of the entire parliamentary party have now voted against their whip. And outside of government, the majority of Lib Dem backbenchers have rebelled. Indeed, there now remain very few Lib Dem backbenchers who have remained loyal to the Coalition. Just nine backbench Lib Dems have not voted against the whips in this Parliament. Of these, four – Lorely Burt, Simon Hughes, Tessa Munt and Stephen Williams – abstained on tuition fees. That leaves five Lib Dem MPs on the backbenches who have remained wholly loyal to the Coalition thus far. In addition to David Laws, they are Tom Brake, Malcolm Bruce, and Don Foster (all of whom voted in favour of raising the cap on tuition fees on Thursday) along with Sir Robert Smith (abroad on business at the time of the tuition fees vote).
Last week’s majority was smaller than we had been expecting, not least because the Conservative rebellion was somewhat larger than we had thought (and, unusually, seemed to grow as the vote got nearer). But it’s important to note that it was still a fairly comfortable 21. That is larger than Tony Blair managed over top-up fees (and with a Commons majority double what the coalition enjoys) or indeed larger than Gordon Brown managed on pre-trial detention. As Paul Goodman noted yesterday in a perceptive piece of writing, it is hard to see where the next tricky parliamentary vote for the Lib Dems is in the foreseeable future. Even harder to spot at the moment is the possibility of a vote that will manage to unite the Tory right and the Lib Dem left, the unholy alliance required to defeat the government.
Listening to the debate yesterday afternoon reminded us of the lone parent benefit rebellion in December 1997. The first significant revolt of the Blair government, there was then the same sense of loss of innocence, of some MPs speaking and voting for things they didn’t entirely believe in, and of the grim realities of government intruding. In its overall size, the comparison is about right. Some 47 MPs rebelled in 1997, out of a government parliamentary party of 417, or 11%. Student fees saw 27 coalition MPs defy the whip, out of 362, or 8%.
But within one of the coalition’s two wobbly wings this revolts was much more significant. Not only was it the largest Liberal Democrat rebellion so far this Parliament, involving some 21 Lib Dem MPs (more than double what had been the largest rebellion since the party went into government), it was the largest in the entire history of the Liberal Democrats, since their formation back in 1988-89, surpassing the 15 who voted against a levy on the mining of limestone in 2002.
In absolute terms, 21 MPs does not sound particularly impressive. But because the overall size of the parliamentary party is small, to get (crude) comparison figures, you need to multiple any Lib Dem rebellion by 7: which puts the student fees revolt on a par with a revolt by 147 government MPs in a single party government. As a proportion of the Liberal Democrats, 21 MPs is a rebellion by 37% of their MPs. That is proportionately higher even than the 2003 Labour revolt against Iraq, and gives an indication of the scale of last night’s rebellion.
Things look even worse for the Lib Dems if you compare the behaviour of the Lib Dem front and backbenches. Twenty Lib Dem members of the Coalition Government voted in favour, with Chris Huhne unable to attend due to a ministerial engagement abroad. But of the backbenchers, 19 voted against the measure last night, along with two others who stood down from the Government as PPSs in order to be able to cast dissenting votes. Only eight Lib Dem backbenchers (one of whom was ex-minister David Laws) voted for the measure, while a further seven backbenchers either abstained (including Deputy Leader Simon Hughes) or failed to attend.
The votes last night brought the total number of Coalition MPs to have broken ranks thus far to 101: 73 Conservatives and 28 Liberal Democrat MPs. On the Liberal Democrat side, the fees votes saw six Liberal Democrat MPs defy the whip for the first time this Parliament. They were: former Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell; Mike Crockart (who stood down as PPS to Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore); Tim Farron, the party's president; the new Redcar MP Ian Swales; Jenny Willott (who also resigned as a PPS to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne); and the new MP for Norwich South, Simon Wright. Lib Dem MPs have now rebelled on exactly one quarter of all divisions so far this Parliament.
On the Conservative side, all six rebels had form with the whips; the surprise was that they all stuck their necks out by voting against, rather than abstaining, which made the vote a shade closer than one might have expected.
Conservative MPs have now rebelled on 36% of votes this Parliament. And taken as a whole, the rate of rebellion by Coalition MPs stands at the staggeringly high level of a rebellion in 51% of divisions.
As we’ve said before, first sessions are usually the calm before the storm. If this is the calm, then the storm’s going to be very tasty.10 December 2010.
Anyone intending to write anything on tonight's votes might find this briefing note (pdf) helpful, which gives some benchmarks for how to measure the size of tonight's Lib Dem rebellion.
It was December. The motivating factor among the leadership was to find a political fix that would unite a seriously divided party, and discussion in the parliamentary party centred around the idea that they might all abstain on the big vote. The Chief Whip knew it was 'not in itself a particularly honourable or logical position', but thought it might be the only means of preserving party unity.
We're not talking about tomorrow’s vote on tuition fees, but the dilemma faced by Willie Whitelaw as Conservative Chief Whip over Rhodesian oil sanctions in December 1965. We explain more in an article for ConservativeHome.
Given how things ended for Whitelaw, it may be just as well that the Lib Dems have given up on the idea...8 December 2010.
In all the talk about a three-way split in this week’s fees vote, it’s worth noting that parties often split three ways in a Commons vote: aye, no, abstain. Nothing unusual in that. What matters is the scale of the split – and whether the leadership goes with the majority of the party.
The most interesting Lib Dem three-way division so far this Parliament occurred last month, over nuclear power. On the face of it, it looked like nothing to write home about. Two Lib Dems - Martin Horwood and John Leech - voted against a Government motion endorsing radiation levels at the EPR Nuclear Reactor. They did the same when it came to the vote on the AP1000 Nuclear Reactor. Thrilling stuff.
The first vote saw 32 LibDem MPs vote in favour of the Coalition stance, 30 did so on the second vote. But in addition, a sizeable group were abstaining, interpreting the coalition agreement’s wording on new nuclear construction as allowing this.
A three-way split then, but not one that anyone has noticed until now. We expect a far more noticeable one on Thursday.7 December 2010.
This website was set up to coincide with the key top up fees vote back in 2004. On the morning of the vote, the tallies kept by the whips' office still predicted defeat by a margin of more than 20. Even right up to the vote, there was no confidence within the government that they had the bodies they needed to win. The whips' calculations went positive just 30 minutes before the vote, and they went on to win by five.
Compared with that, this government's difficulties over student fees are small fry, as this article in today's Guardian argues. It also tries to explain some of the Lib Dems' recent troubles, at the risk of winding up the sort of folk who read the Education Guardian. Judging by the comments thus far, it has at least succeeded in the latter.
The news that, in addition to the vote on lifting the cap on student fees, there may also be a ‘delaying’ amendment on Thursday might sound like bad news for the government. After all, voting for more consideration of something sounds eminently reasonable, much more thoughtful than voting against something, and the much-predicted Lib Dem three-way split could therefore become a four-way split.
However, we suspect that government whips will be rather pleased if there is a delaying amendment, because it will allow them to practice the age old tactic of divide and rule.
Imagine you have two MPs – let’s call them Greg and Tim, just for the sake of argument. Both dislike a policy and/or feel they need to vote against it to save face with their constituents. If both vote against, you lose. But with two different votes coming up, then you say to Greg: ‘Listen, we understand your position. Sure, vote for the amendment, but if the amendment falls, then we’ll need your support on the main motion’. And to Tim you say the opposite: ‘Listen, we understand your position. As long as you back us on the amendment, we will understand entirely if you vote against over the main motion’.
Both vote against. Both save face. Both can tell their constituents they defied the whips, and voted against the measure. But because both did so at different times, the government still gets its policy through.
Most MPs won’t fall for this. But some usually do. We first drew attention to this over foundation hospitals back in 2004, when enough MPs rebelled to defeat the measure, but they rebelled at different times, on different measures, and it’s happened frequently since. So, if there are two votes on Thursday, watch out for the churn between them.
That said, whether it’s one or two votes, we expect the government to win on Thursday, and more easily than you’d think given the way the vote is currently being talked up.6 December 2010.
Here's something to worry the Government whips. So far this session, 46 Conservative MPs have broken ranks over the issue of Europe; 25 of them are new MPs, elected for the first time in 2010.
And overall, 72 Tory MPs have rebelled against the Government; 36 (exactly half) are new MPs.17 November 2010.
Here's a question, which we've not seen answered properly anywhere yet: when the parliamentary vote on student fees comes, what will the Lib Dem position be?
People claim that the coalition agreement allows the Lib Dems to abstain in any parliamentary vote on fees. But the wording of the coalition agreement is: "If the response of the government to Lord Browne's report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote".
This is slightly, but importantly, different, for reasons explored in this article in today's Guardian...16 November 2010.
In Monday's briefing paper, we noted two potential forthcoming rebellions, one from each of the coalition's two wobbly wings.
The first, a vote on housing benefit, ended in a damp squib with only Lib Dem MP Bob Russell casting a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies.
The second turned out to be more substantial. While David Cameron was in South Korea at the G20 preaching the merits of greater economic policy co-ordination, 25 of his Eurosceptic MPs were voting against a set of European Commission documents on the same subject. That the two largest Conservative rebellions so far this Parliament have occurred on the issue of Europe (the other one involving 37 Tory MPs) will be of particular concern to the whips.
This revolt has been noted on the excellent ConservativeHome site. It also included a dozen Eurosceptic Labour MPs voting against the motion last night, as their frontbench chose to abstain. But that’s the thing about being in Opposition; no-one cares if you do as you please.11 November 2010.
We learnt yesterday that Professor Hugh Berrington, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Newcastle University has sadly died, aged 81.
He was one of the first to attempt to study parliament, and especially the House of Commons, in a systematic way. His DPhil thesis was on cohesion in the late-nineteenth century, and his work on Early Day Motions as an measure of the views of MPs was ground-breaking. Like most ground-breaking work, it was dismissed at the time by some (most famously by Richard Crossman), but both the 1961 and 1973 volumes are now recognised milestones in the study of Parliament.
He officially retired in 1994, but carried on teaching at Newcastle. In 2005 the Political Studies Association awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sharp up until the end, he was a keen letter-writer to newspapers, always eager to demolish myths about the way the House of Commons worked, especially those held by people who believed in golden ages that never were.
He was a helpful and thoughtful friend and colleague to this research project and its team, and he will be missed.9 November 2010.
We rise like a phoenix, or like Lazarus, or something like that. We are back thanks to generous research funding from the University of Nottingham, stumping up some cash to keep us ticking over whilst we look for alternative sources of revenue.
This website will soon undergo a transformation (launched in 2004, it is now looking a bit battered and dated), and we will be launching our first briefing paper of the new parliament this week. Without giving away the headline figures just yet, it suffices to say that a coalition government has not led to an outbreak of peace and harmony on the backbenches. What we’ve seen so far leads us to suspect that we will have plenty of work on our hands over the next few years…6 November 2010.
There is, today, a very generous and supportive piece by Sunder Katwala of the Fabians on their blog bewailing our closing down.
For those who are interested, the position is this. Over the last decade or so, this research has been generously funded by two bodies, the Leverhulme Trust, who funded the study into the 1997 Parliament, and then the ESRC who funded the study into the 2001 Parliament. We managed to stretch that funding into the 2005 Parliament too, and then with bits and pieces of cash – from the University of Nottingham – limped on till the end of the Parliament.
We’ve put in two bids to the ESRC to continue the project into the next Parliament – where we agree with Sunder, there is the potential for things to be really interesting –but both have been unsuccessful. There’s nothing too surprising about funding bids being turned down – money’s scarce, competition’s stiff and the majority of bids fail. No academic should get huffy about grant bid failures; they’re just part of life.
What was a little surprising – to us, and to some observers– was that these bids were to a specially created ESRC pot, called the Follow-On Fund, designed to allow projects to continue where they have a potential public impact. And, whatever else one thought about the work, it was difficult to argue that it didn’t manage that, given the way it was religiously used by journalists and MPs. One of the reviewers of our ESRC last end-of-award report described it as probably the best disseminated project in ESRC history. But still we applied twice, and got turned down twice.
It was ironic that at an ESRC organised event to praise social science recently both Sunder and Tony Wright used revolts as an example of exactly the sort of work the ESRC should be funding, and yet we’d just been turned down (again).
All the people involved in this project would like to carry on, but without funding, it’s difficult to do projects like this. The funding buys some research assistance to do the painstaking work checking and cleaning the data, as well as keeping comparative records, and provides teaching cover.
I know of at least one person who is pleased, though. Just before the election, a senior member of the Conservative whips office asked me whether it was true that our funding had ended, and we wouldn’t be around to report on any divisions within the Conservative Parliamentary Party. When I confirmed it was, he replied, with a smile: ‘Oh good’.
UPDATE: There's also a very supportive leader in the Guardian, off the back of Sunder's piece.18 May 2010.
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting up various end of parliament stats, as we bring the website to its conclusion.
We start with Labour -- and the finding that this parliament can safely claim to be the most rebellious of the post-war era.
The session that just ended, that of 2009-10, saw a total of 48 Labour rebellions, out of 135 divisions, a rate of 36%. In itself, this is the third highest final session since 1945, beaten only by the 39% achieved in 2004-05 session and the 36% (but marginally higher once you examine the decimals places) of the 1978-9 session.
But when you add those 48 revolts to the 300+ that had occurred in the preceding four sessions, it means that the 2005-2010 Parliament easily goes down as the most rebellious in the post-war period, whether measured in absolute or relative terms. In absolute terms, there were 365 Labour revolts between 2005 and 2010, more than in any other parliament since 1945, and easily more than what had been the record (the 309 between February 1974 and 1979). In relative terms – a more meaningful comparison, given that the parliament was shorter – there were Labour rebellions in some 28% of divisions. Again this easily tops the 21% achieved in the second Blair Parliament, 2001-2005, which was itself a post-war record. There were also, just for the record, more Labour rebellions in this parliament than in 1997-2001 and 2001-2005 combined.
We give some more Labour stats over at the Election 2010 website, and more will follow here as and when we get them processed.9 April 2010.
We're not finished yet. Two biggish Labour rebellions last night on the Digital Economy Bill (containing 23 and 20 Labour MPs respectively), and including some unusual names, including Eric Joyce, Mark Todd, and Tom Watson.
On twitter Watson reported: 'First time i've ever broken the whip in the chamber. I feel physically sick'. To which Evan Harris helpfully replied: 'Dr's advice - like exercise,it hurts less the more you do it. No pain no gain. Am out of cliches'.
We suspect that's our last rebellion reported on this site. Some headline stats to follow, and then it's all over.8 April 2010.
The end of the Parliament approaches. So does the end of this website.
The research project from which is sprang was meant to end in 2005, and we've managed to keep it hobbling on, with various scraps of money (mostly from the University of Nottingham) until now.
We think there's a pretty obvious need to keep the project going, especially with the possibility of a small Labour majority/hung parliament/small Conservative majority after the election, and given how much folk in Westminster use it. But we've now had two attempts to get money from the ESRC turned down -- despite applying specifically to a fund for projects with the potential for impact from beyond academia -- and so it's time to call it a day. We're going to stick up some summary stats for the parliament once it's officially over, plus whack up links to the most useful papers we've done, and then it'll be archived, as a record of the period from 2004-2010.
In the meantime, if you found this useful, you might like this, a much broader, but hopefully still useful attempt to engage academics in communicating with the wider world.3 April 2010.
As a result of server problems, which kept us off-line for a while, we missed writing up the rebellion in late-Feb when on 24 February there was the largest rebellion so far this session: 27 Labour MPs voted in favour of a Labour backbench new clause in the name of Alan Simpson during the Report stage of the Energy Bill that called for an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for every new electricity generating plant. The rebellion reduced the Government’s majority to just eight, and yet, with the exception of the excellent LeftFootForward website, barely anyone in the media reported it.
And we also missed the revolt on 1 March, which saw 24 Labour MPs vote against the annual renewal of control orders. No great surprises in the names of the rebels. Except one. David Davis was the only Conservative MP to join the rebels in the no lobby, casting his first rebellious vote against David Cameron’s leadership.
Just as we suspected, last night's supposed Labour rebellion on AV ended in a damp squib. Most opponents of electoral reform reasoned that it wasn't worth sticking their necks out on a bill that probably won't be passed anyway. In the end, a measly three Labour diehards - Diane Abbott, Kelvin Hopkins and Meg Munn - voted against Jack Straw's plans to hold a referendum on AV by October 2011. They were joined by one Lib Dem, Paul Rowen (Rochdale). But all the other Liberal Democrat MPs who voted supported the Government, meaning that the clause passed by a massive majority of 178.
Of more interest was the subsequent vote on the single transferable vote, proposed predictably by the Liberal Democrats. The Tories (equally predictably) opposed the amendment, but four Labour MPs joined the Lib Dems in the aye lobby: Jim Cousins, Dr Doug Naysmith, Andrew Smith... and James Purnell. That is Purnell's first ever vote against the party whip. Who'd've thought it?10 February 2010.
As long as it doesn’t lose you £100 in bets (see below), sometimes it’s good to be able to plead total ignorance. And we are in exactly that situation with regard to the forthcoming vote on AV.
The key variable here is what happens to the PLP, which has been long divided over electoral reform. Way back in 1993, when Labour was contemplating PR under John Smith, the late Derek Fatchett's First-Past-the-Post group attracted the support of 86 Labour MPs, including John Spellar, Bruce Grocott and Gerald Kaufman, while Jeff (now Lord) Rooker, chairman of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, had 62 backbenchers supporting him, including Peter Mandelson (then cast into the outer darkness by Smith) and Dr Tony Wright.
Since then, these splits have not gone away – but there’s relatively little evidence on which to base any estimates of current forces within the PLP.
Things will not have been helped by the fact that plenty of the current whips office – note the name of John Spellar in the above list – are opponents of electoral reform (in general) or AV (in particular), and several of them have been known to have been making their opposition clear behind the scenes.
However, in terms of winning a vote, the Government has several things in its favour, including: grudging support from the Lib Dems (‘a very small step in the right direction’); the fact that this isn’t a vote on AV itself, but merely one on having a referendum on the subject; and the fast approaching election. The last always makes MPs more likely to bite their tongues at the best of times, but in this case it also leads plenty of Labour MPs to doubt anything will happen, suspecting (as do we) that the bill won’t get through parliament before the election is called, and will then get lost in the election wash-up. In which case, what’s the point of bothering to go to all the trouble of voting against it?7 February 2010.
There's a Far Side cartoon in which (from memory) a student asks to be excused on the basis that his head is now full. We know the feeling, and sometimes (often?) wonder how useful all the things we know about parliament are. Surely all that space taken up with knowledge about, say, Harry Cohen's voting record could be better utilised with a deeper understanding of art, or music, or whatever.
But every now and again it does prove useful to know things. This, last Tuesday, was just such an occasion. And as a result, the Macular Disease Society will be £100 better off. Who needs art, anyway?1 February 2010.
Two doesn’t make a trend, but yesterday (Monday, 11 January) saw the Conservative frontbench oppose the principle of Government legislation for the second time this year. As we reported in our recent briefing paper (pdf), the Conservatives only opposed four bills in the whole of the last session.
The latest Conservative frontbench reasoned amendment – declining to support the Children, Schools and Families Bill – also attracted three Labour rebels: Jeremy Corbyn, David Drew and John McDonnell. Small fry, but some Labour MPs, including Kate Hoey (who abstained on Second Reading), also expressed concerns over the Government’s plans to regulate home education. Those plans – outlined in the Badman Report – have also been opposed in a large number of petitions presented to the House by Conservative MPs. The Government also intends to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) (‘sex education’ to you and me) compulsory, which we suspect may also provoke a rebellions from socially conservative Labour MPs worried about introducing sex education into Church and faith schools should the Bill make it to Report stage before the general election.12 January 2010.
Standing Order 14 allows for at least 13 Fridays for Private Members’ Bills. Last week, however, the Government moved a motion to reduce the number of backbench Fridays from 13 to eight, on the basis that the 2009-10 session will be a truncated because of the impending general election. Eight days would be, pro rata, roughly the correct amount for a short session and on the last two occasions when we’ve had a fifth session – in 1991-92 and 1996-97 – the Conservative Government of the day moved similar motions to restrict the number of backbench Fridays, and neither were contested by the Opposition.
This time around, however, Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough was having none of it. He moved an amendment to restore the 13 days for backbench business. Seeing the scale of support for Bone’s amendment, Sir George Young, the Shadow Leader of the House, allowed his backbenchers, though not his frontbench, a free vote, as did the Liberal Democrats. But while all the Lib Dem MPs present voted for Bone’s amendment, the Conservatives split nearly in half: 30 Tory backbenchers supported the amendment, while only 27 Conservatives (24 of them frontbenchers) opposed it. Bone’s amendment, however was heavily defeated by 254 votes to 78, with Labour whipping their side against Bone’s amendment. Only three Labour MPs – Paul Flynn, Kelvin Hopkins and Austin Mitchell – defied the whips.
This debate (and vote) matters because it reflects wider backbench concerns over the Government’s failure thus far to debate Building the House, the Wright Report into the Reform of the House of Commons, which reported back in November. Wright’s proposals include the creation of a backbench Business Committee to protect backbench time, together with a House Business Committee, responsible for putting a weekly agenda to the House for its decision. Such plans mean challenging the Executive’s current hold over what gets debated.
In our eagerness to mention that the Conservatives had actually opposed a Government bill at Second Reading, we neglected to mention that four Labour backbenchers – Diane Abbott, Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn and Linda Riordan – also opposed the legislation, objecting to the scale of cuts potentially required.
Frank Field, who abstained on the Bill, however delivered a very different, bone-chilling prediction (in the manner of a latter-day Enoch Powell) about the perilous state of the public finances. Comparing the debate in the political parties over how to lower the deficit to the ‘phoney war’ that led up to world war two, he claimed that voters did not 'have any idea how serious the financial position of this country is, or how massive the cuts will have to be if we are to return to some semblance of order to our national accounts'.
Field said that the country was living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’, unaware that the Government had been printing money, most of which had been used to buy Government debt. What happens, Field, asked when the Government stops printing money? What did the Government have up its sleeve if it faced a ‘gilt strike’ on the international money markets? ‘Please God’, Field intoned, ‘I hope that this Government have a lot up their sleeve'.
David Taylor, who died on Boxing Day, was one of the leading Labour rebels. First elected in 1997, he progressively became more rebellious: he cast just five dissenting votes against the whips during the first Blair term, 39 in the second, and by the time of his death he’d already rebelled 76 times during the current parliament. He went from being the joint 72nd most rebellious Labour MP in 1997-01 to being the eighth most rebellious in this parliament.
He was a man of deep religious convictions, leading him to vote in a socially conservative direction when it came to matters of conscience and because the Labour Whips’ Office has preferred in recent years to whip many such issues, he found himself casting yet more dissenting votes on matters as diverse as the deregulation of the gambling industry and whether clergymen should be allowed to exercise free speech when it came to expressing their opposition to homosexuality. Indeed, his last dissenting vote – on 2 December – saw Taylor support an amendment to the Equality Bill that would have provided exemptions for religious organisations in employment matters on grounds of sexual orientation.
However, Taylor will be remembered most by the anoraks on the Revolts team as a serial abstainer. The procedures of the House of Commons give MPs just two formal options: to vote aye or no on whatever question is before the House. MPs occasionally get around this by voting in both lobbies – but David Taylor did it in earnest. By the Christmas recess, Taylor had registered no fewer than 33 deliberate abstentions in this Parliament alone, the most recent being in protest at the Government’s policy on disability benefits for the elderly during a Conservative Opposition Day motion on 8 December.
When the House of Commons returns in January, and we start casting our eyes over division lists yet again, there will be a huge gap, not just in the aye or no lobbies, but where David Taylor’s name was often to be found – in both lobbies.1 January 2010.
Last week, the Equality Bill reached its Report stage in the House of Commons – and provoked splits in no fewer than four parties.
The Bill had previously seen very little dissent: John Bercow was the only MP from to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading. Bercow, now Speaker, is now studiously neutral on the matter, and cannot vote. But that didn’t stop other MPs from doing so. Some wanted the Bill to go further; others thought it should do less. The largest rebellion saw 14 Labour MPs support a Liberal Democrat clause that would have introduced mandatory pay audits for the purpose of identifying differences in pay between male and female employees. (James Plaskitt also voted in both lobbies) The same evening saw another Labour rebellion, this time in a more conservative direction. Eight Labour MPs, including the former Cabinet Minister, Ruth Kelly, supported David Drew’s amendment that would have deleted the part of the Bill that appeared to weaken the exemption provided for religious organisations, especially in relation to an employee’s sexual orientation. The issue also saw splits in the Liberal Democrats. Six Lib Dems voted for the amendment (including five frontbenchers), while 38 voted against. The SNP also split: 3/2 in favour of the amendment.
When it came to the Third Reading of the Bill, it was the turn of the Conservatives to split, albeit only a handful of them: with the Conservative frontbench abstaining, six Tory backbenchers – four of them from the 2005 intake plus Ann Widdecombe and Sir Nicholas Winterton – voted against the Bill in its entirety.
Every week has seen at least one Labour rebellion since the Commons returned, and Monday's night saw a tiddler: 11 Labour MPs supporting an amendment in the name of Labour backbencher, Katy Clark during the Report stage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill that would have strengthened the minister's power to designate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).
The division also saw Jeremy Corbyn's 99th rebellious vote under Gordon Brown; he managed 301 under Blair. Less than a week, we reckon, before Corbyn hits the century.29 October 2009.
We love this Mystic Meg stuff. No sooner had we written a post about growing discontent on opposition day motions, than we get one over the TA, followed by a complete government U turn. At least they've learnt something from the Gurkhas...
28 October 2009.
Most of the government’s trouble with its backbenchers comes from a pretty predictable group of people. For example, who was the top rebel under Tony Blair? Jeremy Corbyn. Top rebel under Gordon Brown? You’ve guessed it: J Corbyn. But glance at the rebellion lists for the last year, and you see some much more surprising names mixed in with all the Corbyns and the McDonnells, including people like Robert Flello, Jim Dowd, Dari Taylor and even Gordon Banks (previously considered a safe pair of hands).* There are 17 Labour MPs who’ve rebelled under Brown who did not do so under Blair (along with one, Virendra Sharma, who entered the Commons after Brown became Prime Minister and who’s also rebelled).
Top new rebel? Mark Todd (six votes against the whip during the Brown government), closely followed by Shona McIssac and Ian Cawsey (four), and Nick Palmer and Fiona Mactaggart (three). There are five MPs whose rebellions you’d not have put money on two years ago.
*Yes, we know he’s Scottish, not English. And that he’s not the goalkeeper. But it’s too good (or bad) a joke not to use.
There were two Labour rebellions last week, both on Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motions. One, on compensation for policyholders of Equitable Life, saw 18 Labour MPs vote against their whip, and the government’s majority reduced to 35. The second, on the so-called ‘10:10 campaign’ for a delivery plan to achieve a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, saw 12 Labour rebels voting against their party line.
This is just the latest Opposition Day motion to attract a half-decent revolt. Under Brown’s leadership, there have been 22 separate rebellions over Opposition Day matters, including those in favour of an Iraq inquiry (12 rebels, March 2008), against Post Office closures (19 rebels, March 2008), the proposed third runaway at Heathrow (28 rebels, January 2009), and of course, the Government defeat on the immigration rights of Gurkhas (27 rebels and loads of abstentions, 29 April 2009). Compare that to the first Blair parliament, between 1997 and 2001, when there were just two Labour rebellions on Opposition Days.
This is a second front for the whips office. It means that the Government Whips’ Office now has to contend not only with rebellions on contentious legislation, but also on motions on topics carefully crafted by the Opposition to cause maximum embarrassment to the Government.25 October 2009.
Well, we’re sort of back. Still no funding, so we’re on a sort of revolts.co.uk life-support system, with the ECG monitor beeping faintly and sporadically in the background. But there’s lots going on, so it seemed a shame to miss it completely.
For example, on the first week back since the summer recess, Labour rebels returned to their old habits. There were five Labour rebellions, the largest of which saw 14 backbenchers support a new clause in the name of Andrew Mackinlay during the passage of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill (what an appalling title?). Mackinlay was so incensed with the minister responsible, Rosie Winterton that at one point, he declared: ‘I will simply not let her get away with this nonsense’. He later described as ‘rubbish’ that part of the Local Government Act 2000 that abolished the old committee-based structure for councils with populations less than 85,000. Mackinlay wanted to restore that choice by upping the maximum to councils with up to one million people.
Mackinlay has really upped his rate of rebellions under Gordon Brown. He rebelled 27 times during the whole of the Blair decade; he has now matched that figure after only two-and-a-half years of Brown’s leadership.
Labour rebellions are running at an alarming rate – 28% of all divisions so far this session.
Thanks to all those who’ve been in touch with queries about us having our funding withdrawn. Hence, unfortunately, the lack of any analysis of the expenses votes. We were also hoping to do lots of pre-election analysis, as well as work on the state of the parties when the new parliament met. Sadly, it looks like we might have to put all that on ice, although we’re still looking around at alternatives. Lots of you have said how useful the site's been -- but unfortunately that seemed to cut no ice with the research council...2 May 2009.
The key to explaining the government's defeat over the Gurkhas lies in finding out who abstained. A total of 27 cross-voters (and it is 27 -- the BBC have included Bob Wareing, but he no longer takes the whip) would not be enough to defeat the government, without a substantial number of absences. So if we were journalists with lobby passes, we'd be asking about both authorised and unauthorised absences. The last time the Government went down to defeat in the Commons, over Racial and Religious Hatred, it was at least partly because too many MPs had been allowed to leave Westminster. Did the same happen here?
But those cross-voting are interesting as well. All except Joan Humble and Stephen Pound had already rebelled against Brown, but they now bring to 119 the number of Labour MPs to vote against the whip since Gordon Brown became PM. And it's interesting that both Ian Cawsey and Shona McIssac, who both rebelled recently over ports for the very first time, did so again today. Other non-usual suspects included Nick Raynsford and Andrew Smith (who rebelled over Heathrow, casting their first rebellion against Brown), and Nick Palmer and Gordon Marsden, who have both only defied Brown once before.
Once they do it for the first time, it's easier to do it again -- as today proved.29 April 2009.
Including today's there have been 32 rebellions on assorted Opposition Day motions since 1997. None of them had resulted in government defeats - for reasons we explained before here. So a defeat on a Opposition Day - however nominal in theory - is not to be shrugged off lightly. For the Brown government to have suffered its first defeat on an Opposition Day motion, and with a nominal majority in the 60s, is terrible.
The largest rebellion on an Opposition Day since 1997 was the 28 who rebelled over Heathrow expansion in January of this year.
More to follow, maybe, once we see the division lists. Trouble is, we're having to go a bit slow, as a result of having our funding withdrawn, so this might be the last rebellion we deal with. More on that also later...
UPDATE: We've been told that there were 27 Labour rebels who voted against the Government. If so (and we're always sceptical until we've seen the full division list), it's not even the largest revolts suffered by Brown since he became PM, not even the largest on an Opposition Day motion. So the interesting bit is going to be not who voted against the whip, but those who simply stayed away. A total of 27 cross votes is not sufficient to defeat this government, without a substantial number of abstentions.
UPDATE 2: We've now been told it's 28 Labour cross-votes. But that still just makes it the same as over Heathrow, and not the largest rebellion Brown's faced either.
Last month, the ESRC's Genomics Forum organised a retrospective conference on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Details here. For those interested in the parliamentary part of the process, there was an interesting presentation by Phil Willis (with his slides here), as well as one by one of us. The latter takes about 30 minutes, although if you stripped out the um's and ah's, it'd be down to about five minutes or so.16 April 2009.
1 April saw two previously loyal Labour MPs – Ian Cawsey and Shona McIssac - cast their first ever dissenting votes. The issue? Retrospective rating charges on firms operating in British ports. A Conservative Opposition prayer tried to annul these rules, but when the Tory frontbench didn’t move their own motion, four Labour MPs plus UKIP MP, Bob Spink divided the House. The common link between all four rebel Labour MPs? They all represented constituencies with large ports: Frank Field (Birkenhead), Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole), Shona McIssac (Cleethorpes) and Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby). Austin accused the Government of 'impotence turned into a chorus of castrati'. Sounds painful to us.
The day also saw the largest Conservative rebellion of the session so far: 18 Tory backbenchers opposed the programme motion for the Geneva Conventions and UN Personnel (Protocols) Bill. Many of these renegade Tory MPs had spent the afternoon filibustering during the Second Reading of the Bil, angry that so much legislation of this kind is being passed through the Commons with the minimum of debate.3 April 2009.
Exactly a year since they last raised the issue, the Conservatives moved an Opposition Day motion yesterday calling for an inquiry into the war in Iraq. And almost exactly the same number of Labour MPs supported them in the aye lobby as they did a year before.
Thirteen Labour backbenchers voted in favour of an inquiry to be led by an independent committee of privy counsellors, up just one from the dozen Labour MPs who rebelled on the issue twelve months ago. David Taylor and Paul Truswell cast deliberate abstentions in both lobbies, as the Government won the vote by 303 votes to 265, a majority of 38. A dozen Labour MPs then opposed the subsequent Government amendment to the Tory motion, which recognized that ‘a time will come when an inquiry is appropriate’ but declining ‘to make a proposal for a further inquiry at this time’, Taylor again abstaining by double voting. This time, the Government won by 36.26 March 2009.
Earlier this week, the Report stage of the Coroners and Justice Bill saw four separate rebellions, involving a total of 28 Labour MPs. There was a revolt by Corbyn and McDonnell over the Bill’s third programme motion, and one Labour MP – Paul Farrelly – voted against the Bill’s Third Reading.
But the more interesting splits came over matters of death and sex.
The largest rebellion on Monday saw 19 Labour MPs support a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have prevented some inquests being held in private and without a jury. The Government won the vote by 263 votes to 229, more or less halving their majority to 34. Ministers appear to have averted defeat by offering a number of concessions: instead of the jury being removed automatically (as the Government originally proposed), a High Court judge will now consider whether to remove the jury; and the grounds on which a certificate can be issued by the Secretary of State permitting an inquest without a jury were also altered, removing the catch-all ‘real harm to the public interest’ provision.
On Tuesday, when the Report stage of the Bill resumed, MPs debated matters of sex rather than death. Ten Labour MPs with strong religious beliefs supported David Taylor's amendment that would have had the effect of reinserting a free speech saving clause to an offence prohibiting incitement of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. The offence had already been created by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, but the Government, then up against a end-of-session deadline to pass another piece of legislation - the Offender Management Bill - had accepted an amendment in the name of Lord Waddington, the former Tory Home Secretary, that would have allowed discussion or criticism of sexual conduct’ or ‘the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct’. On Tuesday, the Government sought to remove Waddington’s free speech amendment, provoking Tom Harris to speak and vote against the Government on a three-line whip for the first time since he became a Labour MP in 2001. Harris believed that removing the Waddington amendment would raise ‘public concern that a person who voices an opinion that is not considered to be politically correct could end up being questioned by police.’ The ten Labour rebels were joined by two Liberal Democrats – Sir Alan Beith and Tim Farron - in the aye lobby alongside nearly the whole of the Conservative parliamentary party, apart from John Bercow, who voted with the Government in the no lobby. The amendment was heavily defeated by 328 votes to 174. Harris explains his position on his (excellent) blog.
Nick Brown apparently gave a very entertaining speech last week to the lobby, which included a reference to a rather good book on backbench behaviour.
He was said to be calling for tighter discipline from Labour MPs – with an especial attack on Labour MPs who were not pulling their weight. He noted that a hardcore rump of five per cent of Labour MPs are responsible for a quarter of all ‘unauthorised absences’ from the Commons. ‘Idleness creates a burden on the rest of the people’, he said.
Indeed it does.
But we suspect a subtext here. For sure, some of those unauthorised absences will be lazy MPs, popping home to watch Eastenders rather staying late to vote on the Sheep Farming (Wales) (No 2) Bill.
But unauthorised absences can also be caused when MPs absent themselves from a vote because they want to abstain. So, whilst some of this is a crackdown on the lazy, it’s also a crackdown on those who absent themselves from the lobbies on principle. When it comes to actual votes cast, the relationship is even sharper than Brown noted. Almost *half* of all rebellious votes cast against the whip since 2005 have come from just five per cent of Labour MPs. The subtext here, we suspect (but then we’re old and cynical) is to equate rebellion with lazy, with not pulling your weight, with not being comradely.
If the Commons allowed an abstention option, as the Modernisation Committee recommended in one of its earliest reports back in the early days of the Blair Premiership, then a crackdown on no shows wouldn’t be a problem. Absent that, it might just result in more people casting votes in both lobbies (as David Taylor does regularly), a practice that has been deprecated by the Speaker. It might, however, also cause MPs who would have been happy absenting themselves, turning up in order to vote against the whips. Is that really what they want?24 March 2009.
Yesterday, the first decent-sized cracks appeared among Labour backbenchers over the Government’s support for people during the recession, with a total of 36 Labour MPs rebelling during the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill.
In the largest revolt, 30 Labour MPs supported Dr Lynne Jones’ clause that would have removed the lower rate of jobseeker’s allowance for 18-25 year olds. (Treasury Select Committee chairman, John McFall appears to have cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies.) Conservative frontbench support for the Government ensured that the new clause was defeated by 408 votes to 85.
Twenty-six Labour MPs then supported John McDonnell’s amendment that would have rendered the ‘work for benefit’ proposals scheme in the bill an offer rather than an imposition. One Conservative MP – Richard Shepherd – supported the rebels in the aye lobby, but once again the Conservative frontbench sided with the Government, resulting in a 396–76 defeat for the amendment. Finally, 29 Labour MPs supported a Conservative frontbench amendment that would have prevented the work-related requirements in the bill from applying to a single parent with a child under five. Gordon Brown’s old Treasury colleague, Geoffrey Robinson appears to have cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. Despite this large Labour rebellion, the Government won the vote by 260 votes to 217, a comfortable majority of 43.
Yesterday’s Labour rebellions were overwhelmingly comprised of a fairly predictable bynch. All except one MP – David Clelland – had already defied the whip under Gordon Brown’s leadership, and even Clelland has slight form from the Blair era.18 March 2009.
After nearly a week of expressing their objections, two dozen MPs who were unhappy with allowing the UK Youth Parliament to debate in the Chamber of the House of Commons this summer finally got want they wanted yesterday: a longish debate (2 hours, 22 minutes) and a vote - or a series of votes on the issue.
And then they lost decisively.
Twenty three MPs (including tellers) supported an amendment in the name of Christopher Chope calling for the Youth Parliament to speak in Committee Room 14, rather than the main Chamber, but this was defeated by 207 votes to 21. The twenty Tory backers of the amendment included: former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith; the former Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis; and the former multiple leadership candidate, John Redwood. But perhaps the biggest surprise was to see Tommy McAvoy, the longest serving Labour whip voting in favour of the amendment, a clear sign that the vote was free on the Labour side (Tory backbenchers had a free vote, although according to Chope that luxury was not extended to their frontbench). Colin Burgon was the only other Labour MP to support the amendment, while Bob Russell was the only Liberal Demcrat MP to do so. The DUP's Gregory Campbell also voted in the aye lobby.
When the main question was put, nineteen MPs (not 18 as shown in Hansard) - 15 Conservative, two Labour, one Lib Dem and 1 DUP, voted against, with 205 voting in favour.17 March 2009.
A group of ten renegade Conservatives evoked the spirit of the late Eric Forth on Wednesday when they tried to hold up the business of the House of Commons by raising points of order, and calling divisions on normally uncontentious issues. The reason? The idea of members of the UK Youth Parliament sitting on the hallowed green benches during the summer recess.
Tory backbench opposition the teenage hordes meant that the House was treated to a division on the Child Support Regulations 2009, with six Tories voting against the Government, while the rest of the Conservative frontbench abstained. And while no-one had raised any objections to a European take note motion on ozone depleting substances during Committee, eight Tory MPs found a reason to do so, calling yet another division. When the motion to allow the Youth Parliament to sit on the green benches was read out, honourable members shouted ‘Object’.
Earlier, the House was treated to another old-fashioned Conservative split over Europe on the subject of energy security. While two Europhiles – John Gummer and Ian Taylor – supported the Government’s motion, five Euro-sceptics – William Cash, Mark Field, John Hayes, John Redwood and Richard Shepherd – voted against, as once again the Conservative frontbench abstained. Alan Simpson was the only Labour MP to vote against the motion. The most obvious name missing from the aye lobby was Kenneth Clarke. Now that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe has rejoined the Tory frontbench, he has to behave himself on all matters European.13 March 2009.
Tuesday saw the Government come to Parliament to ask for the renewal of control orders, for the fourth time since they were introduced in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. In 2006, the orders were agreed without a division. In February 2007, just two Labour MPs rebelled. A year later, just three did. This time, the number of rebels had risen to 16. The rebellion also saw Diane Abbott and Andrew Mackinlay cast deliberate abstentions in both lobbies. With the Conservative frontbench abstaining three Tory backbenchers – Douglas Hogg, Richard Shepherd and Robert Walter – also voted against the renewal order.
Both Opposition parties also boycotted the introduction of Regional Select Committees, objecting to the fact that each committee will have an in-built Labour majority, regardless of the political representation in each region. As a result of the Opposition boycott, a series of motions were passed in which only Labour MPs were appointed to the new regional bodies. Can’t see that working well.
The final division of the evening was on a motion that the new Chairman of the Committee on Members’ Allowances, Don Touhig, should be paid in line with chairmen of other select committees. Labour split 229/9 in favour, the Conservatives split 11/27 against (with most Tory MPs sitting out the vote), while Lembit Opik was the only Lib Dem MP to vote in favour of the motion, as 30 of his colleagues voted against.5 March 2009.
The Heathrow rebellion on 28 January 2009 saw 28 Labour MPs vote against their party line, after a lot of work by the whips to limit the revolt. Yesterday, 24 February, there was a ten minute rule bill, moved by Lib Dem MP, Susan Kramer, which proposed to amend the Planning Act 2008 to require parliamentary approval for the construction of ‘new major airports and additional runways at existing major airports’. Despite Kramer’s Bill gaining a Second Reading by 247 votes to 203, without Government time it will fail. It is, however, interesting because of the light it throws on the real divisions within the PLP on the issue, given the private members bills are unwhipped.
Yesterday 23 Labour MPs backed Kramer’s bill. Of the 23 Labour MPs who supported Kramer’s Bill, 15 had voted against the Government on Heathrow on 28 January. But a further eight who backed Kramer’s Bill either voted for the Government on 28 January or abstained/did not vote: Hugh Bayley (for), Colin Challen (dnv), Katy Clark (dnv), Bill Etherington (dnv), Martin Linton (for), Paul Truswell (dnv), Dr Rudi Vis (dnv) and Mike Wood (dnv). Take the 15 Heathrow rebels from 28 January who also voted for the Kramer Bill together with these eight and then add the 13 Labour MPs who voted against Heathrow on 28 January but either missed or sat out yesterday’s debate (12 of them did not vote yesterday, only one - Nick Raynsford - supported the Government), then we reach the magic total of 36, just enough to have defeated the Government in January. You can see how hard – and how successfully – the whips worked at dividing and conquering.
There was one further, tiny, rebellion as well: Alan Simpson was the only Labour MP yesterday to support a Conservative Opposition Day motion calling for ‘unambiguous labelling’ of food, stating the country of origin to enable British consumers to show their preference for home-grown food.25 February 2009.
The Post Office is a tricky one for the Government whips (Exhibit A: the 108 Labour MPs who have signed Geraldine Smith’s EDM warning the Government that selling a minority stake in the Royal Mail would risk fracturing ‘one of Britain’s greatest public services’) because for most Labour MPs it sees a toxic combination of ideological predispositions reinforced by constituency pressure.
Since Labour entered Government in 1997, anything that involved the privatisation, part-privatisation or ‘marketisation’ of public services has proved unpopular with Labour backbenchers: from the part-privatization of National Air Traffic Services in the first Blair term, to foundation hospitals and tuition fees in the second, through to trust schools and probation service reform in the current Parliament. Moreover, this particular issue gets the public worked up in a way which none of those other issues did: plenty of Labour MPs reported being under serious pressure from constituents during recent post office votes, as well as knowing full well the damage rival election candidates can inflict with the issue.
So far the issue has seen votes cast in anger on four occasions since 1997, three of these in the last session. And although the number rebelling on each occasion has been relatively small – the largest saw 19 vote against their whips – they were all on Opposition Day motions, where the numbers rebelling are always small.
Yesterday’s Opposition Day debate saw a Conservative motion calling on the Government to implement rapidly the Hooper review, supporting the partial privatization of the Royal Mail. So no surprise no Labour MPs rebelled. But the Government whips will know that the issue has not gone away. Of these 108 Labour MPs, just over three-quarters have rebelled against Gordon Brown’s leadership already. We think the Tory tactics are clever: by supporting the Government now, they will help maximize the Labour rebellion when it comes on a vote of substance.
UPDATE: There was, however, a small Conservative rebellion, as picked up by ConservativeHome.
UPDATE 2: A closer inspection of the day's division lists reveals that both Wintertons plus Sir Patrick Cormack were in attendance earlier in the day during a vote on Housing waiting lists, but mysteriously disappeared on both votes on Royal Mail. So there's at least a handful of unhappy Conservatives over this issue.12 February 2009.
Six Conservative MPs broke ranks yesterday against a second money resolution for the Banking Bill. Last year, the Government asked for £40 billion from taxpayers to bail out the banks, but now we need another £200 billion. Mark Hoban, the Conservative frontbench spokesperson, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and called on his troops to abstain, as did Colin Breed, the Lib Dem spokesperson.
John Redwood didn’t agree, calling it 'the biggest, most important and most dramatic money resolution I have ever seen in the House of Commons', while Richard Shepherd argued that the Commons was being marginalised 'in the undertaking of its most fundamental duty, which is the supply of money.' These two were joined by Bill Cash (appropriately enough), David Heathcoat-Amory and Peter Bone and Philip Davies - both new boys from the 2005 intake - in voting against the resolution. A trio of other mavericks joined them in the no lobby: whipless Tory MP, Andrew Pelling; UKIP MP, Bob Spink; and former Labour MP, Robert Wareing. The resolution was carried overwhelmingly by 273 votes to 7.
Yesterday would have been Martin Linton's first ever vote against the whip, except it seems he was planning to rebel on a vote that never came. A standard whips trick is to try to split rebels between different votes, allowing them all to claim to have rebelled, but minimising the numbers at any one time. Classic divide and conquer stuff.
We all make mistakes, but maybe Linton would have been better off following the advice given by a character in Andy McSmith's novel Innocent in the House: 'It's very ill-advised to admit a mistake in this place. I did that in my first year: went through the wrong lobby by mistake, owned up; they made me look a terrible fool: the man who rebelled because he got lost in the lobby. With hindsight, I should have said I was driven by my conscience. Rather be a trouble maker than a chump'.29 January 2009.
We were right to be skeptical. It was the largest Labour rebellion on an Opposition Day since 1997, as opponents of the Third Runway have noted. Wonder where they got that little factoid from? (And there have now been 29 rebellions on Opposition Day motions since 1997 – not a lot of people know that). But Gordon Brown has suffered larger rebellions, and smaller majorities, in his time at Number 10.
This wasn’t just a rebellion of the usual suspects. There were three backbenchers – Nick Raynsford, Martin Salter and Andrew Smith (a close ally of Gordon Brown) – defying the whips for the first time since Brown became Prime Ministers (although they all had form before). The two MPs who resigned as PPSs – Andrew Slaugther and Virendra Sharma – were rebelling against the Government for the first time. You don’t have to be a genius to work out why some MPs were unhappy: as well as John McDonnell’s high profile opposition due to his Hayes and Harlington constituency encompassing Heathrow, three other MPs represent West London constituencies: Martin Salter (Reading West), Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall) and Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush). The rebellion also included no fewer than three former Environment ministers: Michael Meacher, Chris Mullin and Nick Raysnford.
Given all the hoo-ha about John Grogan’s EDM, it’s worth looking to see which EDM signatories voted against the Government, and which didn’t. It’s a fairly stark calculation. Of the seven who signed the EDM and who’d voted against Gordon Brown’s government on 20 or more occasions already, all voted against this time. Of the 10 EDM signatories who’d rebelled between 10 and 19 times before, seven (so 70%) voted against this time. Of the 23 who’d rebelled between one and nine times before, just five (22%) voted against this time. And of the 11 who’d never voted against the Brown government before, just three did so this time – but they were Salter, Slaughter and Raynsford, two with constituency interests, one former Environment minister.28 January 2009.
Airports can be tricky things for governments. The Heath government suffered a Commons defeat in 1973, over the passage of the Maplin Development Bill (you'll notice the lack of an airport at Maplin), and in 1984 the Government abstained on an Airport Inspector's Report in order to avoid defeat. Will tonight's vote result in the first Commons defeat of the Brown government?
We're sceptical, but it'll certainly be close. We're sceptical because it doesn't look as if all the Opposition parties will vote against - thus making the Government's real majority higher than its notional one - and because this is an Opposition Day motion, and MPs of all stripes hate voting against their party on Opposition Day motions.
We've noticed before the lack of any correlation between EDMs and eventual voting patterns. Just because MPs sign an EDM saying one thing does not actually mean that they will vote in the lobby for an Opposition Day motion saying it. Almost exactly a year ago, there was a Conservative Opposition Day motion on Higher Education, which contained exactly the same wording as an EDM to which 86 Labour MPs had added their name. Yet when the Opposition Day vote came round, the rebel ranks consisted solely of David Taylor, casting one of his now familiar double vote abstentions. So just because more than 50 Labour MPs have signed an EDM with the exact same wording as today's motion certainly does not mean they'll all vote for it. Some will back the Government, others will abstain. And maybe enough to save the whips' blushes.
The largest Labour rebellion on an Opposition Day motion since 1997 consisted of 19 MPs, and came over post offices in March 2008. It seems at least certain that that record will be broken today.
Two other records worth looking out for (although we wonder whether these might survive): the largest rebellion under Brown's Premiership thus far is 45, and the smallest majority thus far is nine.
Well, not quite. Ken Clarke might be the most rebellious Conservative MP, but as he was quick to point out yesterday, nearly all of his 33 dissenting votes under David Cameron’s leadership came over the issue of Lisbon. ‘I have not been rebelling on a whole range of issues’, he said on the PM programme on Radio 4 yesterday. He also mentioned the Iraq votes, back in 2003, adding ‘I can’t recall anything else I've rebelled on’.
Memory’s a terrible thing. So consider this a public service. It’s true that 26 of his 33 rebellious votes occurred on the Lisbon Bill. And there was a deferred division relating to Diplomatic and Consular protection for EU citizens which also saw him support the Government on the issue of Europe.
But there were six others – covering intellectual property rights, Northern Ireland, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, sexual orientation, the Al-Yamanah (Saudi) Arms Agreement, and the Terrorism Bill. It’s worth noting that in five out of six cases the Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. Still, it’s not Jeremy Corbyn territory.20 January 2009.
Anyone arriving here as a result of this piece, on ConservativeHome, might want to read the paper on which it's based. It's here (pdf, 37k), the result of the recent Nottingham University Centre for British Politics conference on the Conservatives. It gives the list of the currently most rebellious Conservative MPs -- headed by one K Clarke. It also discusses the shape of the parliamentary party after the next election (there will be just loads of newbies) and the problems and opportunities presented.8 January 2009.
As a New Year treat, from Hansard (18 December). It's a long quote, but worth it.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): My predecessor warned me that these debates were slightly odd events, to put it mildly. I have taken part in many European affairs debates, and I have likened them to an episode of “Dad’s Army”, with people constantly saying, “They don’t like it up ’em, you know!” However, today’s debate reminded me rather more of an episode of “’Allo ’Allo!”, as I shall explain.
For instance, we certainly have Colonel von Strohm—the seemingly very bluff but actually extremely bright man who organises everything—and that would definitely be the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). We also have Herr Flick, who is constantly scheming and a great enforcer of discipline, and I think that that is my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar). We certainly have Lieutenant Gruber, in the person of the extremely dapper, precise and keen-to-please right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay). Unfortunately, he is not in his place at the moment, for which absence he has offered his apologies. Above all, we have General von Klinkerhoffen, the heavyweight with the warm heart who is much nicer than his politics—definitely the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).
Everyone has been wonderfully eloquent today so the debate lacked Officer Crabtree, the man who gets all his words wrong, but that role would probably fall to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who sadly has not been able to take part in the debate. We have not had a Helga or a von Smallhausen, and we certainly have not had a Louise of the resistance, because she would say something only once. However, we have had Madam Edith, who invites everyone into her café and then warbles away to them eloquently. That is the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). [ Interruption. ] I did not hear what the hon. Lady just shouted at me.
Angela Browning: I am very grateful that I was not cast as Grandma.
Chris Bryant: Well, I think she used to get rather worried about the knobs at the end of her bed.
And to think that they say that the quality of parliamentary discourse is in decline....?2 January 2009.
Here's something to make you chuckle over the Christmas break... (Although why are you reading this over Christmas? Surely even the sort of anoraks who lap this stuff up have something better to do over Christmas? We certainly do...)
From the website of the Campaign for Conservative Party Democracy:
Tuesday 9th December. Hansard Society - "When Gordon Took The Helm". This was a meeting of the academic political establishment. I put forward the view that Parliament had broken down (see David Starkey last week). The academics did not agree. Professor Philip Cowley of Nottingham University even suggested that if I were a student of his I would be expelled for even suggesting such a thing. Who would want to be a student of him if he displays such arrogance when lecturing?
I seem to recall it being much more dramatic than that. It began with failing the student, then expelling. Then ensuring they were prohibited from going to any educational establishment in the UK ever again. Then the widespread revenge killing of the culprit's wider family.
It was, as you might have thought was obvious given the above, meant to be a joke... Arrogance is a terrible thing, whether it comes from pompous academics or po-faced campaigners lacking a sense of humour.23 December 2008.
Last week saw a highly partisan debate over the terms of an internal inquiry into the arrest of Damian Green. An amendment in the name of former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell that would have widened the remit of the inquiry was rejected by a Government majority of just four votes (with the main Government motion was carried slightly more comfortably by a majority of 23). On what was at least supposedly a series of free votes, 29 Labour MPs voted for Campbell’s amendment (along with Geraldine Smith, who voted in both lobbies). The 29 included Charles Clarke, Dennis MacShane, and Alan Williams, the Father of the House.
An earlier Government motion restricting the debate to three hours was overtly whipped. An Opposition amendment that would have doubled the length of time for debate to six hours was supported by five Labour backbenchers. This was the first Labour backbench rebellion of the new session, and the 600th since New Labour came to power in 1997.13 December 2008.
Not us! We're more excited by the fact that last night saw a further two Labour backbench rebellions, bringing the total for the session up to 103. During the Lords amendment stage of the Planning Bill four Labour MPs supported a Lords amendment that would have amended the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to guard against so-called 'garden grabbing'. The four were: Jeremy Corbyn, David Drew, John McDonnell and Paul Truswell. Earlier, the same four opposed the bill's fourth programme motion.25 November 2008.
Some fascinating votes last Wednesday on Commons reform. Most concerned the establishment of a series of regional select and grand committees for English regions, an idea mooted in The Governance of Britain at the very start of the Brown premiership. From the get-go the proposals have been fairly controversial, only passing the Modernisation Committee on the casting vote of the chairman - which, for ModCom, means the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman. And then only after a last minute change to the composition of the Committee, to ensure enough Labour MPs would back the proposals.
Commons modernisation - a process that began in 1997 - has long since ceased to be a cross-party affair. Most recent reforms have been enacted thanks to the bulk vote of the PLP - albeit on free votes - voting down the combined votes of the Opposition (again, usually on free votes). And for the most part, last week's votes fitted that pattern. Almost all Labour backbenchers voted for the reforms - and for the European Scrutiny Committee's deliberations to be held in private - almost Conservative and Lib Dem MPs voted against.
However, there were two intriguing votes that show this is not always an iron rule. One came over the issue of payment - with an amendment in the name of Labour backbencher, Andrew Mackinlay to prevent regional select committee chairs from being paid. As expected, most Lib Dem and Conservatives voted for Mackinlay's amendment, most Labour MPs against. But 19 Labour MPs broke ranks, just enough to ensure that it was passed, by a majority of just two. The bulk vote of the PLP doesn't always get its own way.
The second interesting vote came over the issue of topical questions on a Thursday afternoon. The only point of difference occurred over whether the Liberal Democrat frontbench should be allowed the same amount of time to speak (ten minutes instead of six) as the Official Opposition during topical questions. The Government frontbench appeared to support the proposal - and both Harriet Harman and Chris Bryant did just that in the division lobbies. But most Labour backbenchers simply absented themselves, allowing the Tory frontbench amendment opposing the new measure to be carried by 165 votes to 87. Two Government ministers, Kevin Brennan and Tom Watson, decided to register their abstention, voting in both lobbies. Why vote, when you can leave the Tories to do your dirty work for you?
The only other innovation, agreed without a vote, was to establish a Speaker's Conference to identify the reasons for the under-representation of black and minority ethnic people, women and disabled MPs. Given that the most obvious change in representation at Westminster over the last forty years has been the decline of working class representation, we'd start looking there if you genuinely want to improve representation. Not half as trendy, though.20 November 2008.
Two more revolts last night -- both on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. That takes us to 99 for the session, more than in all but one other session in the post war era. And we're not over yet.
UPDATE: Scratch that. There were actually four revolts that night - making it 101 for the session as a whole. All small beer - four rebels, two rebels, four rebels, and five rebels - but they all count. And there's still the Planning Bill to look forward to next week as well...
What’s the difference between a parliament and a session? In definitional terms, the former is the period between two general elections, whereas the latter is essentially just a parliamentary year, usually running from November one year through to November the following year.
Yet here’s a thing. In the first Blair Parliament, between 1997 and 2001, there were 96 separate rebellions by Labour MPs. In the current session, between November 2007 and November 2008, there have also now been 96 separate rebellions. And the session's not finished yet. In other words, the difference between a parliament and a session is that a session under Gordon Brown sees more Labour rebellions than a Parliament under Tony Blair.
Number 96 came over a Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion expressing concern at the Government’s plans to end the Post Office card account scheme in 2010. Seven Labour MPs supported the motion, and David Taylor cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The Government won the vote by 278 votes to 240, a majority of only 38, suggesting that there were several abstentions as well. This was the second post office rebellion this year – one in March saw 19 Labour MPs back a Conservative Opposition Day motion – and the issue causes concern on the Labour benches, with MPs reporting getting considerable grief from constituents over planned post office closures.
The subsequent vote on the Government amendment then saw both Paul Truswell and Ivan Lewis voting in both lobbies. Truswell’s may be a deliberate abstention, but Lewis is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DfID. There’s an error – on someone’s part – lurking there somewhere.
Earlier in the day, Richard Shepherd was the only Conservative backbencher to support another Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion, this time calling upon the Government to introduce ‘an immediate substantial cut in income tax’. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain.
UPDATE: Rebellion number 97 came on 12 November, during a deferred division, when four Labour MPs voted against the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2008. There were also some splinters amongst the Opposition Parties. Two Conservatives opposed the order (the rest backing the Government), and two Lib Dems backed the Government (the rest opposing the Order). One of this former group was Philip Hammond, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so we assume this was a free vote on the Conservative side. Or else he just put his cross in the wrong box. Presumably anyone shadowing the Treasury has a lot else on their mind at the moment.11 November 2008.
Last night's meeting of the PLP hosted a heated debate over a proposal from the Chief Whip that anyone who had voted against the party whip during the last year would be prevented from taking up a place on a select committee when spaces became available.
As is our way, we don't pass judgement on such a proposal -- except to note that we've calculated that 104 Labour MPs have voted against the whip during the present session. So you can expect 104 Labour MPs not to be huge fans of the idea...
UPDATE: One of the problems of a global (well, sort of) economic collapse, allied to the election of the first ‘largely-Hawaiian’ President of the US, is that stories like this, which would normally receive considerable coverage, get hardly a mention. Two exceptions here and here.
The introduction of the public bill committees, replacing standing committees, was one of the last Commons reforms during the Blair era. One of us went so far as to describe them as having ‘at least the potential to do more to improve the quality of the parliamentary scrutiny of Bills than any other Commons reform in the last twenty (or more) years'.
But the key word there is 'potential'.
We're not aware of any systematic research on how the procedure has been utilised, but the anecdotal evidence is that things are fairly patchy, with the evidence taking sessions - they key innovation of the process - not being used to their full potential.
Having sat in on one last week, it was clear that things could certainly be better. It wasn't just that the first ten or so minutes of an hour-long session with three academic experts was lost in a mass of points of order (these things happen), but that once the questions started they were too unfocussed. Too many were generalised, and fairly long-winded, discussions about the subject area. In other words, the committee was functioning a little bit too much like a standard select committee, asking generalised questions about the subject area, rather than focussing on the bill itself. It took at least half the evidence session until the questions began to focus in on specific parts of the bill. In addition to which there was the standard flaw with too many committee sessions: as so often, too many of the questions were overly long (as were some of the answers); very little of the questionning would have impressed Perry Mason.9 November 2008.
Forget all this guff about US politics. The real action on 4 November came on the Employment bill, which produced the largest rebellion of Gordon Brown's leadership so far.
A total of 45 Labour MPs (not 44 as reported by the BBC) supported a Labour backbench new clause that would have placed a duty on employers to co-operate with trade unions when conducting a ballot for industrial action. The move failed by 408 votes to 53, a whopping Government majority of 355. An earlier and much more publicized amendment to expel BNP members from trade unions was not put to a vote, thus preventing a further large Labour rebellion (15 Labour MPs had put their names to an amendment on this subject).
Both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative frontbenches voted with the Government on McDonnell's new clause, but two Liberal Democrat MPs, Paul Holmes and John Leech (a frontbencher), defied their party's line to vote for the new clause. No Conservative MPs rebelled on McDonnell's clause, but Andrew Pelling, who had the Tory whip withdrawn in September 2007, also voted for it, as did former Labour MP, Robert Wareing and Respect MP, George Galloway, together with two independents and three Plaid Cymru MPs.
It was another example of the increasingly powerful trade union group of MPs flexing its parliamentary muscles. In the last session, they secured major changes to the Companies Bill, and supported Andrew Miller's Temporary and Agency Workers Bill. And it was the largest rebellion on a trade union issue since 23 April 1980 when 48 Conservative MPs supported an amendment in the name of Tory right-winger John Gorst which tried to extend the right to vote on whether to be in a closed shop.
Perhaps most significantly, it was not merely composed of the usual suspects: it produced eleven new Brown rebels, of whom two had until yesterday never voted against their party's whip: Dr Nick Palmer, who was, until recently PPS to Malcolm Wicks, and Andrew Miller.
As a result of the rebellion, 107 Labour backbenchers have now defied Gordon Brown's leadership at least once, and there have now been 95 Labour backbench rebellions in the current session, equalling the 95 rebellions during the 2005-06 session. And there's more to come...6 November 2008.
You couldn’t make it up. As MPs debated the Report stage of the Climate Change Bill yesterday, it was snowing outside, for the first time in October since the 1930s. It fell to veteran Tory MP Peter Lilley to point this out, as the Bill received its Third Reading by a massive 463 votes to 3.
Including tellers, five Tories voted in the no lobby: Philip Davies, Christopher Chope, Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Ann Widdecombe.
Earlier, eight Labour rebels supported a Conservative frontbench new clause to the Bill that would required the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to establish a greenhouse gas emissions performance standard for any new electricity generating station. Three Tory backbenchers – Chope, Philip Davies and Ann Widdecombe – went in the other direction, and voted with the Government against the Tory new clause.
In a third Tory rebellion, Chope and Davies were the only Conservatives to oppose a Liberal Democrat new clause that would have required the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to report to Parliament on international aviation and shipping emission levels. Estranged Conservative Andrew Pelling voted with the Lib Dems in the aye lobby, as the Tory frontbench abstained.
A fourth Tory rebellion saw six Conservative MPs oppose a Government motion that sought to add 22 Government amendments to the Bill all in one go. In a rare example of dissent from the minor parties, the Tory rebels were joined by DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who acted as a teller for the noes.
Maverick MP George Galloway also made a rare appearance in the division lobbies, keeping warm from the cold outside. His two votes of the night were both cast against the Government.29 October 2008.
As well as the rebellions, there were four (well, four and a bit) interesting free votes during the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Four separate amendments, designed by opponents of the bill to close perceived loopholes, were all defeated - but each produced splits within the three main parties.
The splits followed the normal pattern.
Despite all the talk of this as a non-party issue, in every vote the (vast) majority of each of the two main parties could be found in opposing lobbies. Never less than 82% of Labour MPs who voted opposed each of the four amendments. Never less than 65% of Conservative MPs (and in three of the four votes, no lower than 72%) who voted supported each of them.
Meanwhile, on most votes, the Lib Dems split much worse than the other two big parties. In three of the votes, the majority of Lib Dems supported Labour MPs in opposing the amendments, but never more than 63% were in any one lobby (the party splitting 40:60, 41:59, and 37:63). The first vote of the night was the exception: 90% of Lib Dem MPs backed the amendment to only allow embryos subject to cytoplasm to be used, with the Lib Dems voting with the Conservatives.
The 'a bit' of the opening sentence refers to the Bill's Third Reading, where there was again a free vote for Lib Dem and Conservative MPs, but not for Labour. The direction was again similar: the majority of Conservative MPs voting against the Bill(49/86), with the majority of Lib Dems in favour (30/16).28 October 2008.
A handful of rebellions last week, after a few weeks of strained bi-partisanship in which there have been no rebellions by any party. A trio of Conservative MPs – William Cash, Laurence Robertson and Charles Walker – were the first to break ranks, joining the Liberal Democrats and the smaller parties in opposing a deferred division on Competition Policy relating to the Enterprise Act 2002.
Amidst masses of free vote splits (about which more later, perhaps) over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, there were also some Labour rebellions. Some 14 Labour MPs opposed the Bill’s second programme motion. The Government’s decision, on a whipped vote (the other two parties were given free votes) to put amendments on liberalizing abortion to the back of the queue yesterday caused both longstanding supporters of women’s right to choose – Diane Abbott, Ann Clwyd and Fiona Mactaggart - as well as around a dozen MPs from the left of the Party to rebel against the Government. (Paul Truswell also cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies).
And then on Third Reading there was what we assume was another rebellion by Labour MPs. Whereas the other Labour splits on the Bill on free votes involved 50-plus Labour MPs deviating from their party’s norm, including loads of ministers, just 16 Labour MPs voted to oppose the Bill’s final reading. They included Ruth Kelly, casting her first vote against the whip. The list of possible rebels does, however, also include Robert Flello, who, as far as we know, is still PPS to Hazel Blears.26 October 2008.
We’re back, after a short hiatus, partly the result of the recess, but also because of this. The latter may result in a slightly lower level of activity over the next few months, but we’ll do our best to keep on top of things.
We had been looking ahead to a really lively spillover period, but government retreats, especially over the anti-terrorism legislation have removed much of the potential for fun. There will still be plenty of opportunities for trouble ahead, though – and it will be interesting to see how the new whips office, headed once again by Nick Brown, will deal with them. Brown’s return got lots of coverage – but we were just as struck by the promotion of Tommy McAvoy, to Deputy Chief Whip, and the appointment of John Spellar to fill McAvoy’s position as Pairing Whip. That breaks McAvoy’s continuous service in the same position, which he’d held since Labour entered Government in 1997, and with those three in the key posts, it isn’t going to possible to do a good cop/bad cop act when chatting to potential malcontents.
Those who’ve just arrived in, or just moved from, the whips office might want to take note of a very interesting piece by Hopi Sen, who noticed the increasing career longevity of those who’ve done time in the whips office – what he calls the ‘Whip diaspora’. One of Tony Blair’s ambitions when he became Labour leader in 1994 was to try to make the Labour whips office function much more like the Conservative whips office – as a training ground for higher office. There was a rather good book - published a few years ago but still in print, don’t you know – which looked at whether he’d succeeded. The answer: up to a point. Yes, more whips go on to other posts in government, and they are good at holding on to office. But if you look at the very highest levels of government, it’s still noticeable that there are relatively few ex-whips in there, especially those who’ve come up through the ranks since 1994. All roads to high office have yet to run through the Labour Whips Office.13 October 2008.
What will the PLP look like after an election defeat? There’s a rather good piece in the latest issue of Prospect – ‘The resilient moderates’ – that looks at precisely that. At the moment, though, it requires a sub to view. Or else you could pop into a newsagent and read it quickly whilst the owner’s not looking.
The core argument, though, is that whilst many of the loyalists sit for marginal seats, and will get washed away earlier in a defeat, they are at least counter-balanced by the retirements, which are disproportionately leftists.
Under most circumstances the overall ideological effect of retirements and defeats roughly cancel each other out. Labour can, for example, lose every seat it currently holds with majorities of up to 25%, and overall the proportion of the PLP who supported McDonnell for the leadership or Jon Cruddas for the Deputy Leadership will remain almost identical to the situation if it loses not a single seat.
The piece concludes that if the balance of the party does shift ideologically after an election defeat it will not be because of a huge change in its personnel. It will be because of the lessons those remaining draw from that defeat.10 August 2008.
This morning one of our findings (that Brown suffered more rebellions in his first month than any other post-war Prime Minister) was used as a question on The Wright Stuff. Uncredited, of course. But still...
There's a thing that the academic funding bodies talk about called 'knowledge transfer'. Does knowledge transfer get much better than this?28 July 2008.
On Thursday, 19 Labour MPs backed an amendment in the name of Andrew Mackinlay which urged the Government to staff the secretariat of the Intelligence and Security Committee with officials under the authority of the Clerk of the House. The Labour rebels were joined by three Tories - Brian Binley, David Heathcoat-Amory and Philip Hollobone (the Conservative frontbench line was to abstain). In a thinly attended House, the amendment failed by 32 votes to 205.
Not much in this, you might think – relatively small fry and all that – except that it constituted Gordon Brown’s 100th backbench revolt since becoming Prime Minister (90 so far this session; 10 at the end of the 06-07 session). It’s worth remembering that Tony Blair suffered just 96 rebellions in the four years of his entire first term.
This session has already seen more government backbench revolts than all but four sessions in the post-war era. Given that there’s still all of the spillover to come, after the party conferences, we can see it easily toping the 93 of 1992-93, the 95 of 2005-06, and the 96 of 1977-78, although there’s still a long way to go before the monster 128 revolts of the 1971-2 session. So the whips will be able to argue that even though things get worse than John Major during Maastricht, Blair at his most unpopular, and Callaghan with his party riven, they ain’t quite as bad as Ted Heath when he was trying to join the EEC. Sometimes, you take your comforts where you can find them.21 July 2008.
Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was the only Labour MP to oppose two separate deferred divisions relating respectively, to the biometric registration of immigrants and civil penalties for biometric registration. The Tory frontbench line was to abstain on both votes, but in the first division, one Conservative - Mark Francois - voted in favour of biometric registration - while a single Tory - John Baron marked his cross against the measure.
For us, though, the biggest story of the day is this, from Ben Brogan's blog. For what it's worth, although it's being denied, we've heard similar stories, and from multiple sources.
The best story of the day, though, comes direct from Hansard. Nothing can beat this.10 July 2008.
Just one rebellion to report on the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill. Two Labour MPs - Mark Fisher and John McDonnell - objected to the Bill being rushed through the Commons in a single day. Fisher was particularly angry: 'We are rushing things through totally artificially. We do not need to finish today, or at 10 o'clock, yet we are saying that we will accept that. That is not right. Surely that demonstrates that one of the things which is so desperately wrong with this Parliament, and recent Parliaments, is that we are becoming completely supine before the view of the Executive.' Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The bill itself was not divided upon at Second or Third Reading. Indeed, there was only one other division on the whole bill, which saw no rebellions.9 July 2008.
Yet another Government concession prevented a large number of Labour MPs from backing a Tory amendment during the Report stage of the Finance Bill calling for a halt to the retrospective element of the new increases in Vehicle Excise Duty. The rebels, on this occasion led by Ronnie Campbell, accepted an assurance from ministers that the Government would look again at the issue at the time of the pre-Budget Report. In the event, only six Labour MPs defied the Government, and the rest of the Bill sailed through without any further rebellions. As we said a few days ago, the pattern is set for the rest of the Parliament: threat followed by concession followed by collapse of stout party.
On the other side of the House, just two Tory backbenchers, Philip Davies and Douglas Hogg, supported an SNP amendment that would have introduced a fuel duty rebate. Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat frontbenches abstained. Mike Hancock cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies.3 July 2008.
A promise from Jane Kennedy, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to use the pre-Budget report to look at a further compensation package for the 1.1 million people still set to lose out from the abolition from the 10p rate was enough persuade two Labour rebels - David Taylor and Dr Lynne Jones - not to move their amendments during the Report stage of the Finance Bill.
Taylor's amendment, signed by 20 Labour backbenchers, sought to introduce a taper mechanism to compensate everyone affected, while Jones's amendment had proposed that taxypayers be given a choice to opt in or out out of the 10p rate, allowing those who lost out to stay with the old system. As a result of the minister's soothing words, there were no Labour rebellions last night on any of the five divisions.2 July 2008.
First, find your issue. Then, threaten to revolt. Then the Government does a deal, and your revolt crumbles from 60+ to a much more manageable 20 or so. After yesterday’s much diminished rebellions over the Planning Bill, we suspect that this will be the pattern for the rest of the Parliament.
It’s not clear this is a bad thing, mind. As Frank Field said during yesterday’s debate: ‘I was pleased to hear that one of the charges against the Government is that they have been busy buying off opposition on the Government benches. I suggest that that is the House of Commons working effectively, and the more effective we make the House of Commons, the better’.
There were seven separate rebellions last night, six of them during the Report stage of the Planning Bill. But the Government staved off a likely defeat by accepting two amendments in the name of Clive Betts, requiring the the new planning quango, the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), by law to take account of communities’ views, and to hold public hearings if compulsory purchases are involved. Such was the measure of success of the Government’s concessions that only six Labour MPs went on to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.
Seventeen Labour MPs supported John Grogan’s amendment that would have required any decision by the IPC to be confirmed by the Secretary of State, and a related amendment, this time in the name of Paul Truswell, which attempted to restore the right of interested parties to make oral representations to planners, saw 16 rebel. At worse, the government’s majority fell to 42.
The whips also helped things along by allowing several Labour backbenchers the night off: for instance, four of the eight MPs who voted against aspects of the Planning Bill on 2 June did not vote last night. Despite rumours of mass Conservative absences, for the Henley by-election, around 180 Conservatives voted last night.
There were also a series of very tiny revolts over other aspects of the Bill: three Labour MPs objected to the Bill’s programme motion; two backed a Liberal Democrat clause that would have introduced a precautionary principle statement before planning consent could be given to building more mobile phone masts; and one, Paul Flynn, backed a Tory frontbench amendment that would have transferred the powers over planning from Regional Development Agencies to local authorities.
A total of 27 Labour MPs have now voted against the Planning Bill, but crucially for the outcome of yesterday’s vote, only 19 did so last night.
On a completely different topic, a deferred division earlier in the day saw one MP from each of the three main parties rebel: Tory Euro-enthusiast Kenneth Clarke supported a motion taking note of EU documents relating to the diplomatic and consular protection of EU citizens in third countries, while Labour Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner and Lib Dem John Hemming voted against.26 June 2008.
A happy coincidence saw a holiday in Spain (‘una cerveza por favor’) coincide with one of the quietest weeks in the Commons for ages. There were only three divisions all week.
This week, however, sees a couple of draft terrorism orders scheduled to go through the Commons on Tuesday - small beer, but they might keep things ticking along – followed by the Planning Bill on Wednesday.
A few weeks ago the Government took the unusual step of postponing the second day of this Bill’s Report stage, when they realised they were in trouble. It’s not clear they’ve done enough to get out of it since.
The Bill’s not been attracting that much media attention (notable exceptions notwithstanding), but the relatively low-key coverage might well be contributing to the government’s difficulties. Loads of coverage of the possibility of defeat concentrates minds. If you take a look at the rash of Government defeats in the Callaghan period, they were mostly on relatively minor issues. Backbench discontent is a bit like molten lava. If stopped from erupting in one place (like 42 days), it’ll often simply emerge through the next crack in the surface (planning).
The hope for the whips might be that enough Tory and Lib Dem MPs get stuck campaigning in Henley rather than returning for the vote. If we were the Labour whips, we’d schedule the key vote as early as possible, to present Opposition MPs with a dilemma. But if we were an Opposition MP, then we’d all return suddenly, having been absent for the whole day, and ambush the government. All good clean fun...23 June 2008.
Amidst all the furore over 42 days in the Commons, most commentators missed the fact that yesterday, the House of Lords voted by 280 votes to 218 against a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Eight Conservatives defied their party whip against a referendum. How's this for a list of distinguished Tory rebels?
* Lord Bowness, former Vice President of the European People's Party's Group on the Committee of the Regions
* Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, former Tory Home Secretary and former Vice-President of the European Commission
* Lord Garel-Jones, former Minister of State at the Foreign Office under John Major
* Lord Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister
* Lord Howe of Aberavon, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary
* Lord Hurd of Westwell, former Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary
* Lord Patten of Barnes, former Conservative Party Chairman, Governor of Hong Kong and Member of the European Commission
* Lord Tugendat, former vice-president of the European Commission
But if David Cameron is slightly embarrassed by the splits on his side, that is nothing to the embarrassment endured by Nick Clegg: 65 Lib Dem peers voted with the Government against a referendum. One Lib Dem peer - Lord Burnett, the former Lib Dem MP - voted in favour of a referendum.
Only two rebels emerged on the Labour side: Lord Gilbert and Viscount Simon.
We’ve done lots more analysis of the 42 days rebels. But given David Davis’s decision to resign his seat and fight a by-election, we guess no one’s interested...12 June 2008.
We’ve learnt never to draw too many firm conclusions until we’ve seen the full division lists – because there are usually one or two little gems lurking there – but based on the PA lists of 36 rebels which most media are using, you can see the remarkable job that the government did dampening down discontent on its own benches.
Of the 49 Labour backbenchers who voted against the Government in November 2005, when they went down to defeat on the Terrorism Bill, only 29 did so today.
Perhaps even more strikingly, of the 48 backbenchers who the whips had identified as noes – in a list leaked to a Sunday paper back in April, just 25 voted against the government. And note this: of the 39 backbenchers who the whips had down as wavering then, just seven voted against the government.
The main story will be the DUP what won it -- but the extent to which the government dampened down troubles on their own benches is extraordinary. Champagne corks a-plenty tonight in the whips office – and the Home Office – we suspect.11 June 2008.
The Government comfortably survived Day One of the Report stage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, though its majority fell to 23 at one point. Nineteen Labour MPs supported a Andrew Dismore’s new clause, which would have deleted a procedure giving the Home Secretary the power to decide that inquests should be dealt without a jury and with a special coroner if it was in the interests of national security. Dismore argued that this measure should be debated in the forthcoming Coroners Bill, rather than being tagged on belatedly to a bill dealing with anti-terrorism measures. His clause was defeated by 287 votes to 310.
A subsequent Liberal Democrat amendment that would have required the Lord Chief Justice or a senior judge to appoint coroners in these special cases attracted the support of four Labour MPs. However, there appears to be something fishy with the recording of this vote. Not only is the Lib Dem MP, Mike Hancock recorded as voting in both lobbies (which isn’t surprising), but Tory MP Greg Hands is recorded as having voted with the Government in the no lobby, while eleven Conservative MPs – including five Tory frontbenchers – are recorded as having voted in both lobbies. Either there was a right cock-up with the whipping, or Hansard will issue a correction shortly.
There were three other small Labour rebellions. As she is prone to do, Lynne Jones, , was the only Labour MP to oppose the Bill’s second programme motion. Two further rebellions related to control orders, which were introduced as part of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005: six Labour MPs backed another New Clause in the name of Andrew Dismore that would have required the Director of Public Prosecutions to certify that there was no reasonable prospect of prosecution before a control order could be made; and four Labour backbenchers then supported a Conservative frontbench amendment that would have removed the retrospective element in the Bill relating to control orders.
All this was the foreplay. The main action’s later tonight. For what it’s worth, the mood at Westminster seems to be that the Government will win, helped by the DUP and a handful of Conservative dissidents, the latter being mainly no-shows rather than Widdecombe-esque cross votes. We’ll see later tonight.
We don’t know.
And we don’t know because – aside from not knowing quite how many would-be rebels have been persuaded by the stream of concessions – we don’t know the following:
1. What will the DUP do? Will they all turn up? And if they do, do they vote against the Government (as they did in 2005 when they contributed to Tony Blair’s first defeats) or have they been offered enough to keep them with the government? Nine more votes in the Government lobby would make a hell of a difference.
2. What will the Tories do? There will be very few Conservatives who will do what Ann Widdecombe has said she’ll do, and vote with the Government. But there might be others who, quietly, will stay away from the vote. On a tight vote, a slightly under par Conservative turnout could be crucial.
3. What other concessions are planned? We’ve already had the announcement of a compensation package, but does Jacqui Smith have anything else, saved up for the debate itself. We’d not be surprised if she does. Last minute concessions can be enough for the waverers.
4. How will the rebels split? We’re pretty sure that there are still enough Labour MPs unhappy about this to defeat the government – but how many will vote against and how many will merely abstain?
We’re also not all that convinced that a defeat is quite as damaging for the government as some are claiming. It is in the whips interests to claim that a defeat now will be catastrophic – it puts the willies up the more impressionable backbenchers. But every Prime Minister since Heath has been defeated in the House of Commons at some point, even Thatcher when she had a much larger majorities. And there are worse issues to lose on than this, where the majority of the public are on the side of the government.
It seems that David Cameron hasn't convinced all his MPs about the harmful effects of climate change. Yesterday, five Conservative backbenchers voted against the Second Reading of the Climate Change Bill. While 49 Conservative MPs backed the Government in the aye lobby, Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Ann Widdecombe were the only MPs from any party to vote in the no lobby. The Government won out by 344 votes to five. Six Conservatives - Chope, Lilley, Davies, Tyrie, plus Philip Hollobone and David Wilshire - then voted alongside the Liberal Democrats against the Bill's programme motion, as the Tory frontbench abstained. The progamme motion was carried by 252 votes to 42.10 June 2008.
Last night, four Conservative MPs joined three DUP MPs plus UKIP's Bob Spink in opposing the draft Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 2008, which will have the effect of reducing the age of consent for homosexual sex in the Province from 17 to 16. Ann and Nicholas Winterton voted against the order alongside two of the 2005 intake of Tory MPs - Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, and the motion was therefore carried overwhelmingly by 279 votes to six.
With a bit more time to analyse the abortion votes, we've moved onto the way that women MPs voted. In a system in which the ties of party normally swamp any other differences, the issue of abortion has been one of the few to produce a gendered dimension in the voting. In the past, women MPs have, all other things being equal, been less likely to support reductions in the availability of abortion. And so it proved again in 2008.
On all of the IVF and abortion votes, women MPs were more likely to vote than men. The difference ranged from six percentage points (the two IVF votes) to 16 percentage points (the vote on information and counselling). Moreover, in almost every case, women MPs proved to be more opposed to restrictions on abortion than male MPs. For example, of the male Labour MPs who voted, 76% opposed a reduction to 22 weeks. For the women Labour MPs the figure was 89%, a difference of 13 percentage points. On every vote, on IVF and abortion, women Labour MPs proved more ‘liberal’ than male Labour MPs, by differences ranging from three percentage points to 15. The position for the (much smaller number of) Conservatives and Lib Dems is similar, if a bit more complicated. Out of the seven votes on IVF and abortion, Lib Dem women MPs proved more liberal than Lib Dem male MPs on six (the exception was the vote on abnormalities and counselling); out of the same seven votes, Conservative women MPs proved more liberal than Conservative male MPs on six (the exception was the vote on IVF needing a ‘father and a mother’). In other words, on all of the more conventional time limit votes on abortion, women of all three main parties were more liberal than their male counterparts.
If just male MPs had voted earlier this week, then the result on 22 weeks would still have been the same – but the majority would have been just six, instead of 71. This is, however, a slightly false counterfactual, and it is not the same as saying that a House filled entirely with men would have almost passed a reduction. Removing all women MPs from the calculation currently involves removing more Labour MPs than any others, and Labour MPs are the most ‘pro-choice’. In an imaginary world, with no women MP, then they would have been replaced by male MPs of the same party. Another back-of-the-fag-packet calculation shows that this would have produced a majority against reduction of around 40, which is a substantial reduction on the 71 achieved, but not enough to make the result close – and certainly not enough to claim that women decided the outcome.
Comparisons with the last time there was a realistic chance of amending the abortion law, in 1990, are also revealing. For one thing, it is noticeable how the range of time limits has changed. In 1990, the Commons voted on options ranging from 18 weeks to 28 weeks. In 2008, the range was 12 weeks to 22 weeks, although 24 weeks was included by default. In 18 years, therefore the range of options has shifted downwards by four to six weeks.
The second thing that is noticeable is how the parties have shifted (somewhat). Labour are (almost) as solid in a pro-choice direction as they were in 1990 (although there is a slight drop . The Lib Dems are also largely the same. They split over 22 weeks then, as now. The biggest change is in the Conservatives.
You can see this clearly using a measure called the Index of Party Unity (which is simply the majority percentage, minus the minority percentage, divided by 100). A united party will score 1.0, a party split down the middle will score 0.0. In 1990, the Conservative IPU on 22 weeks was 0.28, indicating that the party was heavily divided on the issue (roughly two-thirds in one lobby, one third in the other). The party scored 0.06 on 20 weeks, indicating a split right down the middle. The Conservatives IPUs now are 0.67 and 0.55 for 22 and 20 weeks respectively, indicating that the party’s MPs are now much more cohesive on the issue. In other words, the battle lines are much more obviously party political than they were two decades ago.22 May 2008.
Various other duties have delayed our publishing the breakdown of last night’s votes. The key vote – the 22 week time limit which was defeated by 71 – also saw some of the sharpest party divisions. Of the Conservatives to vote, 83% backed a reduction to 22 weeks, compared to just 20% of Labour MPs.
We’ve done some back-of-the-fag-packet calculations – assuming turnout and the behaviour of the various parties stays the same – and we calculate that in any future parliament, then once the two main parties get roughly equal numbers in the Commons then a 22 weeks limit will be passed.
The various other parties basically cancel each other out (the Lib Dems split heavily on 22 weeks, 42:58, and the various Ulster parties anyway cancel out the Lib Dems slight pro-choice surplus). Indeed, because Conservative MPs are slightly more in favour of 22 weeks than Labour MPs are against, it is possible that 22 weeks could be passed even if there were still slightly more Labour MPs than Tories after the next election.
Based on the new parliamentary boundaries, this would require around a 4.3% swing for the Conservatives to become the largest party – distinctly achievable, given the current poll ratings.
We stress that these are pretty crude calculations – there’s just too many imponderables to do anything more sophisticated – but given the sort of behaviour seen last night, it looks unlikely that a 24 week time limit would survive any half-decent improvement in the Conservatives’ electoral fortunes.
On paper at least, this argument also applies, to the voting on IVF and ‘fathers’. In both of the two votes on the issue, the party divisions were even starker than on abortion. Some 92% of Conservative MPs backed the amendments, compared to just 18% of Labour MPs. However, the Lib Dems were largely opposed to the amendments, which provided another source of ‘liberal’ votes apart from Labour. But the end result is about the same: once the two main parties become roughly equal – indeed, again, even if there remain slightly more Labour MPs than Conservatives – then any future vote could become very close. However, we suspect that whatever the situation on paper, this issue is slightly different in practice; the nature of the IVF issue will make it very difficult to reverse once the practice has become established.
A time limit of 20 weeks for abortion – the Dorries amendment – is somewhat further away. Although the majority of Conservative MPs back it, they do so less strongly than 22 weeks (a quarter are opposed), Labour are even more opposed to 20 weeks than 22, and whereas the Lib Dems split fairly evenly on 22 weeks, they are 75% opposed to 20 weeks. But a majority Conservative government with a working majority (25+?) would see a vote on 20 weeks becoming very close.
Several years ago, we wrote a paper (sub required, sadly) on free votes which noted what it called ‘Tory pragmatism’ on these issues. By this we meant that Labour MPs tended to take more absolutist stances on the issues, whereas Conservatives tended to be more nuanced. You see exactly this with the abortion voting. The proportion of Labour MPs voting for the ‘liberal’ position does vary depending on the exact proposition, but not by much: 94% of Labour MPs opposed 12 weeks, 93% opposed 16 weeks, 85% opposed 20 weeks, and 80% opposed 22 weeks. So the difference between the proportion backing the most moderate and the most extreme options was just 14 percentage points. But for the Conservatives the difference was a whopping 46 percentage points. Some 37% of Conservatives backed 16 weeks, rising to 43% for 16 weeks, to 77% for 20 weeks, and 83% for 22 weeks. Most Labour MPs were against a reduction – any reduction – in the abortion time limits. Most Conservatives were in favour of a reduction – but only a minority favoured the most dramatic reductions.
We should also add that we find the argument – put forward by some – that Labour MPs trooped through the lobbies in favour of the current laws on abortion to shore up the position of the Prime Minister not very convincing. The idea that Corbyn, Jones, McDonnell et al, who voted for the 'Government' position throughout the course of last night, want to shore up the Prime Minister is difficult to credit. Rather, they did so because a clear majority of them happen to agree about the need (as they see it) to protect the rights of women. Moreover, the turnout of the various parties was almost identical: 85% of Labour and Conservative MPs voted on 22 weeks, for example, along with 87% of Lib Dems. It makes it difficult to sustain arguments about underhand whipping.
One last thing – before the football comes on... George Osborne voted for the liberal option not just once, but in 13 separate votes spread over two days. On eleven of those occasions, he was in with a minority of his party.
More to follow.21 May 2008.
We've not seen the division lists of the multiple abortion votes this evening, ending with a fairly substantial rejection of any reduction in the time limits. But we note the large turnout - more than 540 on the final vote, including the tellers - and that means lots of Labour MPs. And we'll put money on that being the crucial factor explaining the outcome.
The downside of this for the pro-choice movement is that things could look very different after the next election. So, the best way to understand tonight's votes: no reduction in the time limits for abortion - at least for the next two years.20 May 2008.
Half-a-dozen fascinating votes yesterday, as MPs battled with the intricacies of embryology. The votes revealed lots of division within the parties – none of the votes saw any of the three main parties united, and only once did any of the parties achieve what Lowell called a ‘party vote’, with 90% or more of those voting in the same lobby. The rest saw the parties splinter at best, or split almost right down the middle at worst.
Yet at the same time, the votes revealed – yet again – one of the fundamental truths of these supposedly ‘non-party’ issues: party is fundamental to the outcome. For despite the party splits, Labour MPs voted overwhelmingly in a pro-research direction. On every vote, the majority of Labour MPs voted for the bill in its original format, and against any of the various restrictive amendments. Ditto for the Lib Dems. Even though they split heavily on some votes, the majority of Lib Dem Mps voted against each of the possible restrictions. The opposite was true of the Conservatives. Again, despite some splitting within the ranks of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, the majority of Conservative MPs voted for each of the possible restrictions. In other words, despite these being ‘cross-party’ issues, every vote saw the majority of Labour and Lib Dem MPs in one lobby facing the majority of Conservative MPs.
With just one exception, around one in five Labour MPs voted in a restrictive direction in every vote (the exception was the limiting of tissue typing to serious or life-threatening medical cases, where support fell away). This was enough to show why the Government (eventually) thought it sensible to offer a free vote to their troops but never enough put the outcome of the votes in serious doubt; the closest vote of the day saw a majority of 93.
The other two main parties split more variably. Lib Dem splits ranged from 22:78 to 46:56. On the Conservative side the splits ranged from 80:20 to 55:45.
George Osborne voted in a minority of his party on every vote. David Cameron only voted on the first vote – but again, he was in a minority of his own party. We make that five times that has happened now during his leadership.
Yesterday’s Second Reading vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was passed by 340 votes to 78. The vote was whipped on the Government side, but free for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
After pressure from three Catholic Cabinet ministers – Des Browne, Ruth Kelly, and Paul Murphy – the Government conceded that key aspects of the Bill should be subject to a free vote on the Government side during the Bill's Committee stage, but this will not be the case for the principle of the legislation at Second or Third Reading, as Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, made plain.
In the event, both Des Browne and Paul Murphy supported Second Reading, while Ruth Kelly was absent. Nine Labour MPs defied the Government whips against the Bill, including Tom Clarke, who was voting against his close ally, Gordon Brown, for the first time. One Labour MP – Paul Truswell – cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The Liberal Democrats split decisively 37/6 in favour of the Bill’s Second Reading.
Of much greater interest was the split on the Conservative side. In a low turnout, the Conservatives divided 37/49 against Second Reading, with David Cameron voting in the aye lobby. This is the fourth time since he became Tory leader where Cameron has voted against the majority view of his parliamentary party. The others were votes cast in favour an 80% elected House of Lords (where the Conservatives split 80/103 against); gay adoption (where the Conservatives split 29/85 against); and the abolition of blasphemy (where the Conservatives split 37/51 against). In each case, the party leader found himself in a minority of his party.
The Bill’s subsequent programme motion wasn’t free on the Government side either. This time, seven Labour MPs voted against the Government whip. Only one Conservative – Peter Bottomley – took advantage of his party’s free vote stance throughout the Bill’s passage to vote in favour of the programme motion, while the Liberal Democrats, also on a free vote, split 3/44 against.13 May 2008.
The House of Lords flexed its muscles again yesterday, as the Government was forced to make concessions on its plans to introduce a new offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. The issue became tied up with the Government’s need to get its legislation removing the right to strike for prisoner officers through. The Government accepted a freedom of expression clause in the name of former Home Secretary, David Waddington, qualifying the new sexual orientation offence. Two Labour MPs – Clive Betts and Jeremy Corbyn – rebelled in protest, while a third – John McDonnell – cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The Conservatives supported the Government in the lobbies, but one Tory – John Bercow – voted against the compromise, dubbing the Waddington amendment ‘superfluous and undesirable’. Colin Breed was the only Liberal Democrat MP to vote in favour of the compromise, while the rest of his party protested in the no lobby.
Earlier, in a deferred division, the Government brought forward a money resolution on the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, despite the fact that it opposed this piece of backbench legislation on Second Reading. There are precedents for money resolutions without Government support, including the Rights of Savers Bill, which came before the House a couple of years ago. For some unknown reason (if anyone knows why, please let us know!), David Chaytor cast his first dissenting vote against Gordon Brown by voting in the no lobby. Meanwhile, Patrick Mercer was the only Conservative MP to support the money resolution. The vote also provoked a rare split in the Democratic Unionist Party, with Jeffrey Donaldson and Peter Robinson voting for the money resolution, while three of their colleagues – Gregory Campbell, Dr William McCrea and Sammy Wilson – voted against.
Earlier, Bob Spink, enjoying his new role as Britain’s first UKIP MP cast deliberate abstentions in two consecutive votes on Conservative Opposition Day motions, both on the Civil Service.8 May 2008.
Last night saw a quartet of interesting votes during the Lords amendment stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the most noteworthy of which was a sizeable Conservative split over the abolition of the blasphemy laws. On a free vote, 37 Conservative MPs - including David Cameron and 20 other members of the Tory frontbench - supported a Lords amendment abolishing the common law criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel; 57 Conservatives - including Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, together with 15 other members of the Tory frontbench - voted in the no lobby. By contrast, Labour and the Liberal Democrat MPs were wholly united in favour of abolition.
Earlier in the evening, the Conservatives again granted a free vote to their side over a Lords amendment to the Bill that would have inserted a freedom of expression clause, qualifying the new criminal offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. But on this occasion, only three Conservatives – John Bercow, Michael Gove and John Greenway – voted against the Lords amendment, while the remainder of Conservative MPs supported it. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were whipped, and both experienced minor rebellions. Three Labour MPs – Jim Dobbin, Peter Kilfoyle and David Taylor – supported the Lords amendment. Two Liberal Democrat MPs – Alan Beith and John Pugh - also defied their frontbench line in support of the amendment. The vote also saw a rare split within the ranks of the SNP: three SNP MPs joined the Government in opposing the Lords amendment, but one – Angus MacNeil, the MP for the Western Isles – voted in favour. They don’t like that sort of thing in Na h-Eileanan an Iar.
The Bill also saw another small Labour rebellion as five Labour MPs, including Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, supported a Lords amendment that would have amended the Data Protection Act, adding sanctions for the ‘reckless, intentional or repeatedly negligent’ disclosure of information contained in personal data to another person. Two other Labour backbenchers – Katy Clark and Jeremy Corbyn – cast deliberate abstentions by voting in both lobbies, as did former Labour MP, Robert Wareing.
Lastly, John Pugh was the only Liberal Democrat MP to support a Lords amendment that would have left out Clause 10, which prevents magistrates’ courts from ordering suspended custodial sentences for summary offences.7 May 2008.
Another mid-size rebellion tonight, during the Report stage of the Energy Bill. We’ve been told that it’s 35 Labour rebels on the feed-in tariff, putting solar energy back into the national grid. It’s been reported as the largest rebellion under Brown – but if is 35, then it ain’t that. (The total to beat is 37, over the Offender Management Bill). More on this to follow.
UPDATE: It was actually 36 Labour rebels, plus Clare Short and Robert Wareing, neither of whom now count for our figures. Alan Simpson's New Clause 4 would have made the Secretary of State to require designated energy suppliers to introduce a renewable energy tariff for specified producers of renewable energy within one year of the passing of the Act. The rebellion produced four new Brown rebels - Paul Farrelly, Fabian Hamilton, Chris Mullin and Dr Rudi Vis - although all four were occasional rebels under Blair. It brings to 85 the number of Labour MPs to have defied the whip under Brown.
UPDATE 2: We've now been told that the figure is 38 - which would make it the largest rebellion, Hansard having missed off Jeremy Corbyn (how could you miss him?!). We're a bit confused, since that would - we think - only make 37, but those behind the rebellion are convinced the figure is 38... We'll look into it.
UPDATE 3: Whoops! The title 'And another one' was well chosen for this. Just as Hansard missed Corbyn, we missed David Heyes. So it was 38 after all -- and it was the largest rebellion against the Brown Government to date.30 April 2008.
There were, in the event, no Labour votes cast against the Government last night, with the Government winning by 264 votes to 307 on the Tory 10p amendment, and then 304-262 on the clause stand part vote. But there were a sizeable number of Labour abstentions. Of Frank Field's 39 rebel signatories, 17 (44%) did not vote last night, most will have been abstentions. A further eight Labour MPs who had signed EDMs criticising the policy also did not vote, including Kelvin Hopkins, Lynne Jones and Bob Marshall-Andrews. The Government might have defused the worst of the problem, but there’s still unhappiness, bubbling away beneath the surface.29 April 2008.
This – from Matthew Norman in the Independent - is funny, if a bit harsh:
Despite a healthy majority in the mid-60s, where Major's was down to single figures, he now has approximately a six times greater chance of winning gymnastics gold in Beijing on the asymmetric bars than of getting his nonsensical 42-day detention period on to the statute book. From this day forth Gordon is a legislative quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down and reliant on uncaring backbench carers for the most basic of his parliamentary needs.
This – from John Kell’s blog – is much more thoughtful (although Jacqui Smith wasn’t Chief Whip at the time of the 90 days detention defeats). We also don’t buy the line that a defeat over 10p tax would have led to a general election; it would have been hugely damaging, but it wouldn’t have been a vote of confidence.
Still, the important point about 10p is this: here is a government with what traditionally would have been considered to be a comfortable working majority, and yet it is forced, effectively, to change a key part of its budget as a result of backbench pressure. So, come on Simon Heffer and all the rest of the parliament-is-in-decline merchants: when was the last time that happened?28 April 2008.
Amidst all the fun and games over tax, a rebellion on Tuesday has gone unremarked.
21 Labour MPs supported Jim Cousins's amendment to the Pensions Bill that would have implemented the restoration of the earnings link with pensions in 2009-10 at the latest. The long-running campaign to restore the earnings link succeeded in the Pensions Act 2007, but the Government insisted that the change would not be implemented until 2012.
The good news for the Government is that the rebellion was not as large as in April 2000, when 40 Labour MPs voted to restore the link. Nor did the rebellion produce any new rebels. The whips have quite enough of them to be dealing with at the moment without any more being produced.
And yesterday in a deferred division, three Conservative backbenchers - William Cash, Richard Shepherd and David Tredinnick - voted against a draft order bringing in biometric registration for immigrants. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. It was Tredinnick's first dissenting vote against David Cameron's leadership. Jeremy Corbyn was the only Labour MP to oppose the measure.24 April 2008.
At least no Labour MPs voted against the Second Reading of the Finance Bill last night - which would have been a first since 1997. Frank Field supported the Government - although we see that the names of Corbyn and McDonnell are both missing from the division list. Were these abstentions? The Government's majority was 75.
UPDATE: We've also noticed that David Taylor cast his now usual deliberate abstention on the 10p rate amendment.22 April 2008.
Here are four slightly different views on what’s going on:
Labour whips see the vote as a "confidence issue," meaning a Government defeat could trigger a general election – Telegraph
Government whips have warned that defeat in the budget vote would trigger a confidence vote in the government the next day – Guardian
That is why government whips are correct to treat the vote as tantamount to a confidence issue - The Times
Labour whips told rebel MPs that a defeat next week, three days before the local elections, would be seen as a vote of no confidence in Mr Brown – an implicit threat that he would resign and call a general election – Telegraph
This is all a bit confused. Put simply, a vote in the Commons is only a formal vote of confidence if either the Government or the Opposition say it is. (There’s a very helpful Commons library note on this here). Treat with a pinch of salt all claims that it is ‘tantamount’ to one, or that the Labour whips ‘see’ it as one, until someone senior goes public and says so explicitly. Until then, this is just part of the process of ramping up the pressure on the rebels. And the idea that Gordon Brown will fight an election on a platform of removing money from the low paid strikes us as, well, a little unlikely.
The Guardian’s claim is also distinct: a defeat on the Finance Bill will lead to a vote of confidence ‘the next day’. John Major did something similar in 1993, following defeat on the Social Protocol of the Maastricht treaty but it is not clear in what form any further vote would be. Would it be to revisit the tax cut but as an explicit vote of confidence or would it simply be a motion of confidence in the Government (in which case the 10p rate would remain)?
If they decide that the only way they’ll get it through is to make it a vote of confidence – as Major did in 1994 with the EC (Finance) Bill – then that’ll be made explicit beforehand. More likely, we suspect, are some further promises to buy off enough of the rebels.
The whips need to be careful here too. Because if they go around saying that it is tantamount to a vote of confidence, but, say, 20 Labour MPs still vote against, then what do you do with the 20? When Major had eight MPs abstain on a vote of confidence, he removed the whip – with disastrous results. If the whips call the government’s bluff, this tactic runs the risk of undermining the nuclear option of a genuine vote of confidence.
None of this isn’t to argue that a defeat wouldn’t be hugely damaging. As we pointed out yesterday, it would be the first time in at least 90 years that a government with a majority of this size has gone down to defeat on a Finance Bill. It would leave a huge hole in the budget – and in the Prime Minister’s credibility and authority. But that’s not the same as it being a vote of confidence.
UPDATE: Note this, from Bloomberg: 'Asked if Brown viewed next week's vote as a confidence motion, meaning Brown would feel obliged to call an election if he lost it, his spokesman Michael Ellam replied that it was ''an important vote.'' Quite. So not a vote of confidence then, whatever the whips say to the more guilable of backbenchers.
Amongst the many things that has made the 10p tax revolt so tricky is that MPs have been away from Westminster for the last fortnight, where many of them have been getting Grade A grief from constituents. They have also been away from soothing words from ministers and whips, anxious to explain the policy and offer reassurance. We’re not sure how large any rebellion during the Finance Bill will be, but we’ll put the house on the fact that it won’t be as large as the 73 who have so far signed EDMs expressing doubts about the policy. It never is.
However, what if – and it’s still a big if at this point – they do go down to defeat? Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian argues that Brown could be gone within days, if that happens.
Since the First World War, there have been 15 Government defeats on the Finance Bill which have occurred on the floor of the House. All except one of these – during Lloyd George’s coalition Government in 1921 – occurred under Labour Governments. None led to a Prime Ministerial resignation or a general election.
However, there is a crucial distinction: all the Labour defeats occurred when the government had a tiny, or in some cases a non-existent, parliamentary majority. Most were simply the result of Opposition parties mobilizing against them. Almost none saw backbench dissent on the Labour side; only one can realistically be said to have been caused by backbench dissent.
This time, the Government has a majority of over 60. No Government with a majority that size has lost a vote on a Finance Bill on the floor of the House in 90 years. That’s why it would be quite so damaging if it happened – and partly why we suspect it won’t happen.21 April 2008.
That Richard Dawkins bloke, he know nothing. Proof that there is indeed a divine being came with yesterday's Sunday Times, and its leaked list of Labour MPs' views over 42 days detention. The pdf - with every MP - is here. And it's glorious! Our favourite comments are 'usually persuadable' (John Cummings) and 'hopeless' (Roger Godsiff).
We've no idea who leaked this, but our guess is that it is someone from the Whips' Office, in a desperate attempt to make the Generals realise the depth of the hole they are in.
We also suspect it's been cleaned up - most of the comments seem, well, rather polite.
One final point: lots of the coverage (including the Sunday Times) has said that the list indicates that at least 50 Labour MPs will vote against the Government. It doesn't. It indicates that the whips fear at least 50 Labour MPs may not vote with the Government -- it doesn't indicate whether they will abstain or vote against. In parliamentary arithmetic, it's a crucial distinction.
UPDATE: Readers of this site have pointed out two other interesting little snippets. First, the list includes Bob Wareing, even though he is whipless. It doesn't include Clare Short, however. Second, it doesn't include the whips themselves, a group which includes Sadiq Khan, who voted against 90 days when it came up in November 2005.
Gwyneth Dunwoody, who has died aged 77, was not only the oldest female Labour MP and the and longest-serving woman MP ever, as the rest of the media have already pointed out, but she was also the oldest rebel Labour MP. By the end of her life, she had voted no fewer than 118 times against various Labour Governments over the last forty years or so – with 84 of those votes being against the Blair government.
First elected for Exeter in 1966, Dunwoody rebelled only twice during Harold Wilson’s second administration, unsurprisingly since she spent the bulk of the period serving as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (1967-1970). Eventually, she was re-elected as the Labour MP for Crewe in February 1974, and she rebelled on 23 occasions from then until Labour lost power in 1979.
During the Tony Blair’s first Parliament, from 1997-2001, Dunwoody defied the party whip on 40 occasions. In particular she spoke up, as chair of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee, against the privatization of National Air Traffic Services (NATS), where she voted against the Government on seven occasions.
During the 2001 Parliament, she clocked up 27 rebellious votes, defying the whip over a whole range of issues including faith schools, competition policy, the abolition of trial by jury, foundation hospitals, asylum and immigration policy, top-up fees, identity cards, gambling legislation, anti-terrorist measures, but not over the war in Iraq: in many ways, she remained an old-fashioned traditionalist, and was particularly strong in defence of the Cheshire Regiment, based in her constituency. But her most famous act of rebellion wasn’t officially a rebellion at all. In 2001, the Government whips tried to crowbar her out of her job with the Transport Select Committee, where she had become a fierce critic of the Government. On a free vote, Labour MPs voted to reinstate ‘Saint Gywneth’, as she briefly became known.
So far this parliament, she had voted against the whip 26 times, including eight times against the Lisbon Treaty. A defender of the rights of backbenchers, Dunwoody spoke out against the timetabling of the Lisbon Bill. She was strongly of the view that the Executive had become too powerful at the expense of backbenchers, and made dozens of speeches during the Blair period to that effect. During the debate on the programme motion, she claimed, ‘… this House is marginalised too often – it is not even held in contempt, but marginalised. We have become the backcloth for the Executive to parade around our Parliament, the country and the world.’
But most of all, Dunwoody will be remembered most for being as tough as old boots. She once terrified one of us by showing her impersonation of a plane coming in to land, complete with sound effects and waving arms. At times, she had the finesse of a mallet, bludgeoning her opponents with a searing speaking style in Commons debates. For that quality alone, she will be missed.18 April 2008.
Some bright spark at Conservative HQ has crunched our numbers, and worked out that Gordon Brown has suffered more backbench revolts in his first ten months in power than Tony Blair did in his last ten. The resulting Conservative press release (‘Brown is the weakest post-war Prime Minister’) contains a whole string of other damning facts: 79 Labour MPs have rebelled against Gordon Brown since he became Prime Minister; there were more rebellions in his first month than in the first month of every post war PM; Labour MPs currently rebel against Gordon Brown in 38% of Commons votes (in fact, we make the very latest figure for this session, 39%).
All of this is true. And there’s more trouble ahead.
However, here’s four other things to bear in mind.
First, we wouldn’t normally compare periods of ten months like this, because rebellions are not usually constant throughout a session. Better really to compare full sessions with each other.
Second, the figure for the number of rebellions Gordon Brown’s period as premier is somewhat inflated by lots of small rebellions over the Lisbon ratification, which had its committee stage on the floor of the House, thus driving up the total, even though most consisted of just a handful of MPs.
Third, although there have been lots of rebellions so far in Brown’s premiership, most of these have been tiddlers. The (mean) average for this session so far is just seven, and the largest was 36. The largest in Blair’s last ten months was 95.
Fourth, although it’s true that 79 Labour MPs have rebelled against Brown since he became PM (and we bet that’s more than most people realised), it’s a lower figure than in Blair’s last ten months (the rebellions over Trident alone involved more) and nearly all of Brown’s rebels are simply Blair’s rebels, carrying on as before. Just two of the 79 had not rebelled against the Blair government.14 April 2008.
We're a bit baffled by why the 10p tax rate stuff is kicking off now. Surely the time to object to this was either when last year's Finance Bill was going through Parliament, or when the budget resolutions came up? There was a small revolt last year, when seven Labour MPs backed a call to force the Treasury to compile an assessment of the effects of the aboilition of the ten pence band. But all seven were pretty easily dismissed by the whips: Corbyn, Field, Hoey, Hopkins, Jones, McDonnell, Simpson. It's a bit late for all the rest of them to object to it now.
In an interview with GMTV, to be broadcast this Sunday, Frank Dobson both predicts a defeat for the Government over 42 days, but also suggests that reform of the Civil Contingencies Bill may provide a basis for a compromise with the Government.
He warns that more Labour MPs are minded to vote against the government than last time, when the government was defeated:
“As far as I can see, and I’m not running a whipping system against the government, but just from what people have said to me it’s quite clear the government lost last time, and there are people who voted with the government last time who’ve told me that this time they will vote against what’s proposed because nobody has come up with any sound evidence more than 28 days. And when the director of Public Prosecutions who after all is responsible for deciding these things says that he doesn’t need more than 28 days, well, you know, who do we listen to?”
But it's also clear that there is a way out: “I just hope that between now and when the bill comes back to the House of Commons the government will listen to what a lot of us have been saying and join together and maybe we need to strengthen and amend the Civil Contingencies Act to cover against a real crisis or a real emergency and I’m sure that I and my colleagues will be willing to go along with that and I would hope that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will as well”.4 April 2008.
The Liberal Democrats are a cheery bunch. Yesterday, they selected home repossessions and Heathrow’s expansion as their two topics for their Opposition Day debates. Both produced interesting, if tiny, rebellions in the two main parties.
Three Conservative backbenchers – Peter Bottomley, Douglas Hogg and Richard Shepherd - supported a Lib Dem motion highlighting the number of home repossessions. Former Tory MP, Bob Spink joined them in the aye lobby, as the Conservative frontbench abstained. Robert Key voted in both lobbies.
Two Labour MPs – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – then supported a Lib Dem motion calling on the Government to withdraw permanently plans for a third runway at Heathrow. McDonnell has a local interest: part of his Hayes and Harlington constituency will disappear – including three schools, a community centre and a hospice – if the Government’s plans go ahead. Richard Shepherd was the only Conservative MP to support the Lib Dem motion, alongside Bob Spink. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. Two other Conservatives – Philip Davies and David Wilshire – voted with the Government in the no lobby, alongside former Tory MP, Derek Conway, now free to vote how he likes. Like John McDonnell, David Wilshire spoke in the debate, but he came out in favour of building the third runway: unsurprisingly as 26 % of his 70,000 constituents depend directly on Heathrow for their jobs.
When the House divided on a subsequent Government amendment to the Liberal Democrat motion, David Wilshire and Peter Lilley voted in the aye lobby, while Corbyn and McDonnell voted with the Conservatives and the LibDems in the no lobby.
There was also evidence of local issues affecting the way MPs vote with a vote on Northern Rock, which until now hasn’t triggered much in parliamentary terms. We’ve only had one small Commons rebellion back in February involving just three Labour MPs. But it now seems as if local MPs in Tyne and Wear and Teeside are starting to get jittery about the consequences of recent Northern Rock job losses. Yesterday, five Labour MPs voted in favour of an Opposition Prayer, attempting to annul the transfer of Northern Rock plc to the state sector. Two of the rebels – Jim Cousins and Stephen Hepburn – represent Tyne and Wear constituencies, while a third, Frank Cook, is MP for Stockton North in nearby Cleveland. Two other Labour MPs appear to have rebelled – Barry Sheerman and Claire Curtis-Thomas. Curtis-Thomas, was, as of yesterday, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Baroness Scotland in the Law Officers’ Department -- and she remains listed on the Parliament site as a PPS. If this isn't a Hansard error, then we assume she will have to resign her post, making her the first government casualty related to Northern Rock.
UPDATE: We've now been told that Claire Curtis-Thomas resigned as a PPS some months ago to take up a seat on the Council of Europe - the Parliament website is out of date.3 April 2008.
Last night saw a total of 30 Labour MPs vote against the Government during three separate rebellions during the Report stage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. That’s two more Labour backbenchers than voted in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty a few weeks ago - and yet there's been virtually no media coverage of last night’s rebellions.
During the interminable Lisbon debates, Labour MPs had to be forced at gunpoint to turn up to speak. But give them a bread-and-butter issue, like Post Office closures (last week), or council housing (last night), and they are queuing up to speak, and Iain Wright, the junior housing minister, came in for a torrid time.
The largest rebellion saw 30 Labour MPs support Austin Mitchell’s New Clause 8, which would have required the Secretary of State to take certain matters into account when determining what subsidy to give to local authorities to support their housing revenue accounts, in particular, ensuring they had the necessary resources needed to meet the decent homes standard and the need for affordable housing. Two Conservatives – Nigel Evans and Robert Syms (who spoke in the debate) – also supported the new clause, as the Conservative frontbench abstained.
Earlier, 27 Labour MPs supported Liberal Democrat New Clause 1, which would have introduced a code of practice for local authority consultations with tenants, particularly in relation to ballots on whether to privatize the local council housing stock. Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders voted in both lobbies.
Finally, five Labour MPs backed a Conservative frontbench New Clause 32, which would have defined the meaning of ‘Community Land Trusts’.
While last night’s rebellions produced only one new Brown rebel (Joan Walley) ministers and whips alike will be alarmed at the sheer frequency of rebellions – currently running at a rebellion in 38% of divisions.1 April 2008.
The crucial vote on the Counter-Terrorism Bill is not Tuesday’s Second Reading vote. In 2005, when the Government got turned over on this issue before, the Second Reading rebellion was only 16. That grew to more than 50 – and resulted in defeat – when we got to the detailed votes, at Committee and Report. Expect a similar pattern this time: there will be lots of moaning, shots across the bow, that sort of thing, tomorrow, but most of the would-be rebels will save their powder for later, not least because there will be plenty of other stuff in the bill of which they will approve.
It’s often forgotten that the Government didn’t just lose last time over 90 days. The majorities against last time were 31 and 33 respectively. So managing to pull in one or two converts, or getting the support of a handful of Conservative defectors, simply aint going to be enough. And it’s not as if we’ve seen waves of converts. An editorial in today’s Guardian advises the Government to pull stumps. We can’t see much alternative – at the moment, it seems to us it’s either that or go down to defeat.31 March 2008.
Last night, 12 Labour MPs supported a Conservative Opposition Day motion calling for an inquiry into the war in Iraq. The Government won by 299 votes to 271, but its majority was more than halved to just 28. Seven of the 12 Labour dissenters on the first vote then opposed a subsequent Government amendment, the Government winning more comfortably with a majority of 40. In addition to the 12 rebels, we suspect there were also quite a few Labour absences.
Only two of the 12 Labour rebels – Harry Cohen and Linda Riordan - were breaking their duck under Gordon Brown. But both are well known to Labour whips from the Blair era.
The other two main parties were united, but Bob Spink, who resigned the Conservative whip on 12 March before he was deselected by his local Conservative association, backed the Government in both Iraq votes. Meanwhile, former Labour MP Robert Wareing also voted against the Government on both occasions, while Clare Short voted against the Government on the Conservative motion, but did not vote on the amendment.
This was the first Iraq-related rebellion under Gordon Brown’s leadership, but there are no signs that internal Labour divisions on the issue have grown since Tony Blair stood down: last night’s rebellion was identical in size to that in 2006, when 12 Labour MPs supported a joint Plaid Cymru/SNP Opposition Day motion similarly calling for an inquiry. Eight of the twelve MPs who participated in that vote, also rebelled against the Government last night.
The recent spate of rebellions means that there have now been fifty backbench rebellions against the Brown government, involving 76 Labour backbenchers. All but two – Fiona Mactaggart and John Spellar – were rebels in the Blair era.26 March 2008.
There's a very good piece in today's Guardian, by Polly Toynbee, in which she deals with much of the hooha around whether embryo research is, or isn't, an issue of conscience. As we've said before, it's a much greyer issue than most of those pontificating on it seem to realise.
We're struck by other things about the ongoing debate, though. The first is how many people seem not to understand the difference between abstaining on a whipped vote (which is what PLP Standing Orders have always allowed, and what has therefore been on offer from the start) and being allowed a genuinely free vote, so that you can vote against something. Much of the talk at the weekend about government compromises failed to understand that what was being promised was merely the first - which had always been on offer.
The second is the one-sided nature of the pressure being placed on MPs. It's all coming from one direction - the antis. It's all very well Lord Winston popping up to lay into the Catholic Church, but where have all the charities dealing with things like cystic fibrosis been? God, as a Labour MP once said, 'writes a lot of letters'. It's no good those in favour of this bill moaning if MPs begin to buckle under the pressure of their postbags, if they've done nowt to apply the counter pressure.25 March 2008.
There were 19 Labour MPs who voted for yesterday’s Conservative motion on post office closures, with nine of them carrying their protest through onto the Government’s motion as well. In absolute terms, the size isn’t that shocking – Brown has already experienced larger revolts – but this was on an Opposition Day motion, and Labour MPs rarely rebel on such votes. The largest Labour rebellion on an Opposition Day until yesterday was the dozen who rebelled in November 2006 on a Plaid/SNP motion on Iraq. So this was the largest Opposition Day rebellion since 1997 by far.
The rebels are perhaps too easily dismissed as the usual suspects. For sure, some of them are – and all of them have voted against their whip before. But for John Grogan and Sir Peter Soulsby this was their first vote against the whip since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and for Eric Martlew this was his first against the whip since the 2005 election.
The Government’s majority was reduced to 20, albeit on a relatively low turnout. Indeed, as Ben Brogan reports, one of the most interesting features of last night’s voting was that David Cameron was not present to reduce that down to 19.
UPDATE: Tuesday also saw John Spellar, a minister for the entirety of Tony Blair's Government, remaining wholly loyal, defy the party line, casting his first ever votes against a Labour Government. In two separate rebellions, he voted against the increases in duty of beers, wines and spirits, and also against the increases in vehicle excise duty.20 March 2008.
An interesting initiative from the House of Lords, in association with the Hansard Society, Lords of the Blog, is a multi-authored blog from nine members of the House of Lords, and which has the potential to be very useful.
They've been blogging privately for a while, to get them used to the technology. So it includes Lord Tyler's record of a talk given at the Lords in early-February on backbench behaviour, which concludes 'Professor Cowley cheered us up'. Now, that's not a sentence you read very often.17 March 2008.
Anyone who watched PMQs this week will have seen the clash between David Cameron and Gordon Brown over who the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and the Government’s apparent decision to whip it in the Commons, as they did in the Lords. There’s been much hoo-ha about what an outrage it is, issuing a whip on an issue of conscience.
The trouble is that this phrase, ‘issue of conscience’ is vague and fuzzy, and doesn’t really mean very much. It’s never clear what it includes and what it doesn’t. Oppositions usually find it very easy to grant free votes – it often gets them out of tricky difficulties with their backbenchers – but for Governments it’s often a tougher decision, and it depends as much on political calculation as any underlying principle. It’s sometimes wiser to allow a free vote – helps keep the troops happy – but that’s different from saying there’s some great principle at stake here.
Someone once wrote a very good book on this, by the way… It’s maybe a decade old now, but it’s aged well.
15 March 2008.
Bob Spink's departure from the Conservative whip means we lose one of the most rebellious Conservative MPs. He was the third most rebellious Conservative MP during the 2001 Parliament, and since the 2005 general election, he's cast no fewer than 27 rebellious votes against the Tory frontbench, 23 of them under David Cameron's leadership.
It's worth noting, though, that he's not the most rebellious Conservative MP. That's Ken Clarke, who has rebelled a total of 32 times since the 2005 general election. Spink would have been clearly in the lead as this Parliament's most rebellious Conservative MP had the pro-European Kenneth Clarke not racked up 25 rebellious votes in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in the last few months.12 March 2008.
Last night, the Commons voted by 346 votes to 206 in favour of the Third Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill. Just 10 Labour MPs opposed Third Reading, although around a dozen others are thought to have abstained. Eight out of the ten Labour rebels had also voted against Second Reading, while the other two - Colin Burgon and Roger Godsiff - had abstained. The three Conservative MPs who backed the Lisbon Treaty at Second Reading - Kenneth Clarke, David Curry and Ian Taylor - did so again on Third Reading. Even the Liberal Democrat rebellions of last week petered out: the vast majority of Lib Dem MPs supported the Bill; only two Lib Dem backbenchers - Mike Hancock and Richard Younger-Ross - opposed it.
The last word, as always on Europe, went to Bill Cash, who raised a point of order after the vote, asking the Speaker, 'to whom do I turn to establish the extent of scrap value of the Mace this evening?' The Speaker replied: 'We have a fine Mace, and it has no scrap value. It keeps its value'. As a former sheet metal worker, he should know.
The legislation now passes to the Lords, where there will be fun, fun, fun.
If you want to know the reach of the BBC, and Nick Robinson in particular, then you should see our readership stats for yesterday. This site gets mentions on other blogs all the time, and our traffic occasionally blips upwards as a result, but yesterday we got a brief mention, tucked away in a PS, in one of Nick’s blog post, and traffic increased 1000%. Worth every penny we pay in licence fee, we say.
In some of the comments, he got some stick for referring to the Tory split over Bill Cash’s amendment (below) as a ‘rebellion’, when it was a free vote for backbench Tories. This may well have been our fault, as we told him about it before we knew it was a free vote. But still, some of those criticising him implied that because it was a free vote, there was nothing in the story. Nothing to see. Move along now.
Rubbish. Why was it a free vote in the first place? And if it was a free vote, why not a genuine one – why backbenchers only? Why was the frontbench position to abstain (the stance for which Nick Clegg had been crucified earlier in the day)? And why did Conservative whips tell their MPs – as Ben Brogan reports – that there would be no more ‘official’ votes, and that they could go home, just minutes before Cash’s amendment was called? The answer is that Cash’s amendment tapped into a potentially very damaging divide in the Conservative Parliamentary Party, between Euro sceptics (now the mainstream Conservative position) and what could easily be labelled a ‘Better Off Out’ tendency. If whipped, it would have provoked a damaging rebellion; if frontbenchers had been allowed to support it, some of them would –allowing Labour to make hay with Conservative splits. It was a piece of tactical genius on the part of the Conservative whips to deal with it how they did, aided by the Lib Dems whose own divisions laid down smoke, behind which the Conservatives could manoeuvre. But it was still a very revealing split. Indeed, of all the divisions seen on Wednesday night, it was probably the one with the most long-term significance.7 March 2008.
Aside from the Conservative quasi-rebellion (below), the votes last night also produced divisions in both of the other parties.
In total, fifteen Liberal Democrats voted for two separate amendments, both of which would have insisted upon a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. Thirteen supported a Conservative frontbench amendment insisting upon a referendum, while the Lib Dem frontbench abstained. They were joined by 28 Labour backbenchers. Meanwhile, three pro-European Conservatives – Kenneth Clarke, David Curry and John Gummer – voted with the Government in the no lobby. In the very next division, 14 Liberal Democrats supported Ian Davidson’s amendment that would also have held a post-ratification referendum on the Treaty. This time around, 26 Labour MPs joined in the rebellion, and the same three Tory backbenchers voted with the Government in the no lobby.
Whilst 12 Liberal Democrat MP participated in both votes, Andrew George only voted for the Conservative amendment, while John Leech and Mark Williams only voted in favour of the Labour one. Last night’s rebellions were therefore not the largest ever experienced by the Liberal Democrats. That particular honour still belongs to the 15 Lib Dem MPs voted against the introduction of the aggregates levy in April 2002. Some of the coverage lists 29 Labour rebels – but that includes Robert Wareing, now outwith the whip and an Independent MP. Denis Murphy and Mike Wood voted in favour of the Conservative amendment, but appeared to have abstained on the Labour one.
The Government whips will have been delighted to have seen a rebellion that, despite nearly hitting the upper end of their worst expectations (around 30 rebels) was almost completely eclipsed in the media by the Liberal Democrat splits. Had the Lib Dems not split last night, the headlines might have centred around the fact that the issue had produced the largest ever Labour rebellion on Europe since New Labour first came to power.
The reality is that while Labour dissent over the Lisbon Treaty has been very frequent (31 rebellions to date), it has not gone deep into the heart of the PLP. Even taking into account yesterday’s rebellions, the average Labour rebellion on the Treaty has consisted of only seven Labour backbenchers. And the total number of Labour dissenters on the Treaty now stands at 45, fewer rebels than have voted against the Government on a whole range of issues from
anti-terrorist legislation to replacing Trident to foundation hospitals to foreign policy issues to education reform. The fact remains that Europe is no longer an issue that divides the Labour Party to the extent that it did in the 1970s, 80s or 90s.
For the record, there were also two more rebellions last night. Seven Liberal Democrats opposed a Government motion that Clause 8 (covering the commencement of the Act) stand part of the Bill, with 46 Liberal Democrats supporting the Government in the aye lobby, where they were joined by Kenneth Clarke. Meanwhile, six Labour MPs opposed the Government motion.6 March 2008.
The party leader abstained, but a quarter of his party disagreed with him, leading to the largest rebellion since he assumed the leadership.
Not Nick Clegg, but David Cameron.
As everyone examined the damage done to Nick Clegg's leadership by the largest Lib Dem rebellion in six years, the Commons also divided on New Clause 9 in the name of William Cash. It stated that nothing in the new Treaty of Lisbon should be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament.
The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. But 40 Conservative MPs, including 12 members of the 2005 intake, voted for Cash's clause. Europhile Ken Clarke voted with the Government in the no lobby.
This was the largest Conservative rebellion since David Cameron came to power, involving a quarter of his MPs. It was also the largest rebellion by MPs of any party during the passage of the Bill to date.
Since no-one else seems to be reporting this, we thought we'd better let you know...
UPDATE: We've now been told that this was a free vote for backbenchers. But still... There's a clear frontbench line (which is to abstain), and 40 MPs go into the other lobby. It may not be a rebellion, but it's a split, and a revealing split.
We've not yet crunched all the numbers, but last night's vote over a Lisbon referendum saw the largest Labour rebellion on the bill so far -- although Brown's premiership has already witnessed larger rebellions on other issues. The whips will be very pleased that they managed to contain the revolt, and get it down below the level where they would have needed Opposition MPs to get the measure through.
In the end, the story ended up being about the Lib Dems: in a strategic masterstroke, the party that is the most united on Europe ended up with a quarter of its MPs splitting, in what was the second largest Lib Dem rebellion for a decade. Genius!
The story's not over yet, either. For those of you interested in party splits, watch out for this issue when it hits the Lords. You can expect to find plenty of evidence of Their Lordships taking very different views to their party frontbenches, in all three parties.
Here are some benchmarks to help with tonight’s votes:
* Any rebellion of more than 26 will be the largest European rebellion faced by Labour – Blair and Brown – since 1997. The figure of 26 was set last night, when a group of Labour MPs backed a Jon Trickett amendment on parliamentary approval. Most Labour rebellions on the Lisbon treaty have involved fewer than ten MPs.
* Any rebellion of more than 36 will be the largest rebellion faced by Brown since he became Prime Minister. That was in January, over the right of prison officers to strike. (This was widely reported as 37 at the time, but that included Bob Wareing, who had by then become an ‘Independent Labour’ MP)
* Liberal Democrat divisions are very rare on whipped votes. The largest during the last decade came in April 2002, when 15 Lib Dem MPs defied the whip over the aggregates levy. But such divisions are astonishingly rare. Even when they happen (and they are very rare), most Lib Dem rebellions involve just one or two MPs. Until tonight, Nick Clegg’s largest rebellion as Lib Dem leader involved just four MPs.
* It’s also worth noting that, other than a couple of abstentions, there has not been a single Lib Dem rebellion on this issue at all thus far. It’s not the issue of Europe that will divide them, but the issue of a referendum.
* There will be a split amongst Conservative MPs as well. But it is likely to be a handful (two?, three?). The Conservatives are the least interesting part of this story – which is itself quite a story: on a European issue, the Conservatives will be the most united party.
Note to journalists: The important sentence goes like this: ‘According to researchers at Nottingham University…’.5 March 2008.
At last! Perhaps it was the long nights of staying in the Commons to vote on the Government’s eight motions on European issues that did it. Maybe they just got bored. Either way, yesterday saw two reasonably large Labour rebellions and one reasonably large Tory rebellion on the Lisbon Treaty.
A Liberal Democrat motion attempting on a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union was crushed by 471 votes to 68 – with the Conservatives supporting the Government in the no lobby. Fifteen Labour backbenchers supported it, including at least half-a-dozen broadly pro-European Labour MPs. Only one Conservative did so. Few Tory backbenchers wanted to allow the Lib Dems to expose Conservative divisions on this issue. A Liberal Democrat motion on the very same topic back in December saw 16 Tory MPs supported an amendment to the Queen’s Speech.
However, the next amendment in the name of Jon Trickett saw Labour and Conservative backbenchers join in an unholy alliance. Trickett’s amendment sought to ensure that the Prime Minister and Ministers alike had to secure parliamentary approval for their negotiating mandate on aspects relating to the single market. This generated the largest Labour rebellion so far on the Lisbon Treaty (topping the 18 Labour MPs who voted against Second Reading in January) 26 Labour backbenchers voted in the aye lobby alongside 20 Tory Eurosceptic MPs, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. Recently defrocked Tory MP, Derek Conway joined the rebellion, as did the renegade former Labour MP, Robert Wareing. (The Tory frontbench line was to abstain). The Tory sceptics liked the parliamentary approval part of the motion, while the Labour rebels supported its commitment to ensuring a more social rather than neo-liberal Europe.
Thereafter, normal business was resumed in two further rebellions, which saw a total of only five Labour MPs defy the Government, and with Kenneth Clarke posting another two rebellions by voting for the Government line on the remaining clauses in the Bill. Clarke has now cast 19 separate rebellious votes on the Lisbon Treaty.
It’s worth remembering that, given that one of the supposed aims of having such an extended debate, was to flush out Conservative splits on this issue, most of the Tory rebellions on Europe have thus far tiny and in a pro-European direction, involving a tiny rump of four Tory MPs – Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer, David Curry and Ian Taylor. Last night’s was the first decent-sized sceptic revolt. Nor should we get carried away by yesterday’s two fairly large Labour rebellions either. As the Commons is about to vote on the referendum issue, it is worth noting that although there have been some 27 Labour rebellions on the Lisbon Treaty to date, these have involved only a total of only 28 Labour rebels.
Day nine started with a Government timetable motion, restricting (very slightly) the amount of debate on the European Union (Amendment) Bill. You wouldn't have thought so, judging by the response of Gwyneth Dunwoody, who argued that the bill was being 'cut short in a most brutal and unhelpful manner.' Not brutal enough, frankly, for those of us who've been trying to track the voting, and are in danger of slitting our wrists out of boredom.
But four other Labour backbenchers - David Drew, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Austin Mitchell - agreed. The House went then into Committee to discuss Clause 3 and 4. The same five Labour backbenchers supported a Conservative frontbench amendment trying to amend Clause 3 - Changes of Terminology. Two Labour MPs - Ian Davidson and David Drew - then opposed a Government motion that Clause 3 stand part of the bill. Kenneth Clarke supported the Government on Clause 3, and also on Clause 4 - Increase of powers of European Parliament. Three Labour backbenchers - Ian Davidson, David Drew and Kelvin Hopkins - opposed the Government motion that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill. The Liberal Democrats supported the Government in the aye lobby, but one of their number - Mike Hancock - voted in both lobbies.
The day saw a total of only six Labour backbenchers opposed the Government on the Lisbon Treaty, the pattern thus far in the bill's seemingly endless passage.
One of our favourite expressions – of US origin, we think? – is this: if my Aunt had balls, she’d be my Uncle.
It came to mind when reading the Guardian’s lead story this morning, under the headline. ‘Labour MPs revolt over 42 day detention’. It contained this cracking interpretation of a survey they’d done of Labour backbenchers:
The Guardian contacted all 205 backbench Labour MPs. Of the 78 MPs spoken to, 27 said they were planning to vote against the government. Twenty-nine said they would support the government, while a further 22 were undecided or would not comment.
If this pattern is replicated among the other 127 backbench Labour MPs, there may be a further 43 rebels. This would take the total to 70…
Note the ‘if’, ‘if this pattern is replicated among the other 127 MPs…’. But it won’t be. There’s a reason these people aren’t responding to media surveys and it ain’t because they’re too busy plotting to defeat the Government. To be fair, the paper does at least add the phrase ‘though even the rebels believe that figure is unlikely’. Too right it is.
Note also that the Guardian reports 27 of their sample prepared to vote against – but no abstentions. There’s always a decent number of abstentions on a vote like this – and some of those currently declaring they’ll vote against will almost certainly end up abstaining.
That said, the basic thrust of the piece is spot on: we’ve not found much evidence of MPs shifting ground over this, and nowhere near the amount of shifting that the government will need to win.1 March 2008.
Wednesday's saw Day 8 of Lisbon and a total of only two dissenters on the Labour side: Frank Field and Ian Davidson. Meanwhile, Ken Clarke's stout support of the Treaty continued as he backed the Government's position in all four divisions.
On Tuesday, Gwyneth Dunwoody, another backbench heavyweight, railed against Government plans to split Cheshire into two separate councils - part of an ongoing campaign she's been waging. Dunwoody was 'astonished' that the Government had 'changed the goalposts to progress this very shoddy matter'. The reorganisation would be 'absolutely disastrous'. The vote was deferred until Wednesday - when it saw her vote against.29 February 2008.
Yesterday saw a series of small Labour rebellions over the European Union (Amendment) Bill. The largest saw 11 Labour MPs support a Conservative frontbench amendment that preventing the conservation of 'marine biological resources' (EU-speak for 'fish') an exclusive EU competence.
Earlier, MPs debated the pros and cons of the new EU institutions and EU decision-making structures in the Treaty. Just six Labour backbenchers supported a Tory frontbench amendment disapproving of the EU's plans to establish a permanent President of the European Council, giving the EU a single legal personality, and 'abolishing national vetoes in more than fifty areas'. Two Conservative MPs – Ken Clarke and Ian Taylor – voted with the Government in the no lobby. Six Labour MPs then supported the subsequent Government motion approving of the Treaty's provisions in respect of the effectiveness of the EU institutions and its new decision-making structures. Ken Clarke was the only Conservative MP to vote for the Government on this occasion. Finally, three Euro-sceptic Labour MPs stayed up until 11.24pm for the fourth and final division of the evening, supporting an amendment in the name of William Cash that also wanted to delete an article relating to the new EU structures.
This was a real meaty (or fishy) part of the Bill relating to the powers of the new institutions – and yet the total of Labour rebels was just 11. All except two - Ann Cryer and Alan Simpson - had already voted against the Government on some other part of the Bill. It brings to just 21 the number of Labour MPs to have opposed the Bill so far.
The Bill still has a fair way to go – and yes, we’ve still got the key vote on the referendum – but all that talk of 100+ Labour rebels, of Labour’s Maastricht or poll tax, all seems a long way away.27 February 2008.
Some of the coverage of Andrew Miller’s pmb on the rights of agency workers presented the vote as the largest ‘rebellion’ against the government since Iraq. We don’t think this is a very sensible comparison -- a free vote on a private members’ bill is not the same as defying a three-line whip.
That said, it was certainly an impressive show of strength - which the Government will do well to listen to. A total of 148 Labour MPs voted, either in the closure vote or Second Reading itself (most, 137, voted in both). This is a massive turnout for a Friday. The BBC have 136 of them voting for Second Reading; we make it 138, although that difference may just be because we include tellers.
A year before, on 2 March 2007, the Government talked out a similar bill. This time despite an attempt at filibustering from Christopher Chope, the closure motion was accepted and passed by 157 to nine, followed by Second Reading itself 147 to 11. Most of the Labour MPs to back the bill have some form (104 of them have voted against the party whip at some point), but they included plenty of loyalists – Peter Hain and Ian McCartney amongst them. The closure vote saw John Prescott voting for closure.
The bill was also notable for producing George Galloway’s first two Commons votes of the session, both in support of it.25 February 2008.
Last night (21 February 2008), three Labour MPs - Jeremy Corbyn, Kate Hoey and Dr Lynne Jones - voted against the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2008. The 2005 Act introduced control orders for terrorist suspects, but in order to get the legislation through, the Government conceded that the provisions would have to be brought before both Houses of Parliament on an annual basis. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, but two Tory backbenchers - William Cash and Kenneth Clarke (the latter casting his tenth dissenting vote against Cameron this session) - joined the Liberal Democrats and most of the smaller parties in the no lobby. Independent Labour MP, Clare Short also joined the rebels. The order was passed by 267 votes to 60.
And a correction: below we said that there were no revolts over Northern Rock, except for one double vote. That was true the first time the bill went through the Commons. But when it came back from the Lords, on 21 February, there was the only Labour rebellion, when three Labour MPs - Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Fisher and Kelvin Hopkins - voted in favour of a Lords amendment that would have brought it within the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government overturned all the Lords amendments, and the Bill received its Royal Assent.
Day Five of the debate on the Lisbon Treaty saw Ken Clarke giving full-hearted support to the Government’s line on common foreign, security and defence policy. The sceptics had created ‘phantoms’ about the creation of European armies, which had never come to pass. The Conservative amendments to the Bill, he claimed, raised ‘fanciful fears’, and the arguments used to support them were ‘delusions’. Most of his fellow Conservative MPs didn’t know where to look: they twiddled their thumbs, scratched their heads, some of them played with their spectacles. Most simply cringed. But then, come the votes, it was just Clarke and John Gummer backing the Government in the lobbies. However bravura the performance, he is now an isolated figure on his own benches, a political Custer surrounded by increasing numbers of Red Indians.
The Government benches see the mirror image, with the sceptics a tiny bunch. In the three divisions that night, a total of just six Labour MPs – Ian Davidson, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, David Marshall, and Austin Mitchell – objected to the Government’s support for the EU’s common foreign and security policy. We have the vote (or votes) on the referendum to look forward to, but everything else is turning out to be dull as ditchwater.
Other trivia: the Bank (Special Provisions) Bill, nationalising Northern Rock, and rushed through the Commons in a single day (Tuesday, 19 February), caused no divisions in any party, except for Lib Dem MP, Bob Russell, who cast a deliberate abstention on Third Reading. And the various local government structural change orders continue to cause curious splits within the Lib Dems. On 20 Februrary, it was the turn of an order on Shropshire. The official Lib Dem line was to abstain, but Nick Harvey voted in the aye lobby, while Norman Baker, Lorely Burt, Tim Farron and David Laws voted in the no lobby.
MPs returned from the half-term break yesterday, and the rebellions began again, albeit on a fairly tiny scale. Six years ago, the Government abolished Community Health Councils - provoking a rebellion by 26 Labour MPs. The new patient forums didn't lasted long, however, and the Government then shifted to a new set-up for patient representation in the NHS called 'LINKS', before reforming that system once again. This time, two Labour MPs - Bill Etherington and Kelvin Hopkins - voted in favour of a Tory amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that would have increased the independence of these new bodies.
Later, Andrew George was the only Liberal Democrat MP to oppose the draft Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008, while the rest of the Liberal Democrats supported Labour in the aye lobby. Mr George represents the Cornish constituency of St Ives.19 February 2008.
Discipline generally good but a few disruptive individuals must amend their behaviour, it's not fair on the others - as our teachers used to say.
Figures for the session so far: 19 Labour backbench rebellions - the majority of European issues - meaning a rebellion in one in four divisions, but small scale stuff on the whole (a mean of six MPs). Since Gordon Brown assumed office in June, 62 Labour MPs have defied the Government at least once.11 February 2008.
We're not sure how much more of this we can take. Labour rebellions over the Treaty of Lisbon largely petered out this week. Day 3 (5 February) was dominated by a debate on the new Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, and saw the PLP wholly united on every division, while Day 4 (6 February) - on competition rules and the single market - saw just one tiny Labour rebellion, involving David Drew and Kelvin Hopkins. On the Tory side, Kenneth Clarke supported the Government motion approving its policy on the single European market, and later Clarke was joined by John Gummer in opposing a Conservative frontbench amendment objecting to the article in the Treaty making the functioning of the internal market to be an area of exclusive competence of the European Union. Gummer is the fourth Tory Europhile to defy David Cameron on the Treaty so far. Only 8 more days of this to go... and that's just the Committee stage!
Such was the low level of interest on the Labour backbenches that on Thursday when the Commons debated changes to the European Scrutiny Standing Orders (as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty, but not directly part of consideration of the Bill itself), there were not enough Labour MPs to prevent a Tory amendment in the name of Theresa May being accepted by the Government, and so the change went through without a vote. As a result of the successful Tory amendment, the European Scrutiny Committee will now have the power to send for Members of the European Parliament and officials of the European Commission to give oral evidence before the Committee. We can now all sleep easy in our beds.8 February 2008.
Yesterday was one of those rare days in the Commons where constituency issues tended to hold sway over national ones, as they discussed local government finance. A rebellion involving two Labour MPs from Newcastle MPs - Jim Cousins and David Clelland - both angered by the below-inflation rises for their local authority - was prevented when the minister, John Healey, made soothing noises in their direction. And several Labour backbenchers criticised the Government's police grant settlement for their local areas - including Gwyneth Dunwoody, who claimed that the 2.5% settlement for Cheshire presented her county with 'enormous difficulty'. She later abstained when the House divided.
The only dissenting votes came on the Opposition side of the House. Both Wintertons - whose personal finances have made headlines recently - were involved in a small Tory backbench rebellion over cash-strapped Cheshire, where both their constituencies are based. They were joined by Robert Syms, the Conservative MP for Poole, whose council had come 43rd out of 46 unitary authorities when it came to local government funding. Unusually for these sort of votes, the Conservative frontbench abstained, with only the Liberal Democrats joining the three rebel Tories in the no lobby.5 February 2008.
Remember all those comparisons with Maastricht? We said they were cobblers -- but even we didn't anticipate just how dull this would be.
The second day's detailed consideration of the Lisbon Treaty saw three divisions on energy, but despite the topic under discussion, the Labour rebels seemed to run out of fizz. Just five Labour MPs voted against their whip: David Drew and Austin Mitchell on the main Tory amendment; the same two on the main Government motion; and Gwyneth Dunwoody, Frank Field and Kate Hoey on another Tory frontbench amendment. Tory Europhile Kenneth Clarke voted with the Government in all three votes, while Ian Taylor did so on the first two divisions. And that is it.
So far the lowest the Government's majority has fallen on issues of substance is 138. Gosh, the whips must be worried...31 January 2008.
Yesterday set the pattern for most of the Committee Stage of the Lisbon treaty ratification: small, but persistent Labour rebellions, interesting to legislative anoraks, but not the sort of thing to cause the whips to lose much sleep.
Yesterday's four Labour revolts were on 'theme 1' - justice and home affairs - and involved 7, 6, 4, and 2 Labour MPs respectively. They involved a total of eight Labour MPs. Seven of the eight voted against Second Reading, with the eighth being Gisela Stuart. That makes 20 Labour rebels so far on the Bill.30 January 2008.
For some inexplicable reason, one of us woke up in the middle of the night convinced that the government had been defeated over its programme motion for the discussion of the Lisbon treaty. We really need to get out more.
There was no need to panic. The Government’s majority was safe. After a six hour debate over whether to spend twelve days on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill (as the Government preferred) or eighteen days (as the Tory frontbench preferred), it was 12 days that emerged victorious.
Seven Labour MPs voted in favour of the Tory amendment extending the number of days for consideration of the bill from twelve to eighteen days. With the Liberal Democrats supporting the Tory amendment, the Government’s overall majority fell to 59. Eight Labour MPs then opposed the main programme motion, as the Government’s majority was again barely dented, falling to 56.
A total of just nine Labour MPs voted against the Government last night in one or more of the votes. All nine had voted against the Second Reading of the Bill last Monday.29 January 2008.
MPs pay and expenses can produce some cracking parliamentary votes. In 1996, for example, the Government line was overturned by 317 to 168. In the defeated lobby were Major, Blair (and Brown) and Ashdown. But in the other lobby went the majority of their MPs, telling their leaders where they could get off. Similar things happened in 1983 (when government frontbench advice on delaying an MPs pay increase was overturned, 226 to 218) and 1986 (when a motion on pay went down 172 to 128).
Today’s votes will be interesting but given the larger payroll votes now, we suspect that any similar embarrassment might be avoided today. The numbers voting for the SSRB recommendations might depend on how close any vote looks like it will be. Any MP voting for the SSRB figure knows that he or she will be accused of greed (‘snouts in the trough’ and all that cobblers). How many will think it worth attracting all that opprobrium if it becomes clear that the increase won’t be granted? If the pro-SSRB MPs realise that they'll lose, why not just absent yourselves from the vote, or even vote with the frontbench to suck up? But if it looks like it might be close, then maybe it’s worth it?
So the size of any vote against the frontbench could depend on how close people think the outcome will be. Normally, the whips trick is to persuade people that the vote will be close (‘do you really want to defeat the government?’). In this case, it might be the opposite: you ain't going to win this one, so don't bother.
UPDATE: Well, we were half-right. There was no chance of it getting through, so there wasn’t a vote at all. Respect due to Mystic Mark Field, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, who floated this prospect on Sunday’s Westminster Hour programme on Radio 4.
24 January 2008.
What is it with the number 19? During Tony Blair’s period as Prime Minister there were 19 separate Labour rebellions on European issues involving a total of 19 Labour MPs. We also make it 19 Labour rebels last night, not 18 as widely reported. As we said below, that’s the largest backbench rebellion on Europe faced by Labour since coming to power in 1997.
All but five of last night’s rebels had already voted at least once against Gordon Brown’s Government. The five who hadn’t until last night all had form under Blair. They bring the total number of Brown rebels so far to 61. Which is, admittedly, more than 19.
Had there been a division on Ian Davidson’s Reasoned Amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill, which bemoaned the lack of a referendum on the Treaty, there would almost certainly have been a larger Labour rebellion. Of the 18 Labour MPs who signed Davidson’s amendment 12 voted against Second Reading, three voted for the Government, and three appear to have abstained. Frank Cook, who also spoke in the debate, indicated that he was pro-referendum, but pro-Treaty. Cook’s name is likely to be added to the list of Labour rebels when a vote is held on the referendum during the Bill’s Committee Stage, which commences next Monday (28 January).
And just as Labour were fairly united on the principle of the Bill, so were the Conservatives. Only three long-standing pro-European Tories – Kenneth Clarke, David Curry and Ian Taylor – voted with the Government in the aye lobby. It seems that John Gummer, who intervened during the debate, may also have abstained. This, though, was not the tricky bit for the Conservative whips – that will come later.
All the Liberal Democrat MPs who voted (50) trooped through the lobbies in support of the Government, meaning that the Bill’s Second Reading was carried by the political version of a country mile – 362 votes to 224.22 January 2008.
Note to journalists: the ratification of the Lisbon treaty will not be like Maastricht. That was parliamentary street-fighting. This will be political handbags at ten paces. Please stop all the endless comparisons. Learned chap tells you why here.
UPDATE: Not yet seen the division lists, but have been informed that 18 Labour MPs voted against their whip. If this is right, then, just for the record, it's the largest European rebellion since Labour entered power in 1997, but that's not saying much (the previous largest was 15). But it's smaller than the 22 Conservatives who voted against the Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill in May 1992.
Yet more evidence this week that Labour is no longer as disunited over the issue of European integration as it was back in the 1990s. Only two Labour backbenchers – Ian Davidson and Roger Godsiff – opposed the Third Reading of the European (Communities) Finance Bill (15 January). In November, just four Labour MPs had opposed the bill’s Second Reading.
During the Bill’s Report stage, Alan Simpson joined Roger Godsiff in supporting a Conservative frontbench new clause, which dealt with the commencement provisions in the Bill. Simpson, who has already announced that he is stepping down at the next election, is the currently the top rebel under Gordon Brown’s leadership, having cast nine votes against th whip since the new regime began.
Thus far, there have therefore been just three rebellions on the entire European Communities (Finance) Bill, involving just five MPs, who have cast a mere eight rebellious votes between them.
As we pointed out in September, this issue just doesn't resonate on the Labour benches as it once did, and although there will be some rebellions next week on the Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, with further revolts during Committee, we can't see these being too difficult for the Government.
Tuesday also saw Hugo Swire cast his first ever rebellious vote against David Cameron’s leadership when he joined top Tory rebel, Bob Spink in opposing a draft order transferring payments from the National Lottery to the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund. Swire, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, intervened during the short debate to complain about the massive increase in the bill for the London Olympics. While the Liberal Democrats voted en masse in favour of the Government, the Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, but the SNP and Plaid Cymru forced a division. Former Labour MP, Clare Short, joined the brace of Tory rebels, as did Independent MP, Dai Davies. The vote was overwhelmingly carried by 357 votes to 9.17 January 2008.
’Ello, ’Ello, ’Ello … what’s all this then? We were proceeding down the road in an Easterly direction when we spotted Early Day Motion 512 in the name of Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
It calls on the Government to reconsider its decision not to accept in full the recommendations of the Police Arbitration police award and dubs Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith’s decision not to fund the full award ‘petty’. It’s been signed by 203 MPs, 109 of them Labour.
94 of the 109 (86 per cent) of the Labour signatories have ‘form’ dating back to Tony Blair’s period on duty. And 34 out of the 109 have already committed at least one cautionable offence on Gordon Brown’s beat. The remaining fifteen have a clean record: Nick Ainger, David Anderson, Janet Anderson, Charlotte Atkins, Mary Creagh, Jim Dowd, Sally Keeble, Elliot Morley, Paul Murphy, Virendra Kumar Sharma, John Spellar, Phyllis Starkey, Dari Taylor, Mark Todd and Don Touhig.
Despite this, we’re scratching our heads trying to work out how any Commons rebellion might be engineered on this issue. The Conservatives could put down an Opposition Day motion on the subject, but that wouldn’t persuade Labour MPs to rebel. You saw this last week (8 January), when the Conservatives held an Opposition Day debate on the issue of higher education. They had high hopes of a substantial Labour rebellion over the Government's plans to cut funding for students taking a second undergraduate degree - so-called 'equivalent or lower qualification students', given that 86 Labour MPs had put their names to EDM 317 on this subject. But Labour MPs are very reluctant to rebel on Opposition day motions. Only one MP - David Taylor - cast his usual deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. Cue expressions of disgust from the Conservatives – how could they? – but no one who knows anything about the way MPs vote was surprised.15 January 2008.
Yesterday (9 January), 37 Labour MPs rebelled against the Government's plans to remove the right to strike from prison officers, the largest Labour backbench rebellion thus far under Gordon Brown’s leadership.
Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat frontbenches supported the Government on the division, which took place during the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. As a result, the Government easily won the division by 481 votes to 46. The Liberal Democrat MP, Mike Hancock also dissented, while Paul Truswell cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies.
Among the 37 Labour rebels was former Labour deputy leadership candidate, Jon Cruddas. Neil Gerrard, who acted as a teller for the noes, termed the ban on strike action 'Thatcherite legislation'.
But this was no rebellion of the innocents: all of the 37 rebels had voted against Tony Blair’s government; 13 out of the top 20 Labour rebels from the Blair era took part in yesterday’s rebellion.
Earlier, Fiona Mactaggart, the former Home Office minister, cast her first ever vote against a Labour Government when she joined one other Labour MP – Dr Lynne Jones – in voting against the bill’s programme motion. Mactaggart had wanted to move New Clause 2, which dealt with the issue of people trafficking and prostitution, and later only got 30 seconds to do so, before she was cut off, thanks to the bill’s tight timetable.
The Government also averted another rebellion when Lib Dem MP, Dr Evan Harris's clause, calling for the abolition of the law on blasphemy, was withdrawn after Home Office Minister, Maria Eagle, said that the Government would be bringing forward legislation of its own.
There were also some very interesting splits on Jim Dobbin’s amendment to Clause 107 of the bill, which makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. Dobbin felt that the Clause would have a 'chilling effect' on free speech. He wanted to restrict the Clause's scope to prevent people with firm religious convictions from expressing their opinions on a person's sexuality. The Conservatives allowed a free vote, but the frontbench spokesperson, Nick Herbert, indicated he was in favour of Dobbin’s amendment. The amendment was defeated by 169 votes to 338. Analysis of this to follow.10 January 2008.
We've not yet seen the division list itself, but we've been told that the Labour revolt over the prison officers right to strike involved 37 MPs. If so, then it was the largest rebellion of Gordon Brown's premiership so far (although that's not saying much). The largest to date had been the pensions rebellion on 17 July 2007, which involved 17 Labour MPs. More revolts likely later today, and analysis to follow when the dust has settled.9 January 2008.
The original record of last Thursday's voting saw an unusual division on the Crossrail Bill, in which two Conservative MPs - Richard Bacon and Mark Prisk – appeared to vote against a Conservative Frontbench amendment to the bill. Both would have been casting their first dissenting votes under David Cameron's leadership. Another four Conservative MPs - Henry Bellingham, Charles Hendry, Mark Pritchard and Richard Shepherd – appeared to vote in both lobbies, often a sign of a deliberate abstention.
Yet yesterday Hansard published a correction for the division (number 32) in which none of the Conservatives either cross-voted or even double-voted.
The only remaining rebel left in the corrected vote is the Lib Dem MP, Nick Harvey, who defied his party's line by voting in the aye lobby.18 December 2007.
Some fascinating data from the Constitution Unit's project on the Lords was released yesterday, based both on a survey of voters and another of peers themselves. The public survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI, asked which factors the public think are important to the legitimacy of the House of Lords. It found:
• More of the public consider it important that the House of Lords act in accordance with public opinion, that it consider legislation carefully and in detail, and that the appointments process for peers is trustworthy, than think it important for the chamber to include elected members.
• Forced to choose one or two factors that are most important to the legitimacy of the Lords, inclusion of elected members scores fifth out of seven amongst the public, below these three factors and also below inclusion of independent members.
• Among respondents considering themselves knowledgeable about the Westminster Parliament the most important factor is the chamber considering legislation carefully, followed by trust in the appointments process. Inclusion of elected members ranks six out of seven.
• Asked whether both chambers of parliament are carrying out their policy role well, more of the public agree this is the case about the Lords than about the Commons. Amongst those knowledgeable about Parliament, this difference is more marked.
This'll be yet more grist to the mill of the anti-election movement. This story will run and run. The data on the attitudes of peers are similarly interesting.13 December 2007.
Last night (Tuesday, 11 December), 16 Conservative MPs (including tellers) voted against their party line after a debate on European Affairs. The debate, which usually occurs prior to a European Council meeting, does not normally result in a division, but Bill Cash, a leading Euro-sceptic, moved that 'The Question be now put' in order to force a division on the issue. Labour supported the motion, while the Conservative frontbench abstained. The 14 Conservatives were joined by Dai Davies, the Independent MP for Blaenau Gwent, and two Liberal Democrat MPs - Tim Farron and Bob Russell - both also dissenting (the official Lib Dem line was to abstain). The Government won the motion by 276 votes to 17.
The 16 Conservatives were: Brian Binley, Peter Bone, Graham Brady, Douglas Carswell, William Cash, Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Nigel Evans, Philip Hollobone, Edward Leigh, Peter Lilley, Richard Shepherd, Bob Spink, David Wilshire, Ann Winterton and Sir Nicholas Winterton.
All except Graham Brady have rebelled against the party whip under David Cameron's leadership -- and Brady resigned from the Tory frontbench over the party's stance on grammar schools.12 December 2007.
On the face of it, Monday night's voting on the Second Reading of the Planning Bill passed off without much fuss. No Labour MPs rebelled, though the former Labour MP, Clare Short voted against the Government. And yet, two Labour MPs - John McDonnell and Paul Truswell - made highly critical speeches during the Second Reading debate, both opting to abstain, and many others are critical in private.
Given the extent of unease about the bill, we expect to see either government concessions or backbench rebellions as the Bill goes through the Commons. But still, had the Second Reading vote occurred in the last Parliament, or even in the first two sessions of this Parliament, we suspect there would have been some votes cast against the government, if only as shots across the bow. So what is happening? Is the threat of a Tory return to power concentrating the minds of Labour backbenchers? Who knows. We'll know more as the session goes on.
Largely ignored, there was a small piece in the Telegraph on 26 November by Jonathan Isaby, which looked at Gordon Brown's voting record. No link appears to exist -- maybe it was too small for the web? -- but here's the text:
Gordon Brown was criticised yesterday after it emerged that he had participated in just two of the 63 Commons divisions held since he became Prime Minister on June 27.
Mr Brown has spoken of entrusting "more power to Parliament" but Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary said: "The Prime Minister is taking the British people for fools. He made all kinds of promises about taking Parliament seriously, but the reality is that he’s not interested in the House of Commons at all."
A Downing Street spokesman blamed Mr Brown's "busy schedule".
To get a figure of two, Isaby discounted two deferred divisions, but even including them only gets the Prime Minister to four out of 67 - raising him from 3 per cent to 6 per cent since taking office. The comparable figure for Tony Blair for the whole of the period when he was Prime Minister was 8 per cent.
Tomorrow sees the first day of a conference on minor parties, independent politicians, voter associations and political associations - list of papers here. And in Birmingham too. How much fun can people have?
The papers include a cracker looking at the behaviour of Westminster's recent independents. If you've ever wondered why Dai Davies's turnout is so much higher than most other independent MPs, then this is the place to find out.28 November 2007.
In the first Labour rebellion of the new session, yesterday four Labour MPs - Colin Burgon, Ian Davidson, Roger Godsiff and Kelvin Hopkins - voted against the Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill. Both Davidson and Hopkins spoke out in the debate against the wastefulness of the CAP. Austin Mitchell also abstained.
Small beer indeed, but the real action will come with the European Reform Treaty later this session.20 November 2007.
Six Conservative MPs broke ranks last night, supporting a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Queen's Speech that regretted the Government's failure to hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union. The Conservative frontbench voted with the Government in the no lobby, but six Tory backbenchers supported the Liberal Democrats (and representatives from some of the other minor parties) in the aye lobby. The six Tory dissenters were Peter Bone, Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, Richard Shepherd and Bob Spink. Four of the dissenters - Spink, Bone, Davies and Hollobone - were the four most rebellious MPs in the first two sessions of this Parliament (and all except Douglas Carswell are drawn from the top ten most rebellious Tory MPs). Four out of the six rebels - Bone, Carswell, Davies and Hollobone - come from the 2005 intake of MPs.
It is interesting that not a single Labour MP defied the Government last night - even arch Eurosceptic Ian Davidson supported the Government. However, only very few Labour MPs rebel on votes on the Queen's Speech. So, last night's no-show for Labour rebels does not mean that a small-medium number will not defy the Government when it comes to the substance of the European Reform Treaty Bill.15 November 2007.
Today’s newspapers were predictably filled with negative stories about the supposedly vast expenses claimed by MPs. Poor Shahid Malik was named and shamed as Britain’s ‘most expensive’ (possible trans: hardest working?) MP, having claimed £185,421 in expenses. But as the newspapers called for greater transparency they missed a series of important reforms to the House of Commons that will have the effect of increasing transparency and accountability.
Yesterday, the Commons agreed to the First Report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, entitled Revitalising the Chamber: the role of the back bench Member (HC 337). The most important reforms concern the introduction of so-called ‘topical questions’ and weekly topical debates. The introduction of topical questions will mean that most Government departments will have a period of Question Time – ranging from ten to fifteen minutes - similar to Prime Minister’s Questions, in which open questions are allowed to ministers. Topical debates will be weekly 90-minute debates on topics of international, national or regional importance, with the topic will be announced by Leader of the House, following consultations with the other parties through the usual channels. Despite one or two weaknesses, these reforms are a significant step forward in transparency.
All the reforms were accepted by MPs yesterday without a vote, except for an amendment in the name of Sir Nicholas Winterton that would have stopped another innovation - MPs being allowed to use handheld devices in the Chamber to keep up to date with e-mails. In a thinly attended House, MPs voted down the amendment by 74 votes to 36. The Conservatives split almost exactly in half, with 23 supporting Winterton and 22 opposing him. The Lib Dems also split badly, 5/5. Labour split 10/48 against Winterton’s amendment. Amongst those supporting Winterton’s amendment was the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.26 October 2007.
Wednesday saw the first Conservative MPs to break ranks since the summer recess. Richard Shepherd and Alistair Burt, the Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister, are recorded as having voted in the no lobby of a division during the Lords amendment stage of the Legal Services Bill. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. Burt's rebellion must be a mistake of some kind, either on his part, or on that of Hansard.
Wednesday also saw MPs vote on the exciting topic of the Draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007. Four MPs - David Drew and David Taylor for Labour, and Mike Hancock and Richard Younger-Ross for the Liberal Democrats - were so incensed that they cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. Both Taylor and Hancock are regulars at this sort of thing.
Yesterday, Alan Simpson became the first Labour MP to break ranks since the summer recess when he rebelled during the Report stage of the Serious Crime Bill. The issue? The sharing of communications data.
Simpson has now notched up seven rebellions under Gordon Brown's leadership, establishing an early lead as Brown's most rebellious MP thus far.23 October 2007.
On Sunday, GMTV broadcast the first interview with the Chief Whip since the whips operation moved back to 12 Downing Street, a move Geoff Hoon saw as symbolically important: ‘it demonstrates in a very tangible way what Gordon has been saying about engaging with Parliament, putting Parliament at the centre of our national political debate’.
He also made it clear that he was not expecting to lose any votes over the European Treaty: ‘I’m not anticipating a big Labour rebellion’.
And he was very nice about a certain book - ‘part of the preparation for doing the job if you like these days’.
See also Peter Riddell in Saturday's Times.22 October 2007.
This story – courtesy of Ben Brogan’s excellent blog - gives hope to all of us who study rebellions. A month of debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the Treaty/Constitution (delete according to your prejudice) gives hope of Maastricht relived, and rebellions aplenty.
We suspect we will all be disappointed. Maastricht took a year, not a month, and things are very different today.
As we pointed out here before, we suspect the number of Labour rebels on this issue is much smaller than many people think – even allowing for some MPs in marginal seats worried how the issue will hurt them. Whilst there may be one or two (relatively) close votes, we can’t see how there’ll be any defeats – and for the most part we suspect the Government will get this through relatively easily.
The Conservatives will use the month to point out similarities between the Treaty and the Constitution – and to continually bemoan the lack of a referendum.
The trick for Labour will be to try to flush out Tory ultras, and to paint the party as obsessed by Europe. What they will want to engineer is a vote where the Conservative frontbench abstains. For those who know their Westminster history, the irony in all of this is that the new Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, was a key backroom player last time around on Maastricht, when he spent his time helping John Smith devise ruses to undermine the Conservatives, in a very successful form of parliamentary streetfighting. Can he do it again?16 October 2007.
Following his deselection in favour of ultra-loyal former MP, Stephen Twigg, Bob Wareing declared that the Party leadership 'have regarded me as a thorn in their side as I rebelled against their betrayal of the basic principles of the Labour Party'.
During Tony Blair’s decade in power, the Liverpool West Derby MP cast no fewer than 171 rebellious votes against the whip, making him the sixth equal most rebellious Labour MP. He voted against the Government in nearly every controversial area of policy, including foundation hospitals, tuition fees, and of course, the war against Iraq.
His 22 dissenting votes against the Government between 1997 and 2001 dramatically increased in the 2001 Parliament to 97 votes, and he managed to defy the party line on 52 occasions just in Blair's final two years. He's even voted twice against the Brown government.21 September 2007.
The Guardian has a good leader today, praising the semi-detached, like the late John Biffen (obit: here), the sort of the people without whom this website wouldn’t really be worth reading. In his (very good) book, Inside Westminster, Biffen notes how he soon fell in with ‘dubious company, such as Sir Ian Gilmour’:
Together with him I celebrated my first ‘rebellion’, when we abstained on the issue of the deportation of Chief Enahoro. The cause seemed vital at the time, though we were fighting for a little known chieftain from a faraway country. During the division we repaired to the Smoking Room and toasted our principles whilst our colleagues loyally marched through the Division lobbies. I was later to learn that there were ore difficult issues of which to make a stand.
And he did, plenty of times, most notably during the bill to join the EEC in the early 1970s when he voted against the Tory whip 78 times and acted as unofficial whip to the anti-marketeers, although he never stopped being what he described as a ‘respectable rebel’.15 August 2007.
Back from holiday and discover that Iain Dale is running a poll on the best blogs, for his next book on the subject.
Not that it matters at all - I'm mean, who cares, really? well, maybe we do... - but on the basis that we might not get many entries otherwise, do feel free to email Iain and include us. The address is iain AT iaindale.com, and he's asking for your Top 20 (or Top 10 if you can't get to 20!) blogs, ranked from 1-20.13 August 2007.
Of the 53 Labour MPs who voted against the last Terrorism Bill, which saw the Government go down to two defeats in 2005, only one - Joan Ruddock - has been promoted into the Government. A further two - David Hamilton and Jon Trickett - have been given party posts, but that is no guarantee that they won't rebel. John Denham, then Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and now in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, was also a fierce critic of 90 days, although he didn't actually vote against it. Technically then, there are still enough rebels hanging about to defeat the Government if they push for an extension of the 28 day limit.
But it’s worth remembering that the consensus of opinion is that had Tony Blair not set his face against a compromise last time around - on say 42 or 60 days - that he may well have got it through the Commons (although the Lords might well have been a different issues). It was Blair’s refusal to negotiate that meant we ended up with 28 days. Had he done deals, we would have got a higher figure, even in 2005.
Gordon Brown is talking about an upper limit of 58 days, coupled with the promise of greater legal safeguards and more parliamentary scrutiny than last time, which may succeed in buying off a number of the rebels.
Then there is the attitude of the Tories. At the moment, they seem set to vote against. That will provoke a handful of Tories to back the Government. Three - Michael Mates, Sir John Stanley and Sir Peter Tapsell - voted with the Government last time around. Several more abstained.
We are going to see more dissent on the next raft of anti-terror legislation, but a Government defeat in the Commons looks somewhat less likely this time around, as long as the Government handle the issue properly.
UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader noticed a mistake in our original list of Conservative dissidents. We've now corrected it. Just to clarify: in the first vote - on 90 days, several Conservatives abstained, and Sir Peter Tapsell voted with the Government. And on the second vote, Michael Mates and Sir John Stanley, both of whom had abstained on 90 days, voted with the Government in opposition to 28 days.
Yesterday (25 July 2007), former Tory frontbencher Patrick Mercer voted against the party line by opposing a Government asylum (designated states) order. Back in March David Cameron sacked Mercer from his frontbench team for suggesting being called a 'black bastard' was part of Army life for ethnic minority soldiers. As is happening increasingly, the Tory frontbench line was to abstain on the order. Two Conservatives - Mark Field and Bob Spink supported the Government, while Mercer and newboy, Adam Holloway, voted against.26 July 2007.
If all you want to do is count the bodies, then yesterday (18 July 2007) saw three more very minor Labour revolts against the Brown Government, Alan Simpson going through the lobbies threes times over the Government’s response to various Lords amendments.
But the real action was in the significant Government concessions from Jack Straw, the new Justice Minister, which helped to quell potentially large rebellions on two major Government bills. It was as though Straw had never been away from his old job (well, half his old job); the old master of the carefully calibrated concession was back in action, agreeing that a new offence of corporate manslaughter for deaths in police custody could be introduced within five to seven years, and preventing a major revolt over the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.
The Government also got the message from its backbenchers over the plans to part-privatise the probation service in the Offender Management Bill. The Bill had caused large Labour rebellions on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading because, as Neil Gerrard, one of the leading rebels put, they were ‘extremely concerned that there appeared to be an agenda of privatisation, which was driving the Bill’. Straw outlined a major shift in Government policy, agreeing for local bodies to be much more important in commissioning services, dealing with a central complaint of the rebels. Gerrard reflected on the Government’s change of heart: ‘I wish that we had been in the position of having this productive discussion around the time of Report and Third Reading, when we could have been much nearer to getting to where we should be’.19 July 2007.
Yesterday (17 July 2007) saw three separate a total of 18 Labour MPs rebel against the Government during the Lords amendment stage of the Pensions Bill. Controversy over this issue has raged ever since the original Pensions Bill in 2003 established the pension protection fund, compensating employees whose companies had gone bust. On that occasion, the Government averted a huge backbench rebellion by conceding the need for an assistance fund to deal with pension schemes that already collapsed, but the exact level of financial commitment from the Government has remained in dispute ever since, thus last night’s rebellions by Labour MPs.
In the largest rebellion, 17 Labour backbenchers supported a Conservative proposal for a ‘lifeboat’ scheme to raise the level of compensation for victims of pension schemes which collapsed between 1997 and 2005. A much bigger rebellion was averted when ministers announced more money to works whose schemes had gone bust. Earlier, 16 Labour MPs supported an amendment in the name of Dr Tony Wright that would have secured extra financial support for those who suffered prior to the establishment of the pension protection scheme. And finally, one Labour MP – Bob Wareing - supported a Lords amendment that would have allowed women with broken contributions records to buy an extra nine ‘qualifying years’ for their state pension (as opposed to the existing six years), whether consecutive or not. The Conservatives abstained on this one, leading Bob Spink and the two Wintertons - Nicholas and Ann – to vote against their party line. In all three rebellions, David Taylor cast his by now familiar deliberate abstention.
WHOOPS: Apologies. Speedy writing led to a gremlin getting in: a total of 19 rebels yesterday (not 18 as indicated above), meaning an overall total so far under Brown of 21.18 July 2007.
News of George Galloway's suspension from the House of Commons by the Committee on Standards and Privileges for 18 days won't affect his voting behaviour very much. He hasn't voted since 11 June, when he backed a Tory Opposition day motion on - guess what? - Iraq.
Indeed, in this session so far, Galloway has voted in just 16 of a possible 186 divisions, a mere nine per cent. Of these, thirteen have been cast against the Government, mainly on Iraq, Trident, privatisation, anti-terrorism legislation, gambling and freedom of information. The other three were on free votes, two of them on Lords reform, where Galloway voted with the bulk of Labour MPs.
Yesterday (16 July) saw four separate minor Conservative rebellions, involving five Tory backbenchers in total. Two of the rebellions related to the dropping of a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the Al-Yamamah Arms deal between the Saudi Government and BAE systems. The Conservative frontbench chose to abstain on a Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion, but one Conservative - Andrew Tyrie – voted in favour of the motion, while three Conservatives – Nigel Evans, Mark Field and Bob Spink – voted against. The subsequent Government amendment to the Lib Dem motion then saw Nigel Evans and Bob Spink support Labour, while Kenneth Clarke joined Andrew Tyrie in the no lobby, with the Tory frontbench again abstaining.
A second Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion saw a further two Tory rebellions. Bob Spink was the only Conservative MP to oppose a Lib Dem motion calling for ‘fairer’ taxation of the wealthy, while Spink was joined by Mark Field in supporting the subsequent Government amendment. Once again, on both motions, the Tory frontbench line was to abstain.
Spink has now voted against his party line on 20 occasions since the 2005 general election, making him easily the top Tory dissenter.
Parliamentary ping-pong with the Lords has started a bit earlier than usual with the new Government keen to wrap up most of its existing bills by summer. Unfortunately for the Government, the Lords is insisting on inserting a clause to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill that would extend the offence of corporate manslaughter to cover the issue of deaths in police custody caused by gross negligence.
When the issue returned to the Commons again on Wednesday (11 July), Alan Simpson clocked up the third rebellion of the Brown era by voting against a Government amendment on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. Five Labour MPs rebelled on the issue during the Bill's Report stage.16 July 2007.
In the first few days after his defection from Conservative to Labour, Quentin Davies did not take part in votes in the House of Commons. But this week, he has cast seven straight votes in favour of the Labour Government against the Conservatives. As we predicted last week (below), he has already completed his Pauline conversion from a loyalish Tory backbencher to a thoroughly loyal Labour backbencher.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Bob Spink notched up his 16th rebellious vote of the Parliament by supporting a Lib Dem New Clause during the Report stage of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill. Lib Dem Malcolm Bruce is down as having voted in both lobbies of this division.6 July 2007.
Gordon Brown's statement on constitutional reform was lots of largely sensible stuff – ‘worthy’, ‘sensible’ and ‘desirable’ to quote David Cameron – much of which will help strengthen parliament. The scariest part, though, was the resurrection of the large discredited issue of votes at 16. It might be time to dust off and update this site…3 July 2007.
When discussing the proposals expected to be outlined by Gordon Brown later in the week, don't talk about 'restoring' powers to parliament. Most of the powers that we expect to be announced are entirely new powers, ones that the UK parliament never had in the first place.
These aren't moves to restore powers taken away by Tony Blair, but advances - and welcome to boot.2 July 2007.
Gordon Brown left the Palace at 14.48 yesterday. His first backbench rebellion took place at 15.33. The subject? The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill. The rebel? Austin Mitchell. There was then a second rebellion at 15.48, consisting of Mitchell, David Drew and John McDonnell.
Mitchell needs to watch it. The first person to rebel against Tony Blair’s government was dead within a few years…
It was somehow fitting that one of Blair’s final questions at PMQs came from Jeremy Corbyn – Labour’s leading backbench rebel – and that it came over the issue to have provoked the largest backbench revolt for over 150 years: Iraq.
In the course of the last ten years, Jeremy Corbyn has clocked up 301 votes against his whip. He broke the 300 mark this week, going from 299 to 301. On Monday, he was one of seven Labour MPs to support a new clause to the Finance Bill in the name of Frank Field that would have compelled the Treasury to compile an assessment of the effects of the abolition of the ten pence tax rate on differing earning groups. Corbyn and Field were joined by Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Dr Lynne Jones, John McDonnell and Alan Simpson. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, but Bob Spink voted in the aye lobby, casting his fifteenth dissenting vote of the Parliament.
Then on Tuesday, three Labour backbenchers – Corbyn, plus David Drew and Alan Simpson – supported a Conservative frontbench amendment during the Report stage of the Finance Bill that would have compelled the Treasury to report annually to the House of Commons on the effectiveness of tax relief, especially the amount of electricity generated by microgeneration systems.
There have now been 35 Labour rebellions so far this session, averaging 13 MPs per rebellion. Twenty-two per cent of divisions have seen at least one Labour rebel.27 June 2007.
Four Conservatives have now defected from Conservative to Labour since Blair came to power, and five since he became leader: Alan Howarth (October 1995); Peter Temple-Morris (June 1998); Shaun Woodward (December 1999); Robert Jackson (January 2005); and now Quentin Davies.
In few of these cases would you have spotted this from their voting record. Davies has defied his whip on just six occasions in ten years, hardly the voting behaviour of someone preparing to cross the Floor of the House of Commons. He’d become marginally more rebellious recently, but not much.
It was always thus. Prior to his defection in 1995, Alan Howarth had voted against the Government on the Disability Bill, but his voting behaviour could not have foretold what was to come. Prior to Peter Temple-Morris becoming an Independent One Nation Conservative in November 1997, he had been a completely loyal Conservative backbencher. Before Shaun Woodward’s defection in December 1999, he had only ever cast one dissenting vote against his frontbench. And prior to his defection in January 2005, Robert Jackson had only voted against the Conservative party line on three occasions since 2001.
Insofar as you can predict these things, voice is a better predictor than vote. Look for a direct attack on the Tory leadership of the time. Take, for example, this scathing attack on Michael Howard’s opportunism by Robert Jackson, the former Tory education minister, during the Higher Education Debate in January 2004:
The time will soon come when the electorate will ask whether the Conservative party is once again a serious party of Government … when that time comes, I believe that the way they have chosen to handle this issue will be remembered and will be held against them.
Compare it with Davies’s comments in opposing an Iraq inquiry on the Conservative Home website earlier this month:
If we want to be taken seriously as an alterative government we should not do things in Opposition, or urge on the Government a line of action which no responsible government would dream of.
Whatever the best means of predicting a Tory defection, all four previous Tory defectors from Labour have undergone Pauline conversions – from normally loyal Tory backbenchers one day, to loyal Labour backbenchers the next day. The same is likely to be true of Quentin Davies.
Jeremy Corbyn yesterday moved to 299 rebellions under Blair when he and Lynne Jones supported a Conservative frontbench amendment to the Mental Health Bill.
Earlier in the evening, the Government made a major concession by accepting an amendment in the name of Chris Bryant that re-introduced a requirement to the Mental Health Act 1983 that compulsory treatment must be of therapheutic benefit. In accepting the amendment, Rosie Winterton, the Minister of State responsible for the Bill, congratulated Bryant on 'assembling such a powerful coalition against me'. Unlike Corbyn, Bryant isn't the rebellious type; he has never cast a vote against the Government. During the Third Reading debate, he admitted it was 'quite nerve-racking when an amendment has been tabled, but one is not sure whether the Minister is going to accept it, because it makes one think of having to vote with the Opposition against the Government'. We doubt whether the Government side was as nervous about Bryant rebelling as he was. Possibly of greater concern was the fact that the House of Lords had defeated the Bill six times already.20 June 2007.
As we reach the end of the Blair era, they're still rebelling. The 18 June saw a small rebellion during the final stages of the Mental Health Bill. It involved Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, the two leading dissenters of the Blair period. They supported a Conservative frontbench amendment that would have clarified the conditions for the issuing of community treatment orders.
It means that Corbyn is now up to 298 rebellious votes since Blair became Prime Minister. With a bit of effort, he could make 300 by next week. But only if he tries really hard...
Largely unreported, Monday saw another Labour revolt over Iraq, when ten Labour MPs backed a Conservative Opposition Day motion calling for an inquiry into the Iraq war by an independent committee of Privy Counsellors. The Opposition lobby also included former Labour MPs, George Galloway and Clare Short. A subsequent Government amendment declining an inquiry also attracted three Labour dissenters - one of whom, Paul Flynn, had not backed the Conservative motion. In both votes, serial deliberate abstainer, David Taylor, voted in both lobbies. The government's majority was halved to 35.
UPDATE: It's not just Labour that this issue causes trouble for...13 June 2007.
From the excellent British Politics (British spin, as was):
Soon, there will be twenty-four hour politics coverage as bloggers will make their living covering politics. They won’t be traditional journalists, they’ll be people like Iain Dale or Alex Hilton, Mike Smithson or Philip Cowley. They’ll be insiders, “experts”, people focussed on very particular points of interest- moving easily between covering politics and working in politics. They’ll be totally focussed on inside politics and utterly boring for everyone else.
Whatever can he mean?
Ann Winterton’s ten minute rule bill (5 June 2007) was the third attempt to tighten the law on abortion by a Tory woman MP in the last eight months. It would have compelled all women seeking an abortion to receive counselling and information, as well as introducing a seven-day ‘cooling off period’ after counselling. Like the previous attempts by Nadine Dorries (31 October 2006) and Angela Watkinson (14 March 2007), it failed by a wide margin - 107 votes to 182 – but it is evidence that the issue has returned to the political agenda.
The party splits were very similar to the last two occasions, although double the number of Labour MPs voted in favour of Winterton’s Bill than had done so on the other two bills (from five and six on the previous two occasions, to 13 this time around). As usual on these types of free votes – and despite all the guff about them being somehow ‘non-party’ issues – party affiliation proved to be the best predictor of voting behaviour: the Conservatives split 82/17 in favour, whilst Labour split 13/134 against. The LibDems split 9/28 against, and the SNP’s MPs split 2/3 against the measure.
Among women MPs, Labour split 3/46 against. The three women in favour of the bill were Rosie Cooper, Claire Curtis-Thomas and Dari Taylor. Among the 46 Labour women voting against the Bill were Harriet Harman (the only Deputy Leadership candidate to vote yesterday), the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, and the DTI Minister, Margaret Hodge. As so often on matters pertaining to her religious conscience, Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, did not vote. Meanwhile, former Labour MP Clare Short made a rare appearance in the division lobbies to vote against the bill.
But the eight Conservative women MP to vote split seven to one in favour of the bill, with Julie Kirkbride the only Tory woman MP to vote against. All three LibDem women to vote yesterday – Julia Goldsworthy, Susan Kramer and Jo Swinson – voted against Winterton’s bill.
UPDATE: Slightly more politicised version of this here, via Comment is Free. Amazingly, no one has yet said anything about Iraq in the comments section, which is a real first...7 June 2007.
Every now and again, someone asks us a really nerdy question – or in this case two questions – about backbench behaviour and even we don’t have the answer. And then you look up the answers and they’re jolly interesting.
How many votes are whipped? And how many of them see complete cohesion?
For the government, the percentage of divisions to which the whip was applied was 91% in the first Blair term, 89% in the second, and runs at 86% so far. That could be argued to be evidence of a lighter touch – and/or the need to have free votes to defuse otherwise tricky revolts – but we suspect it may also have a lot to do with the type of issues coming up for discussion.
In terms of cohesion, in the first term 92% of those whipped votes saw every single Labour MP who voted go through the same lobby. By the second term that was down to 77%, and it’s dropped yet further in the third term, running at 70%. Now *that* is a trend.
We get very excited about the rise in backbench dissent and the growing independence of MPs – which in relative terms is what we’re seeing – but it’s always worth remembering the absolute figures too, and the norm of party voting. Cohesion remains the norm, dissent the exception.1 June 2007.
Courtesy of the excellent Research and Analysis Unit of the BBC come some fascinating Deputy Leadership facts:
* Peter Hain did not get the support of a single other member of the cabinet. Hazel Blears leads among cabinet members, but the clear winner among junior ministers is Alan Johnson who received more nominations from the middle and junior ranks than the rest of the candidates combined.
* Among backbenchers Harriet Harman narrowly received more nominations than Jon Cruddas, who did not get a single Minister backing him, although he did get one whip.
* Hain’s support was particularly strong in Wales – where he received the support of more than half the MPs, which ensured he got on the ballot paper. Blears enjoys strong support from the North West, although she was pushed hard by both Johnson and Cruddas.
* Harriet Harman received stronger support from Scotland (perhaps more evidence that she has Brownite backing?) and the South East.
* Johnson won amongst most intake cohorts, save for 1987 (which was won by Hilary Benn - why?) and 2005 (Harman – presumably because of the effect of All Women Shortlists). Cruddas won no support at all amongst the 2005 intake.
To these, we’d add:
* Benn’s late flurry of nominations – which only just secured him a place on the ballot – included several women, meaning that he no longer has the lowest support from women of the six candidates. His 13% female support now slightly tops Hain’s 12%. Way out in front, as noted yesterday, are Blears (51%) and Harman (52%), who between them hoovered up more than 60% of the women in the PLP.
* But Benn’s late flurry of nominations also included several high quality backbench rebels – people like Jeremy Corbyn, Katy Clark, Alan Simpson, Bob Wareing and Mike Wood – which means that a full 52% of his supporters have voted against the party line so far this parliament.
* Cruddas remains out in front in terms of the number of backbench rebels (a whacking 86%), with Blears very much the loyalists’ favourite (just 4% of her supporters have defied the party whip).
* A Cruddas supporter has cast an average of 11.3 votes against the party line since 2005; an average Blears supporter has cast just 0.06 rebellious votes.
Now, where else can you find stats like that?17 May 2007.
We noted below some of the clear gender differences in those backing the candidates for the Labour leadership. Some equally interesting trends become obvious when you look at where the rebels go.
Almost none (just 4%) of those backing Hazel Blears have voted against the whip so far this Parliament. This rises to a cracking 85% of those backing Jon Cruddas – including Cruddas himself.
En route it takes in Johnson (16% of his supporters have rebelled), Harman (34%), and Hain and Benn (both 48%). Given that some 39% of the PLP have rebelled so far this parliament, it means that (perhaps not surprisingly) Johnson, Blears and Harman are disproportionately unlikely to have gained supporters amongst the ranks of the rebels, whereas Benn, Hain and (especially) Cruddas are drawing support from those who’ve had a beef with the government.
It is, however, worth noting that of the Labour MPs who’ve not yet nominated anyone for the Deputy Leadership, a disproportionate number are backbench rebels – including some of the most rebellious, like Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Alan Simpson, Bob Wareing, David Taylor, Katy Clark and Gwyneth Dunwoody. So there's a pool of trouble-makers waiting to be gathered in by someone...16 May 2007.
Based on the first trance of nominations, there is a clear gender divide in the nominations for the Deputy Leadership. Both of the two female candidates draw more than half of their support from women MPs (52% of those nominating Hazel Blears are women, 53% of those backing Harriet Harman). None of the male candidates come anywhere close. Some, however, did much worse than others. Some 19% of Johnson’s supporters so far are women, 18% of Jon Cruddas’s, and 12% of Peter Hain’s. But just 6% of those backing Hilary Benn are women. Who'd've thought someone called Hilary could do so badly with women?
More to follow, both when the next batch of names are released, and when a couple of dull admin meetings are finished…
UPDATE: With the release of the second trance of names, we make it 8% for Benn, still the lowest of all the candidates.
UPDATE2: The third tranche of names takes Benn to 42 overall, and back down to 7% women.
Just to help all of you doing your Blair retrospective pieces (like this one), here’s some overall scores on the backbench doors:
* As of last Friday, there have been 477 separate Labour backbench rebellions during the Blair governments.
* They’ve become more frequent over time. There were 96 in the whole of the 97-01 Parliament. There were 259 in the 01-05 Parliament. There were then 95 in the first session of the 05 Parliament alone, more than in any other session during the Blair era, more than in any other first session since the war, and just one shy of the total number in the entire first parliament.
* The largest came in March 2003, when 139 Labour MPs voted against their whips over Iraq. This was largest rebellion against the party whip seen under any party on any issue for 150 years. To find a larger backbench revolt than Iraq, you have to go back to the revolt over the Corn Laws in the middle of the nineteenth century.
* The revolts also included the largest Labour rebellion ever in government over education policy (top-up fees), heath policy (foundation hospitals), and defence policy (Trident). And the (joint-) largest rebellion at second reading since 1945 (top-up fees) and the largest rebellion at third reading ever against a Labour government (schools reform).
* The government survived its first two parliaments undefeated in the Commons –something not managed by any government since Wilson’s government of 1966-1970. But they then went down to four defeats in the first session of the 2005 parliament. No other government with a majority of over 60 has suffered four defeats in its entire lifetime – let alone during just one session.
* As a result of backbench dissent, three key policies of the Blair era only passed the Commons thanks to Conservative support, encompassing foreign policy (Iraq), domestic policy (schools reform) and defence policy (Trident).
There's more here, both on the history and the prospects for Brown.9 May 2007.
Not much going on at Westminster at the moment - with a very low attendance in the House this week and last for some reason...
But last night saw a second Tory backbench rebellion on the issue of the air passenger duty. In an amendment to the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, Christopher Chope, a former partner-in-crime with Eric Forth in the Tory 'awkward squad' of the 1997 Parliament, sought to remove the retrospective nature of the measure by changing the starting date from 1 February 2007 to 21 March 2007, the day of the Budget. Against the advice of the Tory frontbencher, Paul Goodman, three other Tory backbenchers - Quentin Davies, Edward Leigh and Robert Walter, joined Chope and the Liberal Democrats in the aye lobby. The Conservative frontbench abstained, and the amendment was defeated by 29 votes to 260.
The rebellion follows on from the decision of 22 Tory backbenchers, including former leader Iain Duncan Smith, to vote against the Budget Resolution on the air passenger duty on 27 March 2007. On that occasion, Chope termed the restrospective nature of the air passenger duty 'a constitutional outrage'.
There have now been eleven Conservative backbench rebellions in the present session, involving 30 Tory MPs.2 May 2007.
The members of Charter 88 and the New Politics Network recently voted to press ahead with merger in an all member ballot of both organisations.
The turnout? A mere 34% - and this from organisations which urge the revival of grassroots democracy...30 April 2007.
To the LSE this evening, for a lively session with Sir John Major, as part of a Hansard Society/LSE public discussion. Major – wearing some dashing pink socks – was on good form. Best line of the night: ‘I don’t know Gordon Brown well. I’m not one of the five people who do’.
He discussed his backbench difficulties at length. ‘There is nothing so difficult to deal with than an ex-minister’. Elinor Goodman, who was chairing the session, suggested that Tony Blair might well now agree with that. Major: ‘I think Gordon Brown is about to find it out too’.
Indeed.24 April 2007.
On the face of it, last night's rebellion over the Pension Protection fund (15 rebels, reducing the Government's majority to 22) was fairly typical. Almost all the rebels would have been familiar to the whips: Frank Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, David Drew, Frank Field, Mark Fisher, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Gordon Prentice, Alan Simpson, Robert Wareing, Mike Wood, Dr Tony Wright and Gisela Stuart.
In fact, since the middle of March, no fewer than eight uber Blair loyalists have cast their first votes against the Government. The most notable examples were Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, and Andrew Smith, the former DWP secretary, who both rebelled over Trident, alongside two other members of the Government: Nigel Griffiths, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, who resigned over the issue, as did Chris Ruane, a PPS to Peter Hain. Michael Jabez Foster and Dr Howard Stoate, both former PPSs, also voted against the Government on Trident. On 28 March 2007, Gordon Marsden, another former PPS, cast his first ever vote against the Blair Government over the siting of Britain's first 'super-casino' rather than in his constituency of Blackpool South. And now Gisela Stuart.
Yet more signs that the Blair period is coming to an end.19 April 2007.
ePolitix have now published their survey results (see below) - and it turns out their survey actually reveals that 76 per cent of MPs saw constituency business as the most important part of their job. Attending the Commons chamber was seen as the most important part by 18 per cent (we're willing to bet their ain't many MPs from the recent intakes in that 18 percent), followed by committee work on nine per cent, and national and international issues on six per cent. This is all much more believable.
Clearly someone didn't understand the difference between 'spend time on' and 'think is important'. In our experience they are rather different. We all spend loads of time on things we don't think are important!
The survey also shows that the majority of MPs think they are paid too little. But again, which of us doesn't?9 April 2007.
Courtesy of ePolitix comes an interesting interview with the Leader of the House, Jack Straw, touching on modernisation and the need to make debates more topical. One fascinating bit of the interview that’s not flagged up in their report, but can be found in the full transcript is this:
Question: We have conducted some polling about how MPs spend their time - it shows they spend 76 per cent of their time on constituency business and 18 per cent in the Chamber. What are your thoughts on that?
Straw: It doesn't surprise me…
Well, it surprises us! For one thing, a figure of 18% for the chamber is surely too high. How many MPs really spend almost a fifth of their time on the chamber? Ditto for the 76% for the constituency. We’ve noted before the rise in the extent to which MPs are working in, on, and for the constituency – but 76% is way too high. Even the Hansard Society study into the 2005 intake – which reported frighteningly high figures for the percentage of time spent on the constituency – ‘only’ reported a figure of around 50%. Moreover, a combination of 76% for the constituency and 18% for the chamber leaves – if a rusty 20-year-old grade C pass at Maths A Level is still doing its stuff – just six percent for everything else: committees, all-party groups, party meetings, lobbying ministers, research, and so on. That can’t be right. Something’s wrong with those data.5 April 2007.
Almost entirely overlooked (but not quite) amid the furore over last week’s gambling votes, the same day saw the Commons vote by 283 votes to 188 in favour of a new communications allowance of £10,000 to assist MPs ‘in the work of communicating with the public on parliamentary business’. This followed a vote in principle back in November. A number of less controversial measures, including making permanent provisions for written questions during September (introduced on an experimental basis last year), were agreed without a vote.
The vote saw both Labour and the Conservatives extremely united, the latter in favour of proposals, the former firmly against. Only two Conservative MPs – Quentin Davies and Bob Spink -voted in favour of the new allowance while 150 Conservatives voted against. This pattern was mirrored on the Labour side: only two Labour MPs – Kelvin Hopkins and Dr Lynne Jones – voted against, while 264 Labour MPs voted in favour. Both the Government and the Conservatives were whipped – although we doubt there would have been much greater division even if the whips had been off. One party that did split on the issue, though, was the Liberal Democrats: 19 of their MPs voted in favour, 26 against.
As we’ve noted before, this is pretty typical of the way ‘modernisation’ proposals have been dealt with by the Commons. While there have been occasions, as over sitting hours, where the PLP has been badly split, there have been very few occasions where Labour and the Conservatives have been united in the same direction. Voting by party remains the dominant feature, even though most of these votes (unlike this particular one) have been unwhipped.
The most curious part of the debate for us came when Martin Salter quoted two of the revolts team in support of his argument. It’s always nice to feel wanted…
See here for one view - and for a picture of an ever-so young looking Cowley, all fresh-faced and keen. Those were the days...30 March 2007.
Backbench rebellions on statutory instruments aren't very common. Before last night, there had been only 26 Labour revolts on SIs (including Opposition Prayers) since 1997. But like waiting for a bus, three came along at once last night.
Aside from the rebellion over gambling, there were votes on two other SIs, both subject to the deferred division procedure. Three Labour MPs defied their whip to vote against the draft Integration for Refugees and Other Regulations 2007 order; and five voted against the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007 order.
But the main rebellion came over the draft Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Casino Premises Licences) Order 2007. Even though this rebellion was relatively tiny – just 18 Labour MPs voted against their whip - it was still large enough to constitute the largest Labour backbench rebellion on a statutory instrument since Labour came to power in 1997.
Twelve of last night's 18 rebels had voted against the Gambling Bill in the last Parliament, but perhaps the most interesting feature of the rebellion was the geographical distribution of the rebels. It’s rare to find much of a constituency link to most rebellions, but last night both of Blackpool's Labour MPs, Joan Humble and Gordon Marsden (who was voting against the Government for the first time and who was the only virgin in last night's voting) defied the whips, and of Labour's 12 Lancashire MPs five voted against the statutory instrument.29 March 2007.
The problem with issues like gambling – on which there is expected to be a close vote tonight - is that they risk alienating normally loyal MPs, MPs who do not have a habit of rebellion but who feel so strongly on the issue that they can’t support the government. Under normal circs, the trick is to allow plenty of absences (‘I hear Blackpool is lovely at this time of year’) but these aren’t normal circs: you’ve got a majority that no longer allows too many absentees, and an Official Opposition on a three-line whip which is pulling MPs back from overseas trips.
And it’s pretty clear that the government can’t allow many MPs to be away tonight. They face a two-pronged attack – from MPs opposed to casinos in general, and from those opposed to the Manchester decision in particular. What’s clear from the stats, is that these are two very distinct groups.
First, the opponents of casinos. There were 44 Labour rebels when the Gambling Bill was passing through the Commons before the last election, plus a decent number of abstentions. Of these 44, 31 are left in the Commons and in receipt of the Labour whip. In itself, this group is almost large enough to defeat the government.
And on top of them are the opponents of situating the casino in Manchester. A total of 83 Labour MPs have signed EDM 823, put down by Joan Humble, calling for the decision to be re-examined. Of these, just 10 had also voted against the Gambling Bill, leaving 73 potential extra names to be added to the ranks of the would-be rebels. Not all (or even most) will rebel, of course, but plenty of the 73 have form, having rebelled before. It's a large group to placate.
The government might well end up being grateful that many of Northern Ireland’s MPs are presumably otherwise occupied right now, which would be ironic given the mess that the IRA made of Manchester a few years ago.28 March 2007.
Every time we get a link from the Times blog our visitors stats take a healthy jump – so hello Times readers! In addition to anything you can see below, anyone visiting this site for the first time might be interested in our whopper briefing paper (pdf, 2M) on Labour rebellions in the last parliament (every vote, every rebel) or our more recent paper (pdf, 1M) on the first session of the 2005 parliament. Or they could buy this book. It’s very good (and at nearly half-price with Amazon too).
For today, we offer you the following facts about last week’s Trident rebellion.
* Of the 100 Labour MPs who called for the recall of parliament over the Lebanon, 68 voted against Trident (plus three abstainers, and three no-shows).
* Of the 103 remaining Iraq rebels from the last parliament, 72 (70%) voted against over Trident (plus two abstainers and two no-shows).
* But as so often, previous rebelliousness tops them all as a predictor of behaviour: 86 of the 118 MPs (73%) who had already rebelled in this parliament went on to vote against Trident.
* And as a result of the voting on Trident and gay adoption, the number of Labour backbenchers to have voted against the party line so far this Parliament has swelled to 134.
And it’s worth noting how the scale of the revolt is limited by focussing on the size of the largest single revolt – the 95 Labour MPs who voted for Jon Trickett’s amendment. As we pointed out last week, the churning between the two votes meant that a total of 102 MPs voted against their whip over Trident. Add in the known abstentions, and the figure rises again. There were six Labour MPs who voted for the Government on the Trickett vote, but who abstained on the second. And there were another two Labour MPs who abstained on the first vote, but voted for the Government on the second vote. Even before you add in those who absented themselves from both votes, that makes at least 110 Labour MPs who defied their whip.21 March 2007.
From March's edition of Public Servant comes news that the new public bill procedure - as currently operating on the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill - might not be working quite as well as some (including us) hope:
Local Government Association vice-chairman Richard Kemp said: “If this is their idea of modern government they have no right to lecture us at town halls on new governance. We arrived on time and after 10 minutes were asked to leave for 30 minutes while they decided who should ask what questions.
When there was a vote, flunkeys wandered into corridors shouting ‘division’ and they went through the aye/nay ritual. What a farce. No wonder the instructions they are foisting on local government are equally farcical”
Someone needs to get a grip of this, or the procedure - which has the potential to be the beneficial change to the legislative process in the last 50 years - could be stillborn.
Amidst a bit of a hoo-ha last night, the government got the draft Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 through the Commons, by 310 to 100. Of the names listed in the no lobby, a full 85 were Conservative MPs. The rest were a mixture of ten Labour, four Lib Dems, two Independents, and one SNP. (One of these was Dai Davies, casting a vote in both lobbies).
David Cameron went into the aye lobby - with just 28 other Tory MPs. They include just six of the large Tory 2005 intake - mainly of whom clearly do not share his modernising instincts.
Nor is this the first time Cameron has parted company with his troops like this - although this is the most spectacular example so far. On House of Lords reform, the majority of Tory MPs rejected the 80/20 option favoured by the Conservative leadership. And more than half of his 2005 intake have already defied their party whip.
Whatever else one thinks about the prospects of a Cameron-led Conservative Government, it looks as if it will be an interesting time for any nerds obsessed by the way MPs vote...
UPDATE: Good piece on this - which notes the behaviour of the Shadow Cabinet here.
UPDATE 2: A bit more detail on the new intake. As noted above, just six of the 2005 intake voted with their leader. A full 23 voted against - and of these 23, 20 have already also defied Mr Cameron on a whipped vote. The modernising agenda has clear limits amongst the backbenches of the Conservative parliamenty party.
One of the problems with division lists in the House of Commons is that there’s no abstention option. Absence may be sanctioned by the whips, it may be accidental, or it may be an act of defiance. This makes it very difficult to systematically identify deliberate abstentions. One useful tip is to look for consecutive divisions: MPs who are absent in one vote but present in the next are usually abstaining.
Which makes Michael Howard’s absence from the vote on Jon Trickett’s amendment on Wednesday night rather intriguing. Howard was certainly present for the next vote – on the substantive motion – where he voted for renewal, in line with the Conservative three-line whip. Perhaps he was just late arriving at Westminster and happened to miss the first vote? A former Tory leader surely can't have doubts about Britain's nuclear deterrent? He can’t have been defying David Cameron’s leadership, can he? Someone please tell us there's an innocent explanation for this!
UPDATE: We've been told we should change the headline to "Michael Howard gets stuck in traffic shocker”. (Things are explained here). It's a relief, frankly. Life is complicated enough without people like Michael Howard starting to have doubts about nuclear deterrents.16 March 2007.
The Constitution Unit at UCL has just produced some analysis of how their Lordships voted on their own future.
Key points include:
* There was a very clear majority in all groups in the Lords, except the Liberal Democrats, for an all-appointed House
* There was a clear majority in all groups against a 50% or 60% elected House
* Only 26 Labour peers (one in five of those voting) supported Jack Straw's original position of a 50% elected House
* Only 22 Conservative peers (one in six of those voting) supported David Cameron's position of an 80% elected House. This was also rejected by a comfortable majority of Labour peers
* Labour peers split 83/60 against an all elected House.
Today’s Times talks about the how the whips kept the rebellion below ‘the psychologically disastrous level of 100’. It’s true that no individual Trident revolt broke the 100 barrier – the largest was 95 – but the churning between each vote meant that the total number of Labour MPs who voted against their whip in last night’s vote was 102. As a percentage of the PLP – smaller now than it was in 2003 – this is extremely close to the scale of the Iraq revolt.
This was that rare thing, a revolt that appears to have hardened rather than weakened, as the vote approached. And we don’t mind admitting that its size took us slightly by surprise. Although we expected a big rebellion, we were a bit sceptical that it would break the record for the largest defence rebellion ever by Labour backbenchers in government - the 79 who defied Jim Callaghan over defence expenditure in 1977. Yet that record went crashing down. It was merely the latest record to fall. Since 1997, we’ve also seen the largest foreign policy rebellion in Labour’s history (Iraq), the largest education rebellion (top-up fees), and the largest health policy rebellion (foundation hospitals). Where’s Roy Castle when you need him?
Proper briefing paper still to follow, but it’s worth pointing out now that the 102 rebels included just six MPs voting against their whip for the first time. The other 96 all had form – even if many of them were hardly persistent offenders. Although this could be presented as positive for the government – not many new MPs joining the ranks of the trouble-makers (although we suspect Charles Clarke could cause rather a lot of trouble in the coming years) – we see it more as evidence of how widespread rebellion has become, how common it is now to be a backbench rebel.15 March 2007.
Despite ministerial resignations, we're not yet all that excited about Wednesday's vote on Trident. There seem to us to be two certainties which mean it's less exciting than it might otherwise be: a) the government are going to win; and b) the government are going to win because they enjoy the support of the Opposition. We can't see any chance of the rebellion being small enough to get this through without requiring Conservative support - and so there's no will-they, won't-they element. They won't.
So all the attention is on the size of any Labour rebellion - and whether it'll be a record breaker. The five issues to have provoked the biggest rebellions under Blair to date are:
Iraq (2003): 139
Higher Education Bill (2004): 72
Education and Inspections Bill (2006): 69
Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill (1999): 67
Health and Social Care Bill (2003): 65
All figures are for cross votes and ignore abstentions.
It might therefore be possible for this to be the largest domestic rebellion endured by Blair (if you want to class Trident as domestic), but there's no indication that it's going to break the 139 MPs who defied the whip over Iraq. A figure of 70 would make it the largest rebellion this parliament - topping the 69 who rebelled over the Education and Inspections Bill.
Another (higher) benchmark is with the revolt in 1977, which is the largest rebellion in government by Labour MPs on the issue of defence: then, 79 Labour MPs supported an amendment calling for a reduction in arms spending. Wednesday at least has the potential to top this, although we're a bit sceptical.
Apart from anything else, we're expecting lots of abstentions, which could lower any headline figure. The other complicating factor is the fact that there are two votes - the Trickett amendment arguing for delay and the substantive motion. If we were whips (which thank the Lord, we're not sir), we'd be trying to divide the rebels, getting some of them to back one rebellion but abstain on the other. Two rebellions of 60ish will be less damaging than one of 80.12 March 2007.
Some of the individual voting patterns from Wednesday's House of Lords vote are fascinating.
* Of the 117 Labour MPs who voted for 100% appointment, the majority (63) also voted for 100% elected.
* Indeed, there were 44 Labour MPs who voted for abolition, 100% appointment and 100% elected. Of these, 41 objected to every hybrid option put before the House.
* There were two extremely laid back MPs - both Labour - who voted for every option ('like, whatever') -- and a more sizeable 17 (10 Conservative, 7 Labour) who voted against every option.
All this, and Trident on Wednesday as well. What more could you ask for?10 March 2007.
All those votes to analyse, so little time. Here’s a brief summary of the Commons votes on Lords reform on Wednesday. We’ve focussed on the first six votes – on bicameralism and the various compositional options – and ignored the (much less interesting) couple of divisions on the removal of the hereditary peers. Here are five headline facts:
* With the exception of support for bicameralism (where they were almost 100% united), the Conservatives split on all the compositional votes – with the two sharpest splits coming over fully appointed (44% aye, 56% no) and 80/20 (45% aye, 55% no).
* The majority of Conservatives also voted against every compositional option presented to the House: a majority were against 100% appointed, against 50/50, against 60/40, against 80/20, and against 100% elected. David Cameron may have voted for 80/20 but more than half of his MPs didn’t follow him.
* Labour too split on every vote – often badly. The worst split came over 80/20, when the PLP split right down the middle (49% in favour, 51% against). They also split badly over bicameralism, with 52% supporting two chambers, 48% against. The PLP were most divided on the various hybrid options, but more united on the two extremities – and they were most united of all on a vote on a fully elected House. Some 68% of Labour MPs supported 100% elected.
* A stray MP here or there, the Lib Dems were solid on every vote – in favour of retaining a bicameral system, and uniformly against any option involving fewer than 80% elected and for every option of 80% and above.
* 100% elected was the only option supported by a majority of Labour MPs. Indeed, the striking feature about the 80/20 vote – passed narrowly by the House – was that it wasn’t supported by a majority of MPs of either of the two main parties. The 100% elected option enjoyed support from more than two-thirds of Labour MPs, all the Lib Dems, and around a third of Conservatives – although like many we doubt the sincerity of some of that support. More on this to follow…9 March 2007.
We await this evening's votes on Lords reform with interest -- there will be masses of nerdy data to spend the evenings looking at -- and we'll post up analysis as soon as we've done it.
But one of the fascinating features of yesterday and today's debate is the absolute certainty with which all speakers predict what the future will be like under different systems, preferred or feared. Yet if you go back and read the debates for the 1999 Act, it's striking how almost no-one correctly predicted the correct outcome - almost no-one predicted that removing the hereditary peers would enliven the Upper House. Given their record before, you might consider being equally sceptical about their current predictions...
UPDATE: The voting's just started, and the first two votes show support for abolition and an all-appointed House are both down from the last votes in 2003. Then, 245 MPs wanted an all-appointed House. Now, we're down to fewer than 200. The third vote - on 50/50 - wasn't put to a division in 2003, so we've got nowt to compare it with. The real action will come once we get to 60% and above.
UPDATE 2: Support for 60% elected was also slightly down on 2003, but a small but important rise in support for 80% meant that it passed by 38 rather than falling by 3. (The aye lobby up by 24, the no lobby down by 17). But the cracker was the vote on 100% elected, where a defeat in 2003 by 17 votes has now transformed into a majority in favour of 113. We can't wait to get our hands on the division lists...7 March 2007.
Today's Sunday Telegraph reports Theresa May as claiming that there is growing support within the Commons for a 80%-elected Lords:
There is a growing volume of support for 80-20. There is a feeling that there is a need to complete the reform that the Labour Party started. I sense a mood for reform and more of a desire for change than there was last time. What we don't want is a house of political patronage.
It's worth remembering that in 2003, when the Commons last voted on the composition of the House of Lords, Conservative MPs split 73/76 against the 80-20 option. We predict sizeable Tory splits again on Wednesday. It's not just the Labour Party that finds this a tricky issue.4 March 2007.
We wake to the news that the Government might be facing defeat in the Commons, over the Offender Management Bill bill.
The Bill proposes to commission up to £250 million in probation services from the private and voluntary sectors by April 2008. The Government won the Second Reading vote by a very large margin indeed - 411 votes to 91 - because it enjoyed the support of the Conservatives, but there were 27 Labour cross-votes, along with a batch of abstentions.
The Home Secretary’s concessions so far are seen as largely cosmetic by the rebels, and any vote could be tight. If the government do indeed go down to defeat it will be the first time any Government has lost a piece of legislation at Third Reading since July 1977, when the Callaghan government lost the Local Authority (Scotland) Bill by 99 votes to 105. This, though, was not caused by Labour backbench dissent, but because the government whips were not expecting a vote and did not have their troops in place. Before that, you have to go back to 1919 and a motion to retain the wording of the third reading motion on the Women's Emancipation Bill lost by Lloyd George’s coalition.
Tonight’s vote, however, is not taking place with a minority or coalition government – but one with a nominal majority of over 60. Under these circumstances, to lose a bill at Third Reading really would be remarkable. It would also mean that all five defeats so far this Parliament will have been on Home Office issues.
For what it’s worth, we suspect a narrow Government victory. Although many of the would-be rebels see Reid’s concessions so far as largely cosmetic, we suspect enough will have been persuaded to see the Government sneak through. A full Tory attendance is crucial if the rebels are to have any chance.28 February 2007.
Henry Porter has surpassed himself today. His piece in the Observer today - 'Less a servant of the people, more a hammer of Parliament' - is possibly the worst article written on parliament so far this year (if not this decade). He complains at one point that 'the public understands much less of what is going on at Westminster than it used to'. Is it any wonder when newspapers publish rubbish like this?
As soon as we can gather our jaws off the floor, we might try to write a response. But, frankly, what's the point?25 February 2007.
A new site, selectcommittees.co.uk, is an interesting initiative from ePolitix, intended to raise the profile of select committees. So far it only covers a handful of committees but the intention is to broaden it out in the coming months.
Maybe it's just us - but we find the talking Committee Chairs slightly spooky and offputting. You click on a link, and then next thing you know Kevin Barron or someone is talking to you. That's not our idea of fun!20 February 2007.
Yesterday (7 February 2007) saw a spate of minor Labour and Conservative rebellions, the largest of which saw thirteen Labour MPs - several with strong trade union backgrounds - support a Liberal Democrat attempt to revoke the Merchant Shipping (Inland Waterway and Limited Coastal Operations) (Boatmasters’ Qualifications and Hours of Work) Regulations 2006. Labour deputy leadership hopeful, Jon Cruddas, was among the rebels, as was former PPS, Ian Stewart.
Earlier in the day, four Labour MPs voted in favour of a Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion criticising the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) decision to discontinue its investigation into the Al Yamamah arms agreement between BAE Systems plc arms and the Saudis. David Taylor cast his usual deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, but four Tory backbenchers voted with the Liberal Democrats in the aye lobby, while one Conservative MP – Nigel Evans – appears to have voted with Labour in the no lobby. Later, Bob Spink was the only Conservative MP to support another Liberal Democrat Opposition Day debate criticising the Government’s record on crime.
There have now been 16 Labour rebellions so far this session, a rebellion rate of 33 per cent, but the average size of rebellion is only six. In fact, only 39 Labour MPs have defied the whip in this session so far. We are expecting that to change next month when the big Commons vote is taken on the replacement to Trident.8 February 2007.
How things have changed! Back in 1997, who’d have thought that the main opposition to a Government bill on Northern Ireland would come from the Liberal Democrats? Yet 6 February saw the Lib Dems oppose three aspects of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill during its Report Stage. Jeremy Corbyn was the only Labour MP to support a LibDem attempt to remove Clause 7 from the Bill, which prevents any legal challenge to the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision to issue a certificate to the effect that a defendant should be tried without a jury. The amendment was supported by the SDLP and the SNP, but opposed by the two unionist parties – the DUP and the UUP – as well as the Conservatives and the Government. Labour newcomer, Sian James is recorded as having voted in both lobbies.
A second Lib Dem amendment, which would have left out clause 19, which prevents the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission from investigating any matters arising before 1 August 2007, was also supported by Corbyn. The Islington North MP also voted against the Bill’s Third Reading alongside the LibDems, the SDLP and the SNP, as once again, the Conservatives supported the Government.
As a result of last night’s three rebellious votes, Corbyn has now drawn level with Labour leadership hopeful, John McDonnell, both MPs having voted 72 times against the Government so far this Parliament.
The excellent Slugger O'Toole draws our attention to a DUP requirement that their candidates for the Assembly have to prepare a pre-written resignation letter to be utilised should they break ranks too often. There is also a clause allowing for a fine of £20,000.
As we've pointed out before (pdf, 80k), the idea that the whips at Westminster enjoy any particularly strong formal powers is a nonsense - certainly fewer than in many other countries. British whips cannot, for example, cast votes on behalf of the entire party grouping as happens elsewhere (New Zealand, for example). And British MPs are free to defect from one party group to another should they wish, without being expelled from the Commons (as would happen, for example, in the Indian Lok Sabha).
But imagine what Labour whips could do with £20,000 from each dissenting MP? Since the 2005 election alone, this would have raised £2,280,000 - which would have gone some way to paying back some of those loans...6 February 2007.
We all know that everything in Britain is heavily skewed towards the South East. Except, as an excellent briefing from the BBC’s Political Research Unit has pointed, for the governing party.
Almost one in three Labour MPs come from the industrial belt across Northern England from Liverpool to Hull. The largest single group in the PLP is the North West, meaning, as the briefing puts it, "more MPs to badger Minister’s PPS’s, more buttonholing Ministers in the division lobbies and more letters to consultations".
As the briefing notes: “Recent decisions such as locating the new super-casino in Manchester (rather than Greenwich), the huge pressure applied to the BBC over the Salford move (rather than staying in West London) and Labour’s decision to have every other annual conference in Manchester for the next 10 years have shown the power of the North West in the Labour Party”.
The South is similarly under-represented when it comes to the Cabinet. The days of the North East Mafia (Blair, Milburn, Mandelson, Byers, Armstong, and initially at least Mowlem) have passed and the largest group in the Cabinet is now the Scots, who make up just 11% of the PLP but a full 24% of the Cabinet.
The North West is well represented with four cabinet members, but what is striking is that there is not a single member of the cabinet whose constituency is in Southern England excluding London. Even including London less than 10% of the cabinet sit for seats in Southern England.
Can you think of any other major national organisation of which this is true?
UPDATE: Comrade M emails to point out that this is also - he thinks - the first Labour Cabinet not to have any Welsh people in it (unless you count John Prescott). Indeed, Peter Hain is the only person representing a Welsh seat in the Cabinet.4 February 2007.
The 25 January saw the Government’s majority reduced to 35, as eleven Labour MPs voted against the Third Reading of the Fraud (Trial without a Jury) Bill. Nine out of the eleven had voted against the Bill at Second Reading (in November last year). Labour MPs were less concerned about tinkering with the detail of the Bill, evidenced by the fact that Bob Marshall-Andrews was the only Labour MP to vote in favour of earlier Opposition amendments on Report. Miracles notwithstanding, the Bill is almost certain to be defeated in the Lords, ensuring further Labour rebellions when it returns to the Commons later this year.
The Commons Modernisation Committee has just launched two connected inquiries, into strengthening the backbencher and better use of non-legislative time. Here is some written evidence (pdf, 80k) from one of the revolts team to the former inquiry.
Its purpose is not to offer a series of detailed proposals to ‘strengthen’ the role of the backbencher – they'll get plenty of those – but rather to place current debates in some broad context, and (in passing) to be mildly sceptical about one or two often-cited proposals. See it as a sort of antidote against any outbreaks of excessive historical romanticism on the part of the Committee.22 January 2007.
Five existing members of Labour’s Parliamentary Committee were re-elected yesterday (16 January), with Government loyalists failing to make much of an impression in the poll among their fellow PLP members.
On a turnout of 95% (no problems of apathy there!), the five incumbents – Ann Cryer, Angela Eagle, Kevan Jones, Joan Ruddock and Martin Salter – have all voted against the Government before, although none could fairly be described as serial rebels. The five signalled their intention to stand firm on issues that concern them when they produced a joint manifesto, promising, if re-elected, to put pressure on ministers said to be backing hospital closures, and also pressure on the Prime Minister to keep the trade union link.
The sixth member elected was Don Touhig, a Government loyalist, who lost his job as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence last year.
But apart from Touhig, other ultra-loyalist Government loyalists performed badly in yesterday’s poll: Janet Anderson, Mike Hall, George Howarth and Jane Kennedy – all members of the Government for the duration of the 1997 Parliament – all failed to get elected, as did Karen Buck (a sometime rebel) and Lynda Waltho (a 2005 entrant).
The correlation between rebelliousness and PLP electoral success wasn’t perfect – but with a correlation coefficient of 0.40 (correlating PLP votes with dissenting votes since 2001) there was still clear evidence of a relationship: the PLP voted for the more troublesome candidates and eschewed the loyalists.17 January 2007.
Yesterday the Government succeeded in getting the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill through the House of Commons with only a minimal level of dissent. The largest rebellion came when six Labour MPs – Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, Lynne Jones, John McDonnell, Albert Owen and David Taylor – supported a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have abolished the shared room rate for the local housing allowance. Andy Love seems to have abstained, after withdrawing his own related amendment, while David Lepper and Madeleine Moon, who were critical of the Government during the debate, also appear to have abstained.
Earlier in the evening, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were the only Labour backbenchers to support a Liberal Democrat new clause, which would have established an annual report to Parliament on the operation of the new system for assessing the capability of those on incapacity benefit to return to work. Corbyn and McDonnell were then joined by Robert Wareing in support of a Conservative frontbench new clause that would have ensured that people with severe and challenging conditions would not suffer financial sanctions if they failed to satisfy the conditions of the new work-focused interview.
Devotees of this site will recall that the Government was forced to abandon its plans to extend means-testing for the long-term sick as a result of backbench Labour pressure. As a result, the White Paper’s reception was far more positive than it would otherwise have been – and back in July last year, we predicted very little trouble for the Government on its Welfare Reform Bill.
But the Government is not out of the woods yet. Dr Roger Berry, an expert backbench critic on this issue, tabled no fewer than 16 amendments (all later withdrawn), trying to ensure that the bill focussed on factors other than purely medically-related assessments when determining a claimant’s ability to return to work. Andy Love’s amendment on the local housing allowance, which would have ended the shared room rate at 21 instead of 25 as proposed by the Government, is expected to be debated by the Lords. It is therefore still possible that the Government may suffer a small number of further rebellions at Lords amendment stage – but nothing we suspect to give the whips sleepless nights.
Someone forgot to lock the doors at the Observer, and an eight year old sneaked in and wrote some of the paper. That's the most charitable explanation we could give for the dire piece offered up in the name of Henry Porter this weekend. The worst bit - as far as we are concerned, anyway - was this:
These men and women are law makers and we need them to concentrate on the business in hand, to be more able to think for themselves, to be better briefed, to act in the interests of their constituents more decisively, and to defy the party whipping system that is crushing the life out of Parliament and the spirit of MPs.
Crushing the life out of Parliament? Compared to when exactly? When was this mythical golden age when MPs defied the whip at will? Don't hold your breath expecting answers...
Last night, Northern Ireland MPs did not divide on the Second Reading of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, but Rev. Ian Paisley refused to stomach the delegated legislation that immediately followed it. When one of the Labour whips moved that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee, Paisley rose to express his amazement that ‘such important legislation, affecting especially the religious people of Northern Ireland, is going through the House in this way’. Six DUP MPs and the sole UUP MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, were joined in the no lobby by eight Conservatives: Peter Bone, Kenneth Clarke, Stewart Jackson, Bob Spink, Andrew Tyrie, Ann Widdecombe, Ann Winterton and Sir Nicholas Winterton. Mark Field was recorded as being in the aye lobby, along with the Government - the Conservative frontbench position being to abstain. The motion was overwhelmingly carried by 299 votes to 13.14 December 2006.
Last night saw the largest Labour rebellion of this session so far when 27 Labour MPs opposed the Second Reading of the Offender Management Bill. The Bill proposes to commission up to £250 million in probation services from the private and voluntary sectors by April 2008. The Government won the Second Reading vote by a very large margin indeed - 411 votes to 91 - because it enjoyed the support of the Conservatives. Immediately afterwards, a dozen Labour MPs voted against the Bill’s programme motion.
The Government’s comfortable margin of victory masks the fact that last night saw a large number of Labour abstentions. Not only did Barry Sheerman, normally a fairly loyal Labour MP, find himself voting against the Government for the first time this Parliament, but also many other Labour backbenchers, including Gwyneth Dunwoody, Peter Kilfoyle, Martin Salter and Desmond Turner intervened to criticise John Reid, the Home Secretary. All four MPs subsequently abstained. At least another 15 Labour MPs were given the night off or asked the leave of the whips to be absent from last night’s voting.
Unless there are meaningful Government concessions, we can expect to see a much larger Labour rebellion on Report than occurred last night. In those circumstances, the Government might require the continued support of the Conservatives to get its bill through the Commons. And the Conservatives made it clear yesterday that whilst supporting the Government at Second Reading they reserved the right to vote against later on.12 December 2006.
Largely unnoticed outside of Westminster, there have been a couple of small Labour rebellions over the last few weeks. The Government’s majority was more than halved on 29 November 2006, as it won the Second Reading of the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill by 289 votes to 219. Eleven Labour MPs voted against the principle of the legislation. Unsurprisingly, all eleven rebels had already voted against previous legislation in the last Parliament that tried to restrict trials by jury, and all eleven have already voted against the Government in this Parliament already. There were also several abstentions.
Similarly, the vigorous debate between Labour backbenchers and Home Office ministers over the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill on 4 December largely went ignored by the media. The Bill, which was carried over from the last session, will create a new basis for corporate liability, so that companies which are grossly negligent and cause avoidable deaths cannot evade prosecution, regardless of whether particular individuals committed an offence or not. There were only two small rebellions, but together with the promise of more trouble ahead. The first rebellion saw four Labour MPs – Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Dismore, John McDonnell and Alan Simpson - support an amendment that would have ensured that unincorporated associations and company partnerships fell within the scope of the new offence of corporate manslaughter. In the very next division, five Labour backbenchers – Corbyn, Dismore, McDonnell, Glenda Jackson and Michael Meacher - supported an amendment that would have extended the offence of corporate manslaughter to cover the issue of deaths in police custody caused by gross negligence. Three Commons select committees – the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Affairs and the Work and Pensions Committee – had all concluded that there was no justification for excluding deaths in custody from the scope of the new offence. John Denham, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, abstained, arguing that ‘there is a strong feeling in the House that the Government have not got this issue right’. He decided not to press his own amendment to a vote, claiming that ‘the debate is a way of telling the Government that they need to get into discussions about how to handle the issue’. More trouble ahead…6 December 2006.
Considerable organisational unheaveal at the revolts HQ - ie, Phil Cowley moving house - mean that we've not quite managed to do a paper on Trident yet: it was either that or unpacking the kitchen.
Worth noting, however, that the nine EDMs (including four already this session) on Trident had (by late Thursday) been signed by some 117 Labour MPs (plus Clare Short). This figure has grown considerably in the few days that they have been available for Members to sign, and it is likely that they will swell yet further in the days to come. It is also entirely possible that another ‘mega’ EDM emerges, which criticises the Government’s White Paper.
But for now, Ann Cryer, the Labour MP for Keighley, has the distinction of signing all nine EDMs. Worryingly for the Government, 87 of the 117 (or 74 per cent) have already dissented against the party line in this Parliament. That leaves the whips to consult with the 30 MPs who have so far stayed loyal this Parliament, including seven MPs from the new intake: Gordon Banks, Mary Creagh, Nia Griffith, Sharon Hodgson, David Anderson, Roberta Blackman-Woods and Sarah McCarthy-Fry. Another eight new MPs – Katy Clark, Linda Riordan, Sir Peter Soulsby, Jim McGovern, Sian James, Emily Thornberry, Sadiq Khan and by-election entrant Jim Devine – have both signed at least one of the EDMs and voted against the Government at least once already this Parliament.
However, the Government is unlikely to face a rebellion from over 100 of its MPs. Closer inspection of the content of the nine EDMs since the 2005 General Election shows that the two largest ones – 1113 and 1197 (both put down in the last Parliament) – mainly called for a consultation paper and for Parliament to be allowed to have a vote on the issue. Thirty-eight of the 117 Labour MPs mentioned above have signed only one or both of these two, more moderately-worded EDMs. There is at least a possibility some of these potential rebels will now be satisfied that the Government has made the key concession of allowing a vote on the issue. Many more will have wanted a vote on all the options, but a good number – including ultra loyalists like Sir Gerald Kaufman - will probably be satisfied. One or two MPs in this grouping – like Anne Begg and John Battle – are lifelong pacifists, and are unlikely to be swayed by the whips.
Anyway, the key question here is surely not the size of any Labour rebellion - but what will the Tories do? Can anyone really imagine the Conservatives voting against? If not, then the Government win, no matter what the size of the revolt.
More to follow, once the saucepans have been unpacked...
UPDATE: Most of the saucepans are now in the cupboards, so here's a short briefing paper (pdf, 44k).3 December 2006.
It didn’t take long. The very first division of the new session saw two small rebellions on both the Conservative and the Labour side. After MPs agreed to the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill without a division, the DUP moved an amendment to the Committee stage of the Bill (which was held on the Floor of the House) that would have allowed the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to set a later date than the one set down in the Bill - 26 March 2007 - for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. One Labour MP – Kate Hoey – supported the amendment, alongside four Conservative MPs – Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone, Ann Winterton and Sir Nicholas Winterton.
We are in the midst of preparing a briefing paper on the tendency of Cameron's newbies to defy their leadership. Coming soon...22 November 2006.
Two more Labour rebellions yesterday, bringing the total number of Labour rebellions since Labour came to power in 1997 to 450. The current figure for this session is 95, one short of the total for the entire 1997 Parliament.
Eight Labour MPs voted against a Government amendment to a Lords amendment that made only minor changes to the controversial extradition proceedings between Britain and the United States. David Taylor also cast his usual deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies. Later, the Government rejected a Lords new clause to the Road Safety Bill that would have introduced mandatory retro-reflective markings on all heavy goods vehicles. This time, three Labour MPs defied the Government by voting in the no lobby.
There were also minor revolts on the Conservative side of the House, also over the Road Safety Bill. One Conservative MP – Mike Penning – voted in favour of the Government in the no lobby over retro-reflective markings. It was his fifth rebellious vote against his party line since he was elected to the Commons in 2005. And in the final vote of the day, two Conservative MPs – Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone – defied their frontbench line by voting with the Government over another vote on the Road Safety Bill. That was Hollobone's seventh rebellious vote against the Tory frontbench line, and Bone's sixth.7 November 2006.
Quentin Davies, a former shadow defence spokesperson who abstained in Tuesday's Iraq vote, described the Conservative stance to vote for an immediate inquiry into the Iraq war as "absolutely crazy". You can hear the interview - from Radio 4's Week in Westminster - here. "Thank God it didn't pass", he said.
Excluding Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and Sir Michael Lord, the Second Deputy of Ways and Means, there were 14 Conservative MPs absent from both votes that night. In addition to Davies, they were: Michael Ancram; James Artbuthnot; John Bercow; Alistair Burt; Sir Patrick Cormack; Adam Holloway; Mark Lancaster; Dr Julian Lewis; Ian Liddell-Grainger; Michael Mates; Laurence Robertson; Grant Shapps; and David Willetts
Without naming names, it's pretty clear that several of these were abstentions rather than just absences.
That said, there were 41 Labour MPs absent from the votes, and based on their previous behaviour, we estimate that between 20 and 25 of these were abstaining.5 November 2006.
We agree with this British Spin post - especially the bit about 'buy his book' - 'It’s a must for anyone interested in the Labour Party'. Ta muchly. Although, as pointed out below, the Aberdonian Wisdom and Scepticism of M H S Stuart was, on this occasion, somewhat greater. Yesterday's votes on Commons reform were interesting* - reports to follow shortly. There were also two more small Labour rebellions, both on deferred divisions. Three Labour MPs - Frank Field, David Hamilton and Kate Hoey - objected to a draft order relating to the amendment of the rates in Northern Ireland. Immediately afterwards, David Drew and Dennis Skinner objected to a European Take Note motion, on the voluntary reduction or 'modulation' of direct farm support payments.
* Again, if you like that sort of thing.
One interesting* exercise is to look at what happened to the 38 Labour MPs who signed at least one of the three EDMs which either called for a Commons inquiry and/or demanded a debate in Parliament on Iraq. Of the 38 (listed here, pdf, 56k), fourteen Labour MPs voted for the Government on the Plaid/SNP motion (although three of these - Ann Cryer, Neil Gerrard and Dr Ian Gibson - subsequently abstained on the Government amendment). Crucially, twelve of the original signatories were persuaded to stay away or abstain on both votes, while David Taylor registered a deliberate abstention on the first vote. In the end, just 11 of the original EDM signatories voted against the Government, along with Roger Godsiff, who was the only Labour MP not to have signed the EDM to have voted against the Government.
* Well, interesting if you like that sort of thing...1 November 2006.
Our scepticism (below) was justified. Yesterday’s Opposition Day vote on Iraq saw just 12 Labour MPs vote against their whip – although there were also plenty of abstentions. This makes it the largest Opposition Day rebellion since Labour came to power in 1997 – but only just, a mere one MP larger than the 11 Labour MPs who rebelled in June 2003 to support a Lib Dem opposition day motion on Iraq. The figure would have been 13 if Clare Short had still been in receipt of the whip, but even so. Philip Cowley (who predicted 20-25) now owes Mark Stuart (prediction: 10-15) a box of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. We have simple pleasures at www.revolts.co.uk. A short briefing paper on the vote is here (pdf, 40k).
This morning’s discussion of the vote brings with it a simply ludicrous piece by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, which is a late entrant for our Simon Heffer Award For Getting It Wrong. It trots out whole series of lazy clichés – ‘MPs were last week revealed as having their fingers in the public till to the tune of £87m on expenses alone’ – and frankly life’s too short to waste time on any close textual analysis. And if you think Jenkins' piece is frightening, just read the comments that follow.
But one thing that we don’t understand – and it was something repeated in various forms yesterday – is the claim that ‘it beggars belief that a democratic assembly can have been party to it [the war] for three years without ever inquiring into its conduct’. Yet there have been several debates (and rebellions) in the Commons since the war began. There was a Lib Dem Opposition Day debate in June 2003, a Conservative one in July 2003, another Lib Dem one in September 2003, a Plaid/SNP one in March 2004 and a Lib Dem one in May 2004. There was also the debate on the adjournment in July 2004 on the Butler Report. To be sure, many of these debates were not overly long, and they were mostly not government-initiated (who can be surprised about that?) but that’s surely the point of Opposition Day motions. If the Conservatives wanted more debates about Iraq – as some of their speakers implied yesterday – then why haven’t they used more of their Opposition Days to do so? It’s not a dictatorial, censorial, government that’s stopping parliamentary debate over Iraq; it’s a main Opposition Party that finds it somewhat awkward to discuss it – as parts of yesterday’s vote demonstrated.
Yesterday also saw an interesting vote on abortion – the first decent vote on the issue for over a decade – and today we are due some fascinating Commons votes on modernisation. Briefing papers and analysis to follow.
Can the Government really be about to lose a vote on an Opposition Day motion? We're a bit sceptical, partly because it's an Opposition Day motion and partly because we remember the fuss a week ago when we were told that the vote on the Police and Justice Bill would be close -- and the Government went on to win with a majority of 30. But the numbers don't look good. This short briefing paper (pdf, 56k) lists previous Labour Opposition Day rebellions (all tiny) and gives an analysis of the would-be rebels.31 October 2006.
On Thursday, four Labour MPs - Ian Davidson, David Drew, Kelvin Hopkins, Dennis Skinner - opposed a European Take Note motion, referring to a European Commission document, entitled, 'A Citizen's Agenda - Delivering Results for Europe', which sought to take forward the Hampton Court agenda of delivering results and benefits to EU citizens. The four rebels, were unimpressed, and three of them complained in the debate about the failure to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). That brings us up to 88 rebellions for the session so far.
And expect another bumper week of fun votes ahead. After today's Lords amendments to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill (relatively uncontroversial?), things are set to hot up on Tuesday when Plaid Cymru and the SNP are holding an Opposition day debate, entitled, 'Conduct of Government Policy in Relation to the War in Iraq and its Aftermath'. We are not sure about the likely number of Labour rebels, but there will be some. The BBC are talking about a possible defeat, but on an Opposition Day Motion? Surely not?
Later that same day, the House has to approve certain motions relating to the Crossrail Bill, which have already caused dissent on the Labour, but more especially the Tory side. On Wednesday, MPs will decide on a number of important free votes, relating to the future of September sittings and the legislative process. Expect major party splits on these issues. Then, on Thursday, the House debates the Lords amendments to the Education and Inspections Bill. The vexed issue of faith schools may yet return to haunt the Government, and if the Labour rebels can engineer a suitable amendment to a Lords amendment, they might try to continue their opposition to certain aspects of the Bill. There's also a Ten Minute Rule Bill on abortion planned.30 October 2006.
The annual release of the figures for MPs' expenses is now well established as the low point in the media's coverage of parliament. All that talk of MPs 'getting' these expenses 'in addition' to their salaries, as if they're trousering it or spending it on dancing girls and fast cars. At least there was some sensible talk from Iain Dale along with a good letter in today's Guardian, from the Secretary of the TGWU MPs' staff branch, pointing out that:
Most of these are for staffing and office costs - when people phone an MP, someone has to pick it up; when an MP writes a letter on a constituent's behalf, the postage costs money; when an MP holds an advice surgery, the room has to be paid for. These allowances enable MPs to serve their constituents.
In the New Statesman Kevin Maguire's picked up on our earlier observation that more than half of the 2005 Conservative intake have now defied their whip -- although he does have this unhappy habit of referring to one of us as an 'anorak'. What can he mean?28 October 2006.
Last night saw yet another small Labour rebellion, as five Labour MPs - Colin Challen, Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, Bob Marshall-Andrews and John McDonnell - supported an amendment to the Companies Bill that would have explicitly extended the meaning of charitable purposes to 'non-religious belief systems' (whatever they are). A bigger rebellion had been discussed but failed to materialise as John Grogan declined to move an amendment that would have strengthened the public benefit test on achieving charitable status so that bodies, including private schools, had to have regard to 'any undue restriction on obtaining that benefit'. If we're honest, we're glad Grogan didn't push his amendment, not because we disagree about the issue, but just because we are currently completing our end-of-session report - which will be in a similar format to our end-of-parliament whooper (pdf, 2M) from 2005 - and we could do without too many pesky rebellions adding to our workload.
Tonight saw the first anniversary of the publication of a rather good book on backbench rebellions. At the launch party, a year ago, quite a few nice people wished the book well but wondered if it wasn't a bit, well, OTT. I mean, this idea that Labour MPs might actually defeat the government, it just wasn't going to happen, dear boy. And then, two weeks later, the government crashed to their first defeat in eight years. It would be nice if such prescience had been rewarded by the sound of ringing cashtills -- but as you'll see from Amazon, that's not really true: ranked 86,877 and counting...
PS. At that launch party, a year ago, was Eric Forth, who had always been a (critical) friend to the revolts.co.uk team. Yesterday, two government bills - the Parliamentary Costs Bill and the Wireless Telegraphy Bill - received their second and third readings within a minute of one another. We doubt this would have been allowed to happen had Eric been alive...26 October 2006.
Last night's Police and Justice Bill rebellions were not quite as impressive had been feared - at least partly because the whips pulled out all the stops. The largest revolt saw 14 Labour MPs defy their whip (in addition to the now non-whipped Clare Short who voted against, and David Taylor, who cast one of his increasingly frequent double vote abstentions), reducing the government's majority to 30. A smaller revolt saw six Labour MPs defy the whip, along with Kate Hoey who double-voted.
Earlier that evening, giving the Constitution Unit's annual lecture, the Leader of the House admitted that he feared defeat was a possibility -- and hence the lecture had to start early, with Jack Straw then rushing off to do the whips' bidding, rather than staying to enjoy some (pleasant) wine and some (not-so pleasant) canapes. Still, his speech (.doc, 64k) hit all the right-buttons, including a jolly sensible demolition of some of the sillier claims often about Parliament. As Peter Riddell notes in this morning's Times:
Mr Straw demolishes that improbable duo, Baroness (Helena) Kennedy (who chaired the Power Inquiry) and Simon Heffer, in their parallel claims that MPs and peers are a supine bunch cowed by the executive, patronage and the whips.
Indeed. Last night's rebellions, plus some others rumoured to be possible over the coming few weeks, make it a distinct possibility that there will be more rebellions in this one session than in the whole of the first Blair term. Watch this space.25 October 2006.
Three days of the Report stage of the Companies Bill last week ended in a bit of a damp squib. Leading rebel amendments in the name of Patrick Hall, Jon Trickett and Jim Cousins were withdrawn on successive days as the Government announced concessions to the Bill. In the end, there was just one Labour amendment, when Patrick Hall rebelled on a Government motion that made a series of minor amendments to the Bill.
Tonight, on the other hand, we have votes on the Lords amendments to the Police and Justice Bill. The word is that the whipping is very tight: 'God himself couldn't get off the whip tonight (so Tony will be voting at 10pm along with everyone else)'. Presumably the whips are expecting trouble...
UPDATE: Well, it wasn't exactly that close, was it?24 October 2006.
The Hansard Society is launching its latest report, Parliament in the Public Eye 2006: Coming into Focus?, on 2 November at a conference to to review the progress of the Puttnam Commission, Hansard's 2005 report into how Parliament engages (or not) with the outside world. the event will be an opportunity to review how Parliament and the media have responded to the Commission’s recommendations and hear a wide range of views on what should be done next to improve the communication of Parliament to the public. Speakers include Nick Robinson, Baroness Hayman, Lord Puttnam, Jackie Ashley, Angela Eagle, Ian Hargreaves, Greg Hurst, Julie Kirkbride, Kevin Maguire, John Pullinger, Gisela Stuart and more.
Anyone interested in attending should email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.23 October 2006.
The response from Gordon Brown to Clare Short’s resignation of the Labour whip – ‘It has been known for some time she wasn't voting with the Labour whip’ – is a late entrant for Understatement of the Year. Since the 2005 general election, Short has voted against the Labour whip on no fewer than 34 occasions, making her fifth most rebellious Labour backbencher.
In the last Parliament, having belatedly resigned as the International Development Secretary after the hostilities in Iraq had ended, she went on to vote against the party line on 38 occasions – with 30 of them in the last session of the last Parliament, mainly on the issue of terrorism.
If our experience of others who resign or lose the whip is anything to go by, the most likely change in in Short's behaviour as a result of being liberated from the whip will not be any great increase in the number of votes against Labour. What will change will be her turnout, which will drop, especially during late-night uncontentious votes where she would otherwise have supported the government.20 October 2006.
After a wholly gratuitous but well-deserved link to the BBF for their demolition of The Lamentable Mrs Pritchard, and in the absence of any rebellion during the first day of the final Commons stages of the Companies Bill (concessions ahoy, we feel), there was an interesting vote last night on gambling reform.
Labour MP Jim Cunningham introduced a ten-minute rule bill that would have amended the Gambling Act 2005 to allow the construction of eight regional ‘super-casinos’. The original Gambling bill had proposed exactly that number, only for the bill to be watered down, in the face of pressure from Labour MPs and others. The act ended up including just one pilot project – place yet to be decided.
Cunningham’s bill failed – and decisively, by 55 votes to 240. The majority of the PLP sat out the vote, but those Labour MPs that did take part split fairly evenly 52/46, but marginally in favour of Cunningham’s proposal. By contrast, Kenneth Clarke was the only Conservative MP supporting the idea, whilst 146 Conservatives voted in the opposition lobby. The Liberal Democrats were also overwhelmingly against, just four Lib Dems voting in support, compared to 49 against. Five SNP MPs, three Plaid Cymru and the independent MP, Dr Richard Taylor trooped into the no lobby against the plan.18 October 2006.
Last Tuesday (10 October) saw two large(ish) Tory backbench rebellions after the Second Reading debate on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. Although the Second Reading vote passed without a division, 25 Conservatives opposed the Bill’s programme motion, as the Conservative frontbench chose to abstain. Then, immediately afterwards, 21 Tory backbenchers opposed the carry-over motion, again with the frontbench abstaining.
Under the current law, corporate manslaughter prosecutions can only proceed if gross negligence can be proved against individual senior managers. The bill aims to broaden the offence of corporate manslaughter to cover collective failings or gross negligence in a company beyond merely senior managers.
At total of 26 Conservatives opposed either the programme motion and/or the carry-over motion - and fully half of these rebels came from the new intake of MPs. This is part of a wider trend: 30 of the 53 Conservative MPs first elected in 2005 (57 per cent) have now defied the party line since the last election. Of these 30, all except one have rebelled against the frontbench line since David Cameron was first elected leader of the Conservative party on 6 December last year. Put another way, well over half of the new intake of Tory MPs – 55 per cent to be exact - have already defied David Cameron’s leadership.17 October 2006.
As Parliament returned this week from the long summer recess, so did Labour's backbench rebels. On the very first day of the spillover period, four Labour backbenchers supported a new clause during the Report stage of the Road Safety Bill that would have required heavy goods vehicles to display retro-reflective markings.
On Thursday (12th October), a second transport bill led to another Labour rebellion, on the issue of aircraft noise. Three Labour backbenchers opposed the Government decision to reject a Lords amendment to the Civil Aviation Bill that would have introduced a legal duty on all licensed aerodromes to impose noise-related and emission charges.
These were the 81st and 82nd Labour rebellions since May 2005, which have now involved 113 separate Labour backbenchers. Last week also saw some minor Conservative and Lib Dem backbench revolts.
Of more interest, we suspect, will be the Companies Bill, which has its remaining stage on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. More than 40 Labour MPs have already signed up to amendments put forward by Jon Trickett and Colin Burgon. A press release from the two backbenchers notes that they ‘are pleased to say, the government are in listening mode and we are now in dialogue with them on how the bill could be improved next week’. We’ll see.
As soon as the session has finished we will be releasing a data handbook, listing all of the government rebellions in the first session of this parliament. It will be similar (though, thankfully, smaller) than the handbook we released (pdf, 2M) covering all of the 2001-2005 period. Bet you can't wait.15 October 2006.
...and a very good new Westminster insider blog is launched. The British Bullshit Foundation is a lot better than its name implies. Highlights so far include a fantastic critique of TV programmes based on Westminster, which includes the following:
You can imagine the meeting.
Producer: Well, this new drama which is going to lift the lid on the sexy world of Westminster. What've we got?
Jessica: Lots of researchers told us stories about the casework they do, how the general public are generally not interested in politics, and how frustrating it is to try to encourage people to participate when disillusionment abounds in the current era of partisan and class dealignment.
Producer: Bit boring innit? I know, lob in some hot sex and cocaine snorting. And lesbianism. Nothing like a couple of fillies in the buff for improving ratings, what! That'll win over the iPod generation. Ah! Lunchtime.
They also give The Lamentable Mrs Pritchard the good kicking it deserves.13 October 2006.
From the Prime Minister's speech to the Labour Party Conference:
“In the next Parliamentary Session, the centre-piece will be John Reid's immigration and law and order reforms”
Watch this space...27 September 2006.
There is a quite spectacularly ill-informed piece in today's Telegraph. It notes the rise of the Lords (which makes a change for the Telegraph, which normally sticks, unthinkingly, to the 'Tony's cronies' line), but it gets almost everything about the Commons wrong.
As anyone who's seen this site before knows, it is simply not true that today’s backbench MPs are less willing than in the past to defy their whips, and to register an independent vote. Indeed, the reality is the exact opposite. The 2001-2005 Parliament saw a higher rate of rebellion than by government MPs in any other post-war government. There's a good book that explains all of this!
And, as we point out in this paper, Labour MPs have begun the current Parliament rebelling at a higher rate still.
The example used to demonstrate the superiority of the Lords over the Commons was spectacularly ill-chosen. The 90 day detention clause contained in the Terrorism Bill was defeated in the Commons, not the Lords. It was one of the four defeats that the government have suffered in the Commons since the election in May 2005. There has been no other government since the war which has enjoyed a majority of 60-plus, and which has been defeated on four occasions within its first year.
There is much that could be done to improve parliamentary scrutiny in both the Lords and the Commons – and the recent proposals by the Commons’ Modernisation Committee could prove a welcome step in the right direction – but such ill-informed commentary does not help us when trying to have sensible discussion about the best way forward.22 September 2006.
In a Guardian howler of epic proportions the other day, Jackie Ashley described Tom Watson as ‘burly, Scottish and a former engineering-union official’. Watson – who hails from the Midlands – is about as Scottish as lasagne. As Meatloaf once said, two out of three ain’t bad.
One man who fits all three – as well as being another Tommy - is the Rt Hon Thomas McAvoy. Tommy McAvoy has been in the Government whips office since this government began in 1997. In July he broke the record as the longest serving post-war whip, and on 26 August he broke the record held by David Margesson – once described as ‘the total whip’ – as the longest continuously serving Government whip on record.
Next stop, those with broken service? Walter Harrison and Joe Harper – both with around ten years - might be achievable. But what about William Whiteley, who served in the whips office for almost 14 years, for Labour between 1929-31 and 1945-51, as well as serving the wartime coalition? There will be plenty of rebels who hope McAvoy hasn’t got his sights on Whiteley’s record…11 September 2006.
Expect no posts on this site for the next few weeks, as we entering the academic conference season (which is like the political conference season, except with fewer think tank freeloaders....).
One of the upcoming conferences is being organised by one of those behind this site. The conference of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group of the UK's Political Studies Association is being held at Nottingham University on 8-10 September. One or two of the papers will look at parliament, and many of the others will be of interest to the sort of people who like this site - that is, political anoraks...
The programme can be downloaded from here, as can copies of the papers, as and when they get uploaded to the site.27 August 2006.
On Friday, the Labour backbencher, Jon Trickett wrote a letter (doc, 314k) to the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, informing him that 101 Labour backbenchers supported a recall of Parliament ‘as soon as practically possible to discuss the situation in the Middle East’. The 101 included three PPSs – including Ann Keen, the PPS to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Of the 101 Labour backbenchers, 71 (or 70 per cent) have rebelled against the Government so far this Parliament. Worryingly for the Government, 15 out of the 101 MPs belong to the 2005 intake. Of these, only five have so far rebelled against the Government since the general election: Katy Clark, Sian James, Sadiq Khan, Linda Riordan and Sir Peter Soulsby.
The new potential rebels are David Anderson, Lyn Brown, Dawn Butler, Mary Creagh, Helen Goodman, Nia Griffith, Shahid Malik (PPS to Jim Knight, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills), Kerry McCarthy, Madeleine Moon and Jamie Reed. They do not include Kitty Ussher, who wrote a very critical piece in the New Statesman, which included the sentence ‘the only conclusion any right-minded person can draw by simply looking at the facts is that the Prime Minister thought it was OK for Muslim people to keep dying’.
Of the 86 MPs from the last Parliament, 79 (92 per cent) rebelled at least once against the Government. The only loyalists from the last Parliament to have signed the letter are Charlotte Atkins, David Borrow, Jim Dowd, Ann Keen (the Chancellor’s PPS), Andy Love (now a rebel in this Parliament), Phyllis Starkey, and Ian Stewart (who resigned as a PPS over the Education and Inspections Bill, and now has a rebellious record in this Parliament).
Of the 79 rebels from the last Parliament, 63 (or 80 per cent) voted against the Government’s policy on Iraq at some point between 2002 and 2005.
One measure of the serious nature of this letter is the fact that the list contains three serving parliamentary private secretaries: as well as Ann Keen, there is Khalid Mahmood, PPS to Tony McNulty, Minister of State at the Home Office and Shahid Malik, PPS to Jim Knight, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills.
UPDATE: Iain Dale has picked up this story, claiming that 'the tendency of government PPSs to betray their duty of collective responsibility seems to know no bounds'. Not sure we'd put it like that -- but it's certainly yet another (small) piece of evidence of the decline of party discipline.12 August 2006.
Michael White on the Today Programme, 25 July:
This government early on got a reputation for having very craven backbenchers. It was never true at the beginning but it’s got more so, quite assertive. Figures here from a Guardian leader [and where do you think they got them from?!]. More than one in four votes there are rebels, 112 Labour backbenchers broke with the government at least once.
And there is this genius of a sort of anorak, called Dr Phil Cowley, I want to pay tribute to this man on the radio, Nottingham University. You’re sitting there typing about a revolt late at night and up pops an email, which says this is the 33rd worst Labour rebellion on a wet Wednesday since 1946. And it’s made us all much more aware that they do vote against the government a lot, even though there’s a core of loyalists, and a core of disloyalists, of course, the Campaign Group, 25 often vote against the government a lot. The rest is a mixed bag. They follow the government on issues. They don’t like 90 day detention for terrorism, so they beat them down to 28. Quite active, quite impressive on a lot of issues.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves! More praise, here.31 July 2006.
On Tuesday, 26 July, on the last sitting day for the Commons before the long summer recess, Kate Hoey voted in favour of a Lords amendment to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that would have barred Irish citizens and bodies from donating to political parties in Northern Ireland. In doing so, she clocked up the eightieth Labour rebellion of this session.
The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain, a stance which provoked a rebellion by nine Tory backbenchers: David Amess, John Bercow, Philip Davies, Nigel Evans, Douglas Hogg, Peter Luff, Mike Penning, Bob Spink and David Wilshire. As of the summer recess, there have now been 29 confirmed Conservative backbench rebellions so far this session, 19 of them occurring under David Cameron’s leadership.
Things have been quiet on this site recently - although mainly because they've been quiet in the Commons.
But yesterday, we had a small rebellion during the Report stage of the Finance (No.2) Bill, six Labour MPs backed a new clause in the name of Alan Simpson that would have required the Chancellor of the Exchequer to submit to the House of Commons an annual report on fiscal measures - and their success - to assist with the Government's climate change and fuel poverty targets.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported Simpson's new clause, which was defeated by 279 votes to 214, a Government majority of 65. The six Labour MPs who rebelled against the Government were: Jeremy Corbyn, Bob Marshall-Andrews, John McDonnell, Gordon Prentice, Clare Short, and Alan Simpson. No shocks there.
The division also saw the first vote of Bob Neill, the new Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst - although he was voting with his party.
Kevin Maguire in this week's New Statesman has a few more details on Ian Stewart's resignation, which took place prior to the Education and Inspections Bill's Third Reading vote. The new list of PPSs, now with no mention of the 'Eccles One', has just been released and can be downloaded from here.15 June 2006.
As predicted, last night’s rebellion of 46 Labour MPs was the largest by Labour MPs at the third reading of a government bill since Labour first came into office in 1924. It was also larger than the rebellion of Conservative MPs at the Third Reading of the Maastricht Bill in 1993.
But was the Bill carried, as it had been at Second Reading, only thanks to the votes of Conservative MPs? Some claim the vote would have been a tie without Conservative support - which would then have meant the Speaker's vote giving the Government victory. We are not helped here by the official division lists, which provide 101 names (including tellers) for the noes, whereas according to the totals announced in the chamber there should be 100 (that is, 98, plus the two tellers). Disparities between the lists and the total aren't all that uncommon - and corrections to the division lists may follow over the next day or two.
But if we take the names listed as being accurate (and as you’ll see, it doesn’t really matter), then if the 160 Conservative MPs who voted had switched their votes to opposition, and all other votes had stayed the same, then the Government can claim it would have won by three votes (264 to 261). It could therefore be argued that the Bill did not rely on Tory votes, and that this was a ‘Labour bill’, as its supporters were keen to claim.
However, there is one complicating factor: the DUP. The DUP currently almost always vote with the Conservatives, and if the Conservatives had been voting against, then almost certainly so too would the DUP. And if you switch the 160 Conservatives and the six DUP MPs who voted from aye to no, then the Government would have lost by nine (267 to 258). So whilst the Bill did not rely on Tory votes alone, it did rely on Opposition votes – and was therefore not after all a Labour bill.
At this point, someone from the Government can argue that if the Conservatives had been voting against, some Labour MPs might have changed their votes. And indeed they might have done. But then if there had been a realistic chance of defeating the Bill, more Conservatives would have turned up, along with more of the rebels, some of whom were away. And on we would go, drowning in claim and counter-claim about what might have happened in some alternative universe.
Of course, without Conservative support at Second Reading the bill wouldn’t even have reached Third Reading, which you could argue makes such discussions somewhat academic.25 May 2006.
If the initial media reports are right, a total of 69 Labour MPs voted against their whip tonight, supporting an amendment to give parents a vote on English schools leaving local authority control. This would be the largest Report Stage rebellion suffered by the Blair Government since it came to office. Full analysis tomorrow -- along with Third Reading, another chance for a record-breaking rebellion.23 May 2006.
Last night saw a rebellion by 17 Labour backbenchers, mostly from the Campaign Group during the Report stage of the Armed Forces Bill. A rebel amendment to change the penalty for desertion was defeated by 442 votes to 19, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supporting the Government in the no lobby. Only three SNP and one Plaid Cymru MP supported the 17 Labour rebels.
That rebellion meant the session has already seen 72 separate Labour rebellions. And here comes the Education and Inspections Bill…
Why do interesting votes like those during the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Education and Inspections Bill have to take slap bang during the University marking season? It almost makes one want to join the AUT, just to boycott the marking, and have more time to focus on the rebellions. As a result, we’re slightly late producing two papers – one looking at large Third Reading rebellions and another on the MPs to watch. Both are coming soon.
But in the meantime, here are some key facts… The largest ever rebellion by Labour backbenchers against the third reading of one of their own government’s bills took place over the National Service Bill on 22 May 1947, and it involved 37 Labour MPs. (The largest Labour rebellion on Third Reading during the Blair period so far occurred on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in February 2005, and it involved 30 MPs).
So if Wednesday’s Third Reading revolt consists of more than 30 Labour MPs, it will be the largest since Blair came to power.
More than 37 Labour MPs, and it will be the largest since Labour first entered Government in 1924.
And if it consists of more than 41 MPs, it’ll also be larger than the Conservative rebellion against the Third Reading of the Maastricht Bill, on 20 May 1993.22 May 2006.
This is how last night’s edition of Newsnight previewed their profile of Eric Forth, who died on Wednesday.
The Conservative MP Eric Forth has died. In an age where backbenchers are more renowned for their slavish loyalty to their parties rather than independence of mind, Mr Forth stood out.
Ye Gods! Will we never be able to move away from this ‘slavish loyalty’ rubbish? The true story is that whilst Eric Forth stood out – for a host of reasons – he stood out in an age when backbenchers are increasingly known for their independence of mind.
For those of us trying to monitor backbench behaviour he was, frequently, a right pain in the arse – but that was both part of his appeal, and also how he liked to be seen. He thought politics should be played rough, describing consensus as a ‘revolting political concept’. He saw himself as a ‘parliamentary yob’, and had no time for those he saw as the grandees in his party (‘Some of them learned their politics with their cucumber sandwiches’).
He was always at revolts related events – he was the only Tory MP at the launch of The Rebels, for example – and was speaking to a group of University of Nottingham students less than a month ago, full of verve and bite, including being very rude about the current state of the Conservative Party. It is one of life’s ironies that his successor will almost certainly be chosen from the new Conservative A List of candidates, an innovation that Forth loathed.
During the 1997 Parliament, Forth led a small ginger group of Tory backbenchers, committed to campaign of guerrilla warfare against the new government. Forth’s ‘awkward squad’, as it became known, felt that the Opposition were being too conciliatory and consensual towards the Government. Forth therefore set about disrupting parliamentary proceedings, filibustering in debates, and forcing divisions on non-contentious legislation. The exemplar of this behaviour was the Disqualifications Bill, where opposition from Conservative backbenchers resulted in the deliberations of the Committee of the Whole House running from 5.43pm on 25 January 2000 to 7.19am on 26th. When one Tory whip tried to stop Forth filibustering, he was given short shrift: ‘Fuck off. Do you really think I’ve been here for 18 hours and I’ve got the chance of losing a day’s business and I’m going to give it up now? Piss off.’ Forth got what he wanted: a full day’s business, including Prime Minister’s Questions, was lost.
In 2001 Parliament, Forth’s activities were curbed initially, when Iain Duncan Smith appointed him Shadow Leader of the House, a post he held until Michael Howard’s election as Tory leader in November 2003. But more recently, there were signs that Forth was restarting his awkward squad activities, objecting to private members bills, and introducing amendments to otherwise uncontroversial bills. In December last year, during the debate on the National Insurance Contributions Bill, he said:
I must chide our Front-Bench spokesmen a little – I do that from time to time – because we are being sucked into this modern idea of consensus. We are being asked to sign up to the idea that the more Bills and Government measures to which we agree, the more popular we will somehow be outside the House. I plead guilty to the fact that I regard the proper work of the Chamber as that which is being exemplified today. Our proper job is to assume the worst of the Government until they prove otherwise, not the reverse.
We will miss him.19 May 2006.
The second day of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill’s Report stage saw five small Labour rebellions and one larger Tory rebellion.
The most interesting division of the evening came when fifteen Conservatives and five Labour MPs supported Liberal Democrat New Clause 14, which would have introduced a Commons veto if 10 per cent of MPs objected to a deregulatory order.
The five Labour MPs were: Jeremy Corbyn; Mark Fisher; Lynne Jones; John McDonnell; and Robert Wareing.
The 15 Conservatives, rebelling whilst their frontbench abstained, were: William Cash; Christopher Chope; Kenneth Clarke; Stephen Dorrell; Charles Hendry; Greg Knight; Peter Luff; Richard Shepherd; Anthony Steen; Charles Walker; John Whittingdale; David Wilshire; Rob Wilson; Ann Winterton; and Sir George Young. This rebellion was therefore larger than the European trainspotters vote of the previous day.
There then followed three further Labour rebellions. Jeremy Corbyn and Mark Fisher were the only Labour backbenchers to support another Liberal Democrat New Clause that would have stopped ministers, by Order in Council, from conferring to any person the function of legislating. Kelvin Hopkins was the only Labour MP to support New Clause 17 (debated the previous day, but not divided upon until yesterday) in the that would have made it explicit that Parliament could introduce deregulatory legislation notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972. Finally, six Labour MPs – the five from Clause 14, plus Alan Simpson – supported a Conservative amendment that would have stopped ministers from making deregulatory orders if either House of Parliament so resolved within a forty-day period, or if a Committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order recommended within forty days that the order should not be proceeded with:
The Third Reading of the Bill was eventually passed by 259 votes to 213, a Government majority of forty-six. Six Labour MPs – Corbyn, Hopkins, McDonnell, Wareing, plus Peter Kilfoyle and Bob Marshall-Andrews – voted against the Government, whilst several other Labour backbenchers, including Mark Fisher, Kate Hoey, Lynne Jones and Alan Simpson, abstained.
There were therefore seven Labour rebellions over the last two days, but consisting of just ten MPs in total; the two Conservative rebellions involved sixteen Tory MPs.
The Government’s series of major concessions to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill have so far contained backbench discontent during the Bill’s Report Stage.
The Bill was described by the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee as having ‘the potential to be the most constitutionally significant to be brought before parliament for some years’, or by its more hysterical critics as the ‘Henry VIII Bill’, ‘the legal equivalent of the Doomsday Machine’ and the ‘Abolition of Parliament Bill’. In the face of concerns that the Bill was too loosely drafted, Pat McFadden, the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, tabled Government New Clause 19 to the Report stage of the Bill, which restricted ministerial powers to remove or reduce burdens on business to regulatory matters only. Other Government amendments tabled will ensure that more contentious orders will have to go through two Select Committees before they are passed.
The Minister’s concessions were generally welcomed on the Labour backbenches, and when the House divided on New Clause 19, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted with the Government in the aye lobby, with only six Conservatives (including tellers) entering the no lobby. The six – William Cash, Christopher Chope, David Heathcoat-Amory, Richard Shepherd, David Wilshire, and Ann Winterton – were all Euroscetics, leading Edward Miliband, McFadden’s ministerial colleague at the Cabinet Office, to label them ‘the European trainspotters’.
On the Labour side, even hard-line critics of the Bill had to acknowledge the scale of the Government concessions. But seven Labour MPs felt that the Government had not gone far enough, supporting a Liberal Democrat amendment to New Clause 19 that would have applied the test of reasonableness to determine whether a minister had acted appropriately when bringing forward deregulatory measures. The seven were: Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Fisher, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Lynne Jones, John McDonnell, and Alan Simpson.
Later, three Labour backbenchers – Lynne Jones, John McDonnell, and Robert Wareing – defied their whip to support an amendment in the name of Greg Knight, the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, which would have forbidden ministers to expand upon Law Commission recommendations to introduce deregulatory orders.
It’s not all over yet, though. Today sees the Bill’s second day at Report, and there are still concerns over Clause 5 which, while not allowing the Government to bring forward orders to ‘impose or increase taxation’ without primary legislation, nevertheless give it a power to reduce or delete taxation.16 May 2006.
Things have been a bit quiet here recently. This is partly because those academics who are not taking part in the AUT’s assessment boycott are currently frantically marking like billy-o. But it’s also because there’s been relatively little to report. All the action has been behind-the-scenes – including a very interesting PLP meeting this week – but not in the division lobbies, where consensus rather than conflict has been the order of the day.
Not entirely, though. This week saw three (very minor) Labour backbench revolts. On Monday, while Tony Blair was meeting the PLP, John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, led a small rebellion on the issue of night flights. McDonnell, whose constituency includes Heathrow, together with Jeremy Corbyn, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Alan Simpson and David Taylor, supported a Lords amendment to the Civil Aviation Bill that would have reinstated the power of a future Secretary of State to restrict flight numbers at designated airports. The rebellion was not unexpected: McDonnell, Marshall-Andrews, and Taylor took part in a similar rebellion back in October at Report stage.
Later that evening, three Labour MPs voted against a motion taking note of the European Union Budget deal agreed by the Heads of Government at the December European Council. All three – Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Davidson and Kelvin Hopkins – are long-standing opponents of Britain’s membership of the EU. Also voting in the no lobby were the Lib Dems: such is their propensity to vote with the Conservatives against Labour nowadays that they even oppose EU motions, something that they have rarely done in the past.
Finally, on Wednesday Mike Wood was the only Labour MP to support a Conservative amendment to the Report stage of the Police and Justice Bill which would have omitted the United States of America from the list of designated territories in category 2 of the 2003 Act, meaning that the US would no longer have enjoyed its privileged status in securing extradition without producing evidence.12 May 2006.
The Government’s current difficulties meant that the media completely missed yesterday’s large Conservative rebellion over Northern Ireland – the largest so far under David Cameron’s leadership.
During the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Bill, 28 Conservative MPs voted in favour of an SDLP amendment that would have given the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to veto Orders of Council emanating from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The amendment had the support of the SDLP, UUP and the DUP – and the Conservative frontbench line was to abstain.
Among the Conservative rebels were the three-times Tory leadership candidate, Kenneth Clarke (casting his first dissenting vote against David Cameron’s leadership), former Tory NI spokesperson, Quentin Davies, the former Tory Chief Whip, James Arbuthnot, and three other former Tory ministers, Tony Baldry, Peter Lilley and Tim Yeo.
But the most striking feature of yesterday’s rebellion was that it included 15 MPs first elected in 2005 (asterisked in the list that follows): James Arbuthnot, Tony Baldry, Peter Bone*, James Brokenshire*, Kenneth Clarke, Sir Patrick Cormack, Philip Davies*, Quentin Davies, James Duddridge*, Nigel Evans, Christopher Fraser, David Gauke*, Robert Goodwill*, Philip Hollobone*, Adam Holloway*, David Jones*, Mark Lancaster*, Peter Lilley, Andrew Pelling*, Mike Penning*, Lee Scott *, Graham Stuart*, Andrew Tyrie, Shailesh Vara*, Robert Walter, Ann Winterton, Sir Nicholas Winterton, and Tim Yeo.
As we have noted before on several occasions, there is already plenty of evidence that David Cameron is not going to have things all his own way within the parliamentary party – and that some of the newer Conservative MPs are already proving themselves to be very independent-minded.28 April 2006.
Peter Law, the Independent MP for Blaenau Gwent, died early this morning aged 58. Because of his on-going battle with a brain tumour, Law did not vote regularly in the House of Commons, participating in only 39 of the 215 divisions, and his illness meant that he had not voted since 15 February.
On those occasions that he did vote, he mainly voted against the Government, casting 27 of his 39 votes against Labour – over the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, Identity Cards, the Terrorism Bill (including the two big Government defeats on detention without trial on 9 November 2005), the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, regulations approving genetically modified foods, and most clauses in the Government of Wales Bill.
He only voted with the government on eight occasions, and cast one other vote with the majority of Labour MPs to vote (but against the government’s wishes) in a free vote in favour of Clare Short’s Private Members’ Bill, the Parliamentary Approval for Participation in Armed Conflict Bill. And on three occasions, Law cast deliberate abstentions by voting in both lobbies, over Council Tax Revaluation and twice during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill.
Despite having initially wanted to be a Labour MP, Law voted with the majority of Labour MPs on nine occasions, but with the Conservatives on 24 occasions. But his voting pattern most closely resembled that of a Liberal Democrat, with whom he shared the division lobbies on 29 occasions. That is a voting pattern that he shares with most other recent ‘independent’ MPs, including Martin Bell (1997-2001) and Dr Richard Taylor (2001-), as well as the Respect MP, George Galloway.25 April 2006.
It was twenty years ago, 14 April 1986, that Margaret Thatcher’s government suffered defeat on the Second Reading of the Shops Bill, losing by 282 votes to 296, a majority against the Government of 14. It was only occasion in the twentieth century that a government with a secure majority lost a bill at Second Reading, with the Home Secretary noting in his diary that evening: ‘We lose by 14. Something of a relief to see the damn bill buried’.
Note that the long-term effects of the defeat were almost nil: there was no call for the government to resign, the Conservatives won the election the following year comfortably, and were to govern for a further 11 years.14 April 2006.
We have just discovered James O’Malley’s website, which reports a survey of MPs on whether they prefer Coke or Pepsi. Despite a response rate that wasn’t exactly great (his 44 responses work out around 7%), the findings are overwhelmingly pro-Coke (80%), with Lib Dems marginally more favourably disposed to Pepsi than other MPs. That'll be their opposition to conformity showing itself.
James claims that ‘no one really interesting from the Labour party responded’ – which is a bit of dismissive way to describe, inter alia, Gisela Stuart (Coke), Dawn Butler (Pepsi), Stephen Pound (Coke), Linda Riordan (Coke), Chris Bryant (Pepsi), and Tom Watson Coke), but never mind.
For all its merits, it is, however, not the best irrelevant survey of MPs every done. That honour still belongs to skateboards and deathslides…6 April 2006.
Last night saw three minor rebellions as the Government successfully reversed Lords defeats on both the Identity Cards Bill and the Terrorism Bill.
Thirteen Labour MPs supported a Lords amendment to the Identity Cards Bill that would have linked passports and ID cards, but the Government won the vote by 292 votes to 241, a comfortable majority of 51. David Taylor cast one of by now trademark deliberate abstentions by voting in both lobbies. The last time this came before the House there were 17 Labour rebels and a Government majority of just 33.
Later, ten Labour MPs opposed a Government motion reinstating the glorification provisions into the Terrorism Bill, but the Government won with a majority of 59. Again, the number of Labour rebels fell, this time down from the 17 who voted against the Government in February, when the Government had won by 38.
The third rebellion of the day, also on the Terrorism Bill, consisted of just one Labour MP: Clare Short backing an unsuccessful Conservative frontbench amendment on ‘indirect encouragement’.17 March 2006.
To help with today’s shenanigans, here are the four papers we’ve produced so far looking at various aspects of the revolt.
This one (pdf, 72k) puts any rebellion at Second Reading into its historical context, whilst this one (pdf, 32k) shows how Tony Blair is not the first Labour Prime Minister to get his way only with the support of the Conservatives.
This one (pdf, 32k) places the procedural rebellion that is expected on the programme motion into historical perspective, and this one (pdf, 60k) lists and analyses the Labour MPs who signed up to the Alternative White Paper.
Anyone who wants to put the rebellions into a longer term perspective, should look at our (large) paper (pdf, 2M) detailing all of the 259 rebellions in the last parliament, or read this jolly good little book, a snip at just £9.99, and with a rather astute sub-title…15 March 2006.
Last night (14 March), the Government’s majority was halved to 33 when the Commons rejected a Lords amendment to the Identity Cards Bill that would have allowed people to decide whether or not to get an ID card when they renewed or applied for a passport after 2008. A similar amendment was defeated on Report on 18 October last year by a majority of 32, and when the measure returned from the Lords on 13 February, it was rejected by a majority of 31. On that occasion, there were 20 Labour rebels, and the Prime Minister, whose aeroplane was stuck on a runway in South Africa, failed to vote. Last night, there were only 17 Labour rebels, and the Prime Minister voted for the Government in the aye lobby.
Last night’s vote was the fiftieth Labour rebellion to have occurred in this session. All but one of the 17 rebels had voted against the Bill before, except for Dr Gavin Strang, who was casting his first dissenting vote against the Government in this session. Strang becomes the 74th Labour MP to have defied the Government since the general election.14 March 2006.
The BBC website today contains a hot favourite for the revolts.co.uk prize for The Most Ignorant Article Written on Parliament - an award for which there is, sadly, much competition, and which is known colloquially as a 'Heffer'.
The piece - "SNP 'may vote on education bill'" - reveals that the SNP are "warning that they may vote against the government's controversial English education reforms next week". This would, apparently, "break the SNP's self-imposed rule of not voting on English matters in the Commons", and "may make the vote even tighter". It goes on to claim that the "government has already made concessions in the face of a huge Labour rebellion, but next week's vote could still be tight".
Leave aside the fact that the SNP have done this before - they voted against the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill (pdf, 187k) in January 2004, for example - and focus instead on the extraordinary idea that next week's vote is going to be "tight" - and that the SNP might make it "tighter" still.
This is to completely misunderstand what is going to happen next week. Unless there is some last minute monumental flip-flop by the Tories (and it would have to be really monumental), next week will see the government winning comfortably, helped to a sizeable majority by the support of the Conservatives. Even if all the Conservatives do is abstain (as some believe), the government will still win easily.
The participation of the SNP may indeed make the vote tighter, but only in the sense that a majority of 295, say, is "tighter" than one of 300.
The issue next week is not whether the Government will win, but how many Labour MPs will defy them, and whether they will have relied on the Tories to deliver that victory. It is much more of an issue about what causes the victory – and the symbolism that might be attached – rather than whether or not there will be a victory.
Martin Kettle appreciates this, in an insightful piece in today's Guardian. We say insightful, not simply because he uses our briefing paper (pdf, 72k) on Second Reading rebellions. He also refers to Henry Drucker's great little book, Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party, which was published more than 25 years ago, but which remains one of the best books ever written about the Party.11 March 2006.
1. The last two days have seen eleven separate divisions during the Report stage of the Government of Wales Bill, four of which may have witnessed minor instances of dissent involving all three major parties. In two cases – a rebellion by the Father of the House, Alan Williams, and another by the Conservative MP Bob Spink – we are pretty certain the apparent rebellion took place. This takes Spink’s number of dissenting votes since the 2005 General Election to eight, making him the leading Conservative dissenter. In two other cases – one involving a lone Lib Dem, another involving two Labour MPs – we suspect they are mistakes, either by Hansard or on the part of the MP.
2. Matthew D’Ancona has a lively piece in today’s Telegraph in which he lays into Labour’s education rebels, but also warns of the pitfalls awaiting David Cameron. In it, he refers to some figures on the educational background of the Labour rebels; these come from the piece, co-written with Paul Cairney of Aberdeen University, which appeared recently in the House Magazine. A sub is required for the full article, but here are the two key graphs (pdf, 16k), gratis.
3. Diane Abbott has a piece in the Evening Standard (no link, sadly) entitled ‘Why I will always be a stroppy Labour rebel’, in which she claims that ‘All the party’s most revered and heroic figures are dissenters: Keir Hardie, John Maxton, Nye Bevan and Michael Foot’. The discovery that John Maxton, the former MP for Glasgow Cathcart, is one of Labour’s most revered and heroic figures will doubtless bring him much joy in his current incarnation as Lord Maxton, but we presume she actually means the Red Clydeside MP, James Maxton, who died in 1946.
The Education and Inspections Bill – published today - is the Government’s first real test of its post-2005 majority on a bread-and-butter issue, unconnected with terrorism or security. Unfortunately for the whips, many Labour MPs know an awful lot about education (having been school governors, on LEAs, as local councillors and so on) and they care about it. In many cases, it’s the sort of issue that brought them into politics in the first place. It all makes it harder for Ministers and the Whips to pull the wool over their eyes on the detail.
We did an analysis of the 91 signatories to the Alternative White Paper (available here, pdf, 60k). Since then, the government have shifted ground a lot, and many of the would-be rebels have been persuaded. But we still think the Government will have to shift further if it wants to get the Bill through without having to rely on Tory support (voting with) or acquiescence (abstaining).
There are some parallels here with the Foundation hospitals legislation back in 2003. In both cases, a high profile Cabinet opponent (then Brown, now Prescott) ensured that the legislation was watered down substantially, but even with the watered down legislation, there were still a large number of Labour MPs who objected to the plans on principle. Many Labour MPs oppose the development of trust schools on principle, no matter what the detail. And just as with Foundation Hospitals (and later Higher Education), there’s been an attempt to change the ‘narrative’ – hence the talk of a ‘Labour bill’. The trouble is, this works when the Minister is John Reid or Alan Johnson. It’s less persuasive when it’s Ruth Kelly.
On paper, it only requires 35 Labour MPs to vote against and people can write their stories about Ramsay MacBlair (although as we explained, it's not a comparison that stands up to much serious examination). And to make things worse for the Government, as soon as Labour rebels know for sure that the Conservatives are voting with Government at Second Reading, then the rebellion will increase in size – because with no risk of a defeat in becomes easier to rebel in safety. Given this, and given the extent of opposition still on the Labour benches, we find is difficult to see how the Government Bill will get the Bill past Second Reading without on paper having relied on the Conservatives.
But all the fuss about Second Reading is anyway to miss the point. The real fun will come later on in the Bill’s passage, especially at Report. And if the rebels and the Tories have a mind, they could also cause the Government trouble with the Bill’s programming motions, which allocate the time for each stage of the Bill’s passage. If we were trouble-makers (which we are not, obviously), that’s where we’d start.28 February 2006.
The Power Inquiry Report, out today, is a bit like a Reformers Greatest Hits album, with all the old favourites – increased power to local communities, strengthening parliament, an elected House of Lords, and PR – appearing on the play list. By the time we get to ‘all public bodies should be required to meet a duty of public involvement in their decision and policy-making processes’, someone in the audience will be holding their lighter in the air and swaying from side to side.
But in amongst the flimflam (of which there is a lot), there are some sensible suggestions (as well as some not so sensible ones), including various proposals to strengthen Parliament. But for a report which has taken 18 months to put together, and costs oodles of money, why does it all have to be so vague? Perhaps the vaguest of the lot is the recommendation 3: ‘Limits should be placed on the power of the whips’. What limits? How? How will that work? Answers there are none.
The report reveals a lot of unhappiness amongst the public about what they perceive as the activities of the whips – some of which is true, some of which is exaggeration – but doesn’t go beyond that. It doesn’t think about the real reasons that MPs tend to vote together, and which have nothing to do with nasty whips bullying them into submission.
By coincidence, there is, as it happens, a really good book on this subject, published just recently, and available at the knock-down bargain price of £9.99.
UPDATE: Good piece by Peter Riddell in The Times, pointing out some of the sillier assumptions in the report, as well as a sensible leader in the Guardian (which also questions some of the less sensible aspects of the report). Given that the cost of the Inquiry has been reported at £800,000 (was it really the most sensible use of that much Rowntree money?) you'd think someone would have thought through some of these problems.27 February 2006.
We have just had a letter from the House Magazine – a wonderful publication – offering a subscription for the bargain basement price of £195 pa. Said letter claims (in bold type) that the House Magazine offers:
Unrivalled Understanding of The House and it’s Members
On a more uplifting note, the PSA Parliaments and Legislatures Specialist Group is holding its (NOT it’s) Annual Conference at the University of Sheffield on Friday 16 June 2006. This (pdf, 16k) explains more – and invites proposals for papers.22 February 2006.
There's a good piece by Peter Riddell in today's Times, putting this week's votes in context, and rightly pointing out that the real difficulties, with the education bill, are still to come. For those now turning their attention to that issue, we recommend two briefing papers we produced recently. This (pdf, 60k) examines the voting behaviour of the Conservatives (just how likely is it that they will support the Government?), whilst this (pdf, 28k) looks at the 91 signatories to the Alternative White Paper. This article in The House Magazine also provides some detail of the educational background of the AWP rebels. Whatever else it is, the education rebellion is most certainly not a rebellion of the Bash Street Kids.
Note to other journalists: Riddell's is the way to do it! Instead of just nicking our figures and pretending they're your own, why not stick in a reference to us being 'authorities' or 'experts' or something similar? We are pretty shallow people and love having our egos massaged like this. Alternatively, buy us lunch. Either will do.16 February 2006.
Apart from us – for completely misjudging the outcome – who else was most embarrassed by yesterday’s smoking vote?
Most people’s front-runner would be Patricia Hewitt who had initially wanted a complete smoking ban. Having lost the very public battle in Cabinet, she then had to argue for a partial ban allowing smoking in pubs that didn’t serve food. Then, when that position was abandoned in the face of backbench opposition, she returned to arguing for a complete ban in pubs, but was believed to favour an opt-out for private member’s clubs, only then finally to voted against any opt-out. Master Valiant-for-the-truth (‘No man could ever make him face about’), this wasn’t.
But here are two other candidates with much egg on their faces. John Reid was responsible for defeating Hewitt within Cabinet, and persuading the Cabinet initially to back the so-called ‘partial’ option. But when the House voted on whether or not to have a full ban in pubs, just 29 Labour MPs backed the position that had, until recently, been official party policy. Reid would doubtless claim to be in touch with much of Labour’s core vote, but he was clearly out of touch with the vast majority of the PLP.
And then there were the Conservative divisions. For the Conservatives, Andrew Lansley made much of splits within the Government over this issue, but the PLP was in fact relatively united. The Tories, on the other hand, were deeply divided by the issue. The first vote – on a ban in pubs - saw them split 81 for, 94 against. The second vote – on private members’ clubs – saw a split of 47/125. The evening then ended with what appears to be a Conservative rebellion on the whipped third reading vote, with 21 Conservative MPs defying their whip to vote against. If this was a whipped vote, it was the tenth Conservative rebellion to have occurred so far under David Cameron’s short leadership, and by far the largest as well, rounding off a thoroughly disunited night for the Conservatives.15 February 2006.
Full reports on both the smoking and terrorism bill votes to follow shortly, but one curious aspect of the terrorism votes is that David Cameron voted, just a day after becoming a father. Whatever happened to his much-touted paternity leave? Presumably the Tories thought there was a chance of pulling off the same trick as over religious hatred, secretly mobilising more troops than the government expected in gain a shock victory. If so, it didn't come close to working - the Government winning by a majority of 38, with 17 Labour MPs reported as having defied their whips.
UPDATE: This very short (a mere page) briefing paper (pdf, 16k) provides the list of the 17 dissenting MPs, as well as the totals for the Parliament as a whole so far.
For nerdy vote watchers like us, this week is the equivalent of one of those joint birthday and Christmas presents you used to get as a kid.
On Monday, the ID cards bill comes back from the Lords. This shouldn’t be the sort of issue to cause much concern, but then nor should religious hatred, and look what happened there.
One of the worrying features of the religious hatred votes for the whips was that the rebellion grew between the Bill leaving the Commons and returning from the Lords. They won’t want that to happen with ID cards. As we noted in January, whilst the largest rebellion on the ID Cards Bill so far came at Third Reading (with 25 Labour MPs voting against their whips), a total of 33 have rebelled at any point during the Bill’s passage. If they gang up, and especially if there are any new rebels, things could get sticky. The names of all 33 are listed here (pdf, 26k) . As a result, we’re already seeing signs of the Government moving. Expect to see some more concessions over the next week or during Monday's debate.
Tuesday sees the voting on the smoking ban. The free vote takes the sting out of the issue as far as the Government is concerned – everyone loves a free vote - but in some ways its mere presence is a sign of the difficulties that the Government have got themselves in with their backbenchers. Labour’s manifesto was explicit in its promise of a partial ban, only for that pledge to be abandoned in the face of cabinet and backbench divisions. The outcome of the vote will depend as much on the way the Tories divide as on Labour splits – and if a reasonable number of Tories can be persuaded to vote for a full ban, then that’s the most likely outcome. An exemption for private clubs – both posh ones and working men’s – looks likely as well, though.
And then Wednesday brings the Terrorism Bill back to the Commons. The Government was turned over on this Bill twice in November over the detention of terrorist suspects. This time, the issue is one of glorification of terrorism, struck out of the Bill by the Lords. This one could also be tricky for the Government, and perhaps even more tricky than ID cards. There have already been two Labour backbench rebellions on this subject, once during the Bill's Committee Stage (pdf, 36k), and once during its Report Stage (pdf, 57k). The largest rebellion - during Committee - saw 27 Labour MPs rebel. (The smaller, at Report, saw some of the same names troop into the dissenting lobby). Again, this is the sort of issue where the Government should be able to win - but if the rebellion grows at all, they could be in real trouble.
All those 'sheep' references now seem like a lifetime ago, don't they?10 February 2006.
Despite some heated speeches, the votes over Sinn Fein allowances proved a damp squib. In large part, this was because despite no whipping officially taking place (although the stress here is on the word 'officially'), there was a very healthy turnout of Labour MPs: 320 took part in the first vote, a very high figure for a free vote, helped by the adjournment debate which followed celebrating the centenary of the PLP, after which they all had their photo taken taken. Conversely, despite rumours that the Conservatives were being whipped (at least behind-the-scenes) there was a relatively poor turnout of Conservatives (just 165 on the first vote). Lib Dem turnout was also poor (a mere 32). It’s now become clear where most of them were!
On a free vote, eight Labour MPs opposed the Government’s motion to give financial assistance to parties with Members who had chosen not to take their seats in the House of Commons. They were Gwyneth Dunwoody; Frank Field; David Hamilton; Kate Hoey; Lindsay Hoyle; Andrew Mackinlay; Gisela Stuart; and David Taylor. Dunwoody, Field, Hoey and Taylor then also voted against the second motion – which reduced the period for which Sinn Fein’s allowances were suspended from a year to six months.
The relatively few Liberal Democrats who were present split 4/28 on the first vote and 18/10 on the second, the latter being the most substantial Lib Dem split of the Parliament thus far.
All the MPs from Northern Ireland to vote voted against the Government’s proposals, as did nearly all Conservative MPs; the only exception being Douglas Hogg, a former Tory Northern Ireland minister, who voted with the Government on the second vote, and Peter Bottomley who was the only Conservative MP to support the Government on an earlier whipped Business of the House motion.
If the phone calls we are currently getting are any guide, the parliamentary focus of most newsdesks is the week beginning 13 February - when both ID cards and the Terrorism Bill return to the Commons from the Lords, and when MPs get their chance to vote on the smoking ban.
But they shouldn't overlook tomorrow's debate on 'motions relating to parliamentary allowances and financial assistance for the representative work of Sinn Fein'. This has caused unease among Labour ranks before, and if - as is rumoured - the Tories have whipped their troops to attend, things could be interesting. The last time the issue came up, there was just a lone Labour cross-voter (Kate Hoey) and a bunch of abstentions. But as last week showed, absences can be almost as dangerous as rebellions, if the other side turn up in strength.7 February 2006.
Anyone who’s previously read this book, and who then read this profile of Hilary Armstrong in the Sunday Times this morning will (how can we put this?) probably have experienced several bouts of deja vu. None of the revolts team was responsible for writing the Sunday Times profile – except in the sense that it borrowed somewhat from bits of The Rebels.
That said, we would disagree with some of the bits we didn't write. And the one bit that is just plain wrong, of course, is that like so much of the commentary (another example here) it persists in describing the defeats as the second and third that the Government have experienced. As explained below, they were in reality the third and fourth.5 February 2006.
Contrary to all the mythology about the dark arts of the whips, the most important role of the Whips Office is not to bully and intimidate the Government’s critics, but to marshal enough willing supporters of the government to ensure that it wins each vote - and last night, they didn't do that. Whereas the two defeats over the Terrorism Bill in November could not fairly be blamed on the whips office - the whips had then been warning consistently that they didn't have the level of support to ensure victory over the Government’s 90 day detention proposal - there is no such excuse for last night's defeats. The division lists record 26 Labour MPs voting against the Government in the first vote, and 21 in the second. A Government with a majority of 65 should be able to brush rebellions like that aside. November’s defeats were a failure of political leadership. January’s were a failure of whipping.
The embarrassment was made all the worse by the fact that the Prime Minister was present for the first vote, but was then allowed to leave the Commons before the second, presumably because people assumed the second vote was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t – being lost by a majority of just one - and the Prime Minister’s vote would have been the difference between a draw (with the Deputy Speaker then siding with the Government) or defeat. Add to that, the fact that George Galloway – recently much criticised for his poor voting record – voted for the Government in both votes, and the embarrassment just intensifies.
Fingers are already being pointed at the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong – and if anyone takes the flak for the debacle it’ll be her. It won’t necessarily have been her that was responsible for any decisions about allowing MPs to have been absent from the Commons (that would have been the pairing whip, Tommy McAvoy) or the calculations of the numbers (much more likely to have been the Deputy Chief Whip, Bob Ainsworth). But this was a collective failure by the whips office, and the buck stops at the top.
Some of this morning's coverage has described these as the 2nd and 3rd defeats on whipped votes suffered by the Blair Government, conflating the two defeats over the Terrorism. The reality is that these are the 3rd and 4th defeats. And consider this: in the five years between 1992 and 1997 John Major suffered four defeats on whipped votes as a result of dissent. Despite a majority more than three times as large, the third Blair term has now seen the same number of defeats in just nine months.
A couple of the Sunday papers talked about the possibility of today's votes being close. But we have to say we were sceptical. The largest rebellion until today on this Bill had come at Report Stage (in July 2005), and it saw just 14 Labour MPs vote against their whips. As long as the Government got its troops out, then today's rebellion would have to be a lot bigger than that to worry the whips too much. Yet the Government went down to two defeats by majorities of ten and one respectively. Was this because of two larger than expected rebellions or a failure to get its own troops out? We've not seen the division lists yet.31 January 2006.
Earlier this month we pointed out that David Cameron’s new approach to cross-party love was not appreciated among all parts of the Conservative parliamentary party, noting the re-emergence of Eric Forth as a parliamentary guerrilla (pdf, 60k). He was at it again last Thursday (26 January) when he opposed the second programme motion to the Criminal Defence Service Bill. For over twenty minutes, Forth railed against ‘these so-called programme motions – or guillotines, as we used to call them’, attacking the programme motion as ‘one of those ghastly non-controversial consensual measures to which we all sign up without too much debate’.
He was not just attacking the Labour Government, but also his own party’s frontbench, whom he described as being ‘in consensual mode at present’. ‘They seem to think that we will attract more support from the electorate if we oppose the Government as little as possible rather than as much as possible. This is the new mood of the Conservative party’.
When the House divided, 64 Conservatives opposed what Forth termed ‘this outrageous, disgraceful and unacceptable programme motion’. The 64 weren’t dissenting – they included a health spokesperson and an Opposition Whip – but it was another sign of the limits to which cross-party consensus can reach.30 January 2006.
Yesterday (24 January), Alan Williams, the Labour MP for Swansea West and the Father of the House, took part in the first Labour rebellion of 2006. He was the only Labour MP to vote in favour of a Conservative frontbench amendment during the Committee stage of the Government of Wales Bill. This was no surprise, as he'd abstained during a reasoned amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill.
There were also two Conservative rebellions, the largest of which saw four Tory backbenchers – Quentin Davies, John Gummer, Peter Luff and Keith Simpson – vote against their whip. Gummer and Luff were also to support a Plaid Cymru amendment later in the evening.25 January 2006.
The Government’s Welfare Reform Green paper – launched today by John Hutton - appears to be noticeably less radical/tough/draconian (delete according to your preference or prejudice) than many had been expecting. And its reception from Labour backbenchers was therefore much more positive than would have been predicted just days ago.
One reason for this can be found in the parliamentary arithmetic. Back in 1999, the largest backbench rebellion of Labour’s first term came over reforms to Incapacity Benefit, when 67 Labour MPs voted against their whip. Then, the Government had the majority to soak that sort of rebellion up – but it doesn’t any longer. And of those 67 Labour MPs 40 remain in the Commons today and on the backbenches. If antagonised, they alone would now be enough to defeat the Government on this issue, given the government’s smaller majority.
Yet by potentially defusing any large benefit rebellion, John Hutton is spoiling a long-standing Labour tradition – their regular ding-dongs over benefit reform. You can date these back to Labour’s first Government, in 1924, which faced its largest backbench revolt over the issue of unemployment benefit. A total of 73 Labour MPs – almost four out of every ten members of the PLP – voted against the MacDonald Government over the right of strikers to claim unemployment benefit. As a percentage of the PLP, this remains the largest ever rebellion by Labour backbenchers against their government, larger in percentage terms even than the revolts over Iraq in 2003. The rebels included the leading Clydesiders of the time, such as James Maxton, Neil Maclean, and George Buchanan – as well as the future Labour leader, George Lansbury.
Almost every Labour Government since has seen some difficulty over benefits or benefit reform – from the string of 33 consecutive rebellions against the Unemployment Insurance (No 3) Bill (otherwise known as the Anomalies Bill) in 1931, to a rebellion in 1977 in which another future Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, was involved, up to those over lone parent or incapacity benefit at the beginning of the Blair government.
Hutton’s proposals won’t have won over all the would-be rebels – and much will depend on the detail – but they might have been enough to prevent the large scale revolt that was otherwise brewing. Today might be the first sign that the Government have woken up to the realities of governing with a small majority. For those of us who spend our time studying backbench rebellions this is - frankly - terrible news. For the rest of you, it’s probably rather good.24 January 2006.
On the same day that half Labour's English and Welsh backbenchers sign up to the alternative education white paper, an interesting report has just been published by the Constitution Unit on the West Lothian Question, as it now operates (and it does operate: it is no longer just a theoretical question of interest to constitutional anoraks). The press release (pdf, 204k) leads on the fact that much of Labour's reform agenda will require the votes of Scottish Labour MPs, despite the proposals not applying there - but the research includes data on the public's attitudes and possible reforms. Their conclusion? Let's muddle through, in a terribly British way.19 January 2006.
This morning's Today programme on Radio 4 contained a curious claim about the scale of the education rebellion, which tonight will reach 90 signatories. The claim was that it was getting close to the 139 who rebelled over Iraq, which 'the late Robin Cook said was the biggest since the rebellion on Gladstone's Home Rule Bill in the 1880s'.
Problem 1 with this claim: the Iraq rebellions were much bigger than the rebellions over Home Rule. In June 1886 93 Liberals voted against Gladstone’s proposals for Home Rule. That rebellion had been various bettered already - by the 95 Conservatives who had defied the Major Government over its post-Dunblane firearms legislation, or the 110 Labour MPs who had rebelled in July 1976, during the passage of the (now long-forgotten) Rent (Agriculture) Bill, to back an amendment moved by Joan Maynard – the woman routinely described in Private Eye as ‘Stalin’s Granny’ – that would have applied statutory tenancy rights to the Crown, the Government and the City of London.
Problem 2: Just because 90 have signed up to a protest against the White Paper does not mean 90 will vote against. Think back to 2004. Almost 200 Labour MPs had signed up to anti-top up fees documents, but just 72 voted against the legislation at Second Reading.
Makes you wonder why anyone bothered to write a book explaining all this...
Galloway Update: An even sillier comparison getting coverage today is the claim that George Galloway is the costliest backbencher based on the ratio of expenses claimed per vote. Since most expenses have absolutely nothing to do with voting in the Commons - most of them going on staff costs to fund constituency work - this is an utterly fatuous comparison.
In a thinly attended Commons on 17 January, MPs debated a Liberal Democrat Opposition Day motion, opposing the construction of a new generation of civil nuclear power plants. Alan Duncan, the Conservatives’ Trade and Industry spokesperson, welcomed the Government’s forthcoming energy review, supporting the possibility of new nuclear power stations, but his party chose to abstain on the Liberal Democrat motion, provoking a rebellion by ten Conservative MPs, who voted with the Government in the no lobby: Brian Binley, Peter Bone, Philip Davies, Philip Dunne, Eric Forth, Robert Goodwill, Greg Hands, Daniel Kawczynski, Bob Spink, and Charles Walker.
Apart from the two experienced MPs in the above list – Eric Forth and Bob Spink - all the other eight rebels came from the 2005 intake of Conservative MPs.
When the Government subsequently moved an amendment to the Liberal Democrat motion, welcoming ‘an energy review to assess future options on both supply and demand for energy including the role of nuclear power’, two of them – Hands and Spink – again voted in the Labour lobby, with the Conservatives again abstaining.
Earlier in the afternoon, Spink had cast his third vote against the Conservative party line in one day by supporting a Liberal Democrat motion which argued that the Child Support Agency ‘has lost the confidence of the public, that its basic structural problems remain and that it is not properly suited to carry out its task’. Once again, the official Conservative frontbench line was to abstain.
Spink has now cast seven dissenting votes against the Conservative frontbench line since the 2005 general election, making him the leading Tory backbench rebel so far in this Parliament.
UPDATE: Not sure if we are the 'Westminster source' quoted in the Telegraph but we do like the sobriquet 'the Atomic Eight' to describe the eight new Tories.
GALLOWAY UPDATE: By close of play on 18 January, George Galloway had missed ten votes in the Commons since he went into the Big Brother House. Even with his normally pretty poor voting record (see below), it can now fairly be argued that he's missed more than he normally would have.18 January 2006.
Last night's Lords defeats on ID cards are yet another demonstration of a more assertive House of Lords. But they do not spell disaster for the Government. When the Bill returns to the Commons, and the Government try to overturn some or all of the Lords amendments, their majority will be reduced (it was 25, for example, at the Bill's Third Reading in the Commons), but ID cards were in Labour's manifesto and few new rebels are going to put their head above the parapet on this issue when there are what they see as more more important issues coming up, like IB or education reform.
Galloway Update: Another vote in the Commons last night, bringing the total missed by George Galloway up to six. But no such problem, so it seems, with EDMs, which he appears to have continued to sign in abstentia.17 January 2006.
There was just one division in the Commons yesterday, meaning that the count of votes missed by George Galloway since he's been in the Big Brother House currently stands at five. As we argued yesterday, given his normally low level of voting anyway, it can be argued that his voting record is not yet suffering as a result of his pretending to be a cat.
The vote itself was a curious one, with the Commons voting by 390 votes to 0 to set up an extra Select Committee to hear petitions recarding the Crossrail project. Hybrid bills have to conform both to the procedures for public and private bills, and the latter require an extra Select Committee stage. Peter Kilfoyle and George Howarth acted as tellers for the noes, but we are fairly certain they were merely doing so to facilitate the vote, which was required in order to establish the Select Committee.
UPDATE: Not so. We got this one wrong, so we've been told. Kilfoyle and Howarth were dissenting, registering their discontent that the Crossrail project is being well funding, whereas the Merseytram Line 1 was not being funded. They had no intention of defeating the Government - and indeed, actively discouraged people from voting in the no lobby - but were merely registering their concern.13 January 2006.
George Galloway’s entry into the Celebrity Big Brother House attracted much controversy – not least over whether being in the house would affect his impact on voting in the House.
Yet Galloway’s voting is so poor normally that it is quite possible he’ll not be much missed at Westminster. During the election, we published a short briefing paper on his voting in the Commons, noting that his turnout rate since his suspension from the Labour Party was just 2.7 per cent – with not one vote cast a single vote in favour of the Government
Since May 2005, and his election as Respect’s sole MP, his participation in votes has increased somewhat. Before his entry into the Celebrity Big Brother House it stood at 15.3 per cent (18 votes out of 118 possible votes), still way below what would be expected from most other MPs. All but two of these votes were cast against the Government. The exceptions were a free vote in November when Galloway supported an unsuccessful Ten Minute Rule Bill to reduce the voting age from eighteen to sixteen and – his only vote for the Government since he was suspended from the Party – a vote in favour of the Third Reading of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in July.
As of Wednesday evening, he has so far missed four divisions. Given that he normally votes in around one vote in every seven, then unless today (Thursday) turns out to be a particularly high voting day, if he is evicted on Friday, then his presence in the House won’t have made much difference to his participation at Westminster.12 January 2006.
The Government’s decision to grant a free vote on the issue of smoking in enclosed public places is widely covered in today’s papers. According to the Telegraph, it is now ‘certain’ to be banned outright, with the same phrase used in the Times. The Independent think an all out ban is ‘more likely’ (although the headline says ‘likely’) and the Guardian go for ‘likely’.
There is no doubt that the Government faced serious difficulties over its proposed partial ban. We published (pdf, 36k) a short briefing paper on the smoking rebellion on 28 November, and concluded then by noting that ‘it might be better politics to grant a free vote’.
But we are not yet convinced that the full ban is quite as certain as the Telegraph or the Times think. Not every Labour MP wants an outright ban; there will be plenty who will follow John Reid into the no lobby on this issue. And although the Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, will vote for an outright ban, we suspect relatively few other Conservatives will follow him. The Telegraph’s leader – Labour MPs want to take another liberty – is a good example of a counter-argument that will be much used once the debate begins properly. Much could depend on how many Conservative MPs turn up – with turnout on free votes often tending to be lower than on whipped votes.
The Guardian also makes free votes the subject of its In praise of… leader, arguing that free votes ‘allow MPs to show individual responsibility and to rise above their role as lobby fodder - and that can only be good for parliamentary democracy’. Maybe. In general, we too like free votes – not least because they provide plenty of nerdy opportunities to analyse the voting patterns. But in this particular case, it might well result in the overturning of part of the election manifesto on which the government fought – and won – an election less than a year ago. That manifesto was explicit: pubs and bars not serving food ‘will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free’ (p. 66). If the smoking ban goes through, then, the government will have been forced to break a manifesto commitment by its own backbenchers.
When Labour broke its manifesto commitment on top-up fees during the last Parliament, there was an outcry. This time, almost no complaint. How curious?
UPDATE: This week's edition of Any Questions (13 January) was notable (amongst other things) for Iain Duncan Smith's view on the smoking issue. Paraphasing a lot, it was that a bad law (ie, a total ban) was better than an unworkable law (ie, a partial ban). If that's the view of more than a handful of Tories, then the chances of a total ban increase dramatically. Also of interest was the fact that Simon Hughes indicated that he was expecting the Liberal Democrats to whip the issue, given that there was clear party policy in favour of a total ban.
With one of the revolts team stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and forced to follow yesterday's events via various websites (amazingly the US media are not devoting much time to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats!), so here in the absence of anything positive to say on the subject is a trivia question: when was the last time a British general election was contested by three completely different party leaders to the previous one?
Answer: 1979: Callaghan, Thatcher and Steel.
Back then, of course, the outgoing third party leader was alleged to have done something much more serious than drink too much.
We have lots of new stuff to post up over the next few days (assuming time allows), but the most important bit of news is our competition for Christmas and the New Year.
To enter, all you need do is play Mystic Meg and predict the number of Labour MPs who will vote against the Government at the Second Reading of the forthcoming Education Bill.
As Julian Glover pointed out in the Guardian on Saturday, the total number of signatories to the Alternative White Paper now stands at 72, higher than the government's majority. The new signatories, however, were all members of the Campaign Group, and were already accounted for in our analysis of the signatories (pdf, 32k). We then estimated the number of known opponents to be 85. Of course, not all of them will vote against. But there might also be other rebels, who have not signed the alternative white paper but who vote against. And much depends on what the Tories do. David Cameron had said he would support the Government, but in today's interview with the Observer, he makes it clear that he would be willing to oppose the Government if the eventual Bill is too watered down from the White Paper. An unwatered down white paper with Tory support would mean a much larger rebellion.
Entries need to be sent to email@example.com by 9 January. In case of a tie, the earliest entry wins. The winner gets a copy of the three books recently published by those behind this site, Philip Cowley's The Rebels, Mark Stuart's John Smith, and Philip Norton's Parliament in British Politics. We will count all Labour MPs in receipt of the whip who vote against their whip on any Bill's Second Reading; we will include any who vote in favour of a hostile reasoned amendment; we will exclude double-voting abstainers; and the judge's decision is final. Members of the Government's Whips Office are excluded from entry.18 December 2005.
The Guardian's Newsblog used yesterday's briefing paper on the signatories to the 'alternative white paper' as the basis for a blog entry. Unfortunately, during the process of editing, it lost some of the meaning (as one or two of the comments posted to it reveal!). However, one positive result of this was that someone managed to discover an downloadable copy of the paper itself, courtesy of the Socialist Teachers Alliance, which makes very interesting reading. An alternative source is the Compass website.
Also: Given the current interest in the Liberal Democrat leadership, we thought it was a good time to remind people of our paper (pdf, 93k) analysing the Lib Dems voting in the last parliament.16 December 2005.
29 November saw a Ten Minute Rule Bill, introduced by Stephen Williams, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, to try to reduce the voting age for parliamentary, local government and European parliamentary elections to 16. It was defeated by 128 votes to 136.
As some visitors to this site will know, some of us think the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 is a really silly one – but here’s not the place for this argument. What was striking about the voting was the party splits.
Not surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats were united in favour (or at least the 47 who voted were). The Conservatives split three in favour, 110 against – with the three being John Bercow, Peter Bottomley and Bob Spink. Also voting in favour were George Galloway, Richard Taylor, one SDLP, two Plaid Cymru and two SNP. Three DUP MPs voted no.
The most interesting bit was the Labour split: with 73 in favour and 25 against. The totals alone are interesting (with more Conservative MPs voting than did Labour MPs). But the pattern – with those Labour MPs who voted being three-to-one in favour of lowering the age to 16 – is even more striking. Of course, on a relatively low turnout like this, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions about the views of the whole House, but nonetheless, it looks as if there is considerable support for votes at 16 on the Labour benches.30 November 2005.
You outdid yourself with our Hattersley competition. Take one stinker review, and most of you merely see opportunities for misrepresentation that would make you ideal writers of Lib Dem Focus Leaflets!
We had lots of ‘scholarly’, ‘courageous’, ‘distinguished’, and so on (of which ‘essential to tranquillity’ was particularly good), and many of you managed to rip whole sentences like this out of context and stitch them together in imaginative ways. But the prize goes to Nick Allen, for his:
‘Cowley is right… Damn it all… Cowley is right’ – Roy Hattersley
It wasn’t the longest entry, but it was the one that made us laugh most. His book is in the post.
Some of the tiebreakers were pretty good, too, and revealed the wide range of animosities that visitors to this site enjoy! Our favourite was 'that to be accused of being self-satisfied by Roy Hattersley was like being accused of over-zealousness by Torquemada' (can’t say who that came from, as he’d prefer to remain anonymous). Here’s another five phrases. See if you can match the individuals with the characteristics.
Having an unconvincing wig
Unsubtle and insensitive
Not knowing when to quit
Duke of Edinburgh
Since it was first put down on 31 October, 31 MPs, 28 of them Labour, have signed Dr Ian Gibson’s EDM 898, which expresses ‘grave reservations about the new Education White Paper which proposes school freedom and independence, parental management of decision-making, the destruction of social class mix of pupils and other proposals which will lead to an unfair education balance’. Of these, all but one have already voted against their whip in this or the previous Parliament.
This EDM is, however, believed to be merely the tip of the iceberg. Expect a much more widely supported EDM soon, unless there is much more movement from the Government.
Despite some passionate speeches, the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill (23 November) saw just one Labour MP vote against their whip. Kaye Hoey – who described the bill as a ‘costly sham’ – voted against her whip to support a Conservative Reasoned Amendment and then to oppose Second Reading. However, there were also a number of Labour backbenchers abstaining, including the former Social Security Minister, Frank Field, with the result that the Government’s majority was reduced to 48.
In fact, the largest rebellion of that night occurred on a deferred division on a draft order introducing aspects of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with four Labour MPs – David Drew, Lynne Jones, John McDonnell and Alan Simpson – voting against the order.
There is currently a Labour backbench rebellion – of whatever size – in one in every three divisions.
ALSO: 21 November saw John Bercow defy his whip to support the Government's programme motion for the Equality Bill.
Today sees the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Offenses) Bill, over which Peter Hain has just admitted the Government faces a fight in Parliament.
There has always been a group on the Labour benches who have objected to what they see as special favours being granted to Sinn Fein/IRA. In the last Parliament there were small rebellions (the largest numbering 10) over granting Sinn Fein use of the facilities of the House (although until Robin Cook, then the Leader of the House, agreed to a compromise the number at one point looked as if it might be even larger). Of those who voted against their whip on 18 December 2001, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Sir Stuart Bell, David Hamilton and Jimmy Hood remain.
This may well be slightly swelled today (although not by much, we suspect) but the good news for the Labour whips is that although this list - once described by a Labour whip as 'Glasgow Rangers supporters to a man' (which is a strange description of Dunwoody and Hoey) - comprise some of those who vote against their whip regularly, plenty of the more regular rebels are entirely in sympathy with the government's tactics on this issue. So expect a rebellion of the unusual suspects today.
NOTE: A full list of this, plus all other Labour rebellions in the last Parliament, can be found in our data handbook on the last parliament (pdf, 2M).23 November 2005.
To celebrate this fact, we are giving away one free copy of The Rebels - assuming anyone still wants it. To enter, all you have to do are the following two simple tasks.
One: read Hattersley’s review and find a word or series of words which we can use on publicity material to promote the book. As anyone who reads publicity puff knows, ellipsis (...), quotations taken entirely out of context, and so on are all perfectly acceptable. So far the best we can do is:
'Cowley is right' - Roy Hattersley.
But we are sure you can do better!
Two: the tiebreaker. Complete the phrase. 'To be accused of being self-satisfied by Roy Hattersley is like being accused of BLANK by BLANK'.
Send all entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Closing date: 26 November.19 November 2005.
There were four small Labour rebellions during the Report stage of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill (16 November), involving a total of five Labour MPs. All but one (Keith Vaz) had already voted against the Government this Parliament. At the end of the night, the Conservatives supported the Government on the Bill’s Third Reading. Although no Labour rebels supported the Liberal Democrats in the no lobby, several Labour MPs were absent from the Government lobby.
There was also a small rebellion, involving six Labour MPs – Jeremy Corbyn, David Drew, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Dennis Skinner and Rudi Viz – on a deferred division ‘taking note’ of EU documents relating to the marketing of foods derived from genetically modified maize. Five Conservative MPs joined in the GM rebellion – Peter Ainsworth, Derek Conway, James Gray, Bob Spink and Sir Nicholas Winterton – defying their frontbench’s line to abstain.
Nerd alert! Conservative rebellions so far this Parliament have involved 36 Conservative MPs, as against 63 for Labour. This represents an almost equal share of their parliamentary parties: (Conservatives, 18.2%, Labour, 17.7%).
Last night, two Labour MPs - Frank Field and Kate Hoey - voted in favour of a Conservative Opposition prayer attempting to annul the introduction of flexible licensing hours ('24-hour drinking'), due to start on 24 November. Field was casting his second dissenting vote of the Parliament, but Hoey was notching up her 14th rebellion against the Government. It brings the current tally of rebellions so far this Parliament to 29.
Tonight sees the remaining stages of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. So far, no Labour MPs have voted against the Government on this legislation, but watch this space...16 November 2005.
This is a slightly longer post than normal, but this week probably warrants it. Two weeks ago we published a book called The Rebels, subtitled 'How Blair Mislaid His Majority'. A review in Tribune - which was otherwise quite positive - doubted whether it was 'entirely convincing', in its 'portrayal of a chippy backbench intent on keeping ministers in order and the Prime Minister in some degree of restraint'.
We believe that humility is an over-rated virtue, and so here (gratis) is an extract from Chapter 9 - a chapter entitled 'Office Without Power?' - which deals with the prospects for the third term. Anyone who wants to check the list of would-be rebels below with those in our paper (pdf, 57k) on the Terrorism Bill defeats will find a high level of similarity. We therefore find some vindication in this week's events.
Extract begins below...
When all the dust had settled, the government was left with a majority of 66. It may have survived undefeated since 1997, but it had struggled mightily to enact key pieces of legislation while enjoying a majority of over 160. How would it possibly manage with a majority of almost 100 fewer? Echoing Norman Lamont’s famous verdict on the Major years, one Labour insider had already described the possibility as ‘office without power’. The line from Labour HQ on election night, and since, has been that this smaller majority will ‘concentrate the mind’. The bloated majorities enjoyed since 1997 had allowed Labour MPs to rebel without giving much thought to the consequences. With a smaller majority, so the argument goes, Labour MPs will have to exercise more self-discipline.
Possibly. There’s no doubt that the smaller majority will make some MPs more careful about how they will behave. Rebellions can no longer be entered into without a real risk of defeating the government. Some Labour MPs have already made it clear to their whips that they intend to behave differently given the size of the majority. But it’s worth remembering the last time a government lost a 100+ majority and found itself re-elected with a much smaller majority. Immediately after the 1992 election most commentators declared that John Major’s 21 seat majority was a perfectly workable state of affairs. But they had reckoned without the extent to which the habit of revolt had been widespread within the Conservative Parliamentary party during the Thatcher years, years when (just like those between 1997 and 2005) MPs were able to rebel relatively freely given the size of the majority. Ask John Major whether he feels that having such a small majority ‘concentrated the minds’ of Bill Cash, Teddy Taylor, Teresa Gorman et al. Do you think he’d get the joke? Or go back and look at how the Labour Government of 1974-79 managed with a small, and sometimes non-existent, majority. Self-immolation rather than self-control were the order of the day then.
Similarly, does anyone seriously believe that Jeremy Corbyn got out of bed the morning after the 2005 election, and decided over his muesli and carrot juice that whilst he’d tried this rebellion malarkey for the last eight years it was now time for him to knuckle down and toe the party line? Does anyone think that John McDonnell immediately reached for the phone to contact his regional whip to ask for the latest instructions? Or that Lynne Jones spent the morning boning up on the standing orders of the PLP? Ditto for Bob Marshall-Andrews (whose mind appears to have been concentrated almost entirely on the removal of Tony Blair ever since he arrived in the Commons), or Bob Wareing or Alan Simpson or Kelvin Hopkins or Dennis Skinner or Kate Hoey or Diane Abbott or Glenda Jackson or Mark Fisher or Neil Gerrard or Mike Wood or Peter Kilfoyle or David Taylor?
And that’s before you think about Clare Short or Gwyneth Dunwoody or Ian Gibson or Jim Cousins or Frank Field or Gordon Prentice or David Drew or Frank Dobson or Michael Connarty or Harry Cohen or John Austin or Jim Dobbin or Ronnie Cambell or Paul Flynn or Michael Clapham or Roger Berry or Andrew Mackinlay or John Grogan.
Some of these names may not be all that known outside of Westminster, but they are very well known indeed in the Government Whips’ Office. The 34 MPs listed above have all rebelled on key votes against the Blair government before, and there can be little doubt that they will do so again at some point during the 2005 Parliament. And to their ranks will, on occasions, be added people like George Mudie, Ann Cryer, Ian Davidson, Rudi Vis, Geraldine Smith, Bill Etherington, Chris McCafferty, Austin Mitchell, Julie Morgan, Betty Williams, and many others far too obscure to mention, even in a book like this.
For the whips the arithmetic is fairly simple – and fairly depressing. Its nominal majority is 66. Its effective majority – once you allow for the non-voting Sinn Fein MPs – is 71. There were 87 Labour MPs with regular ‘form’, who had voted against the whips on 10 or more occasions during the last parliament. Of these, 27 are no longer in the Commons andor in receipt of the Labour whip. But this still leaves 60 MPs who rebelled on 10 or more occasions between 2001 and 2005. That’s more than enough to defeat them. Still sitting on the backbenches, for example, are 56 of those who voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Bill prior to the 2005 election, easily enough to defeat the Government should they mishandle similar legislation now, even after the terrorist attacks in July 2005.
Of course, a majority of 66 could still be sufficient. It’s hardly wafer-thin. If the PLP was treated with a bit of TLC then there shouldn’t be too many problems. Tony Blair’s immediate post-election speech – in which he promised to listen – certainly sounded as if he might take such an approach. But the Prime Minister always sounds like this. After every bloody nose he gets, Tony Blair sounds conciliatory. The problem is that he then struggles to be conciliatory. It’s just not in his political DNA. It’s like expecting Graham Norton to become butch. It just won’t happen. And the result will be trouble. Minds may well be concentrated, but if the Government continue to govern as they governed in the 2001 parliament, minds will be concentrated on how to defeat the Government.
The real problem for the Government will come when (or if) they suffer their first defeat. Once they have gone down to their first defeat, and once it becomes clear to all and sundry that the sky does not fall in, that no votes of confidence are called, and that the government does not collapse as a result, then defeats will become more regular. Once they’ve been defeated once, the whips will no longer be able to threaten rebels with victory – and defeat could well follow defeat.11 November 2005.
Last night's edition of Newsnight saw the Home Secretary pray in aid one of the revolts team, arguing that our work showed that there were larger rebellions in the last parliament, and therefore things weren't really that bad.
It is always nice to have a Home Secretary refer to your work, but it isn't quite what we're saying. It is of course true that there were larger rebellions in the last parliament - over Iraq, top up fees, foundation hospitals, and prevention of terrorism, for example - but as we show in our briefing paper (pdf, 57k) on the Terrorism Bill defeats, the average size of a rebellion in the last parliament was 14, exactly the same as it currently is – despite their currently being fewer MPs.
And the Terrorism Bill rebellions bring the total number of Labour rebellions so far this session to 28, which is a rebellion in 32% of votes. So far, this is notably higher than the 21% of the previous parliament between 2001 and 2005 – which was itself the highest rate of rebellion in the post-war era
So the bad news for the Government is that MPs in this Parliament are so far rebelling at a faster rate than they were in the last Parliament, they are rebelling in at least the same numbers (and, measured as a percentage of the parliamentary party, greater numbers), and they have shown that they are prepared to bite and not just bark.
Sorry, Mr Clarke.10 November 2005.
We're not Mystic Meg, so no predictions from us about today's vote. It's clear that - at the moment - the government do not have the votes to win. But remember the morning of 27 January 2004. As The Rebels reveals, at 8am on the morning of the top up fees rebellion the whips' office were then still predicting defeat by a margin of more than 20. By the end of the day, the government won by 5. Something similar could happen today, although at the moment it is difficult to see how the government can win without the support of at least some Opposition MPs.
Most of the focus so far has been on whether any Conservative MPs will bail out the government - Bill Cash, Ann Widdecombe et al. But a potentially more interesting group would be the DUP. They are currently minded to vote against the government - and did so in last week's votes. But most of them backed the Terrorism Bill's Second Reading, and nine DUP votes would be a considerable help to the Government - and might be considerably easier to get on board than Tory MPs. Ulster overtures will be being made today.
It is very difficult to find historical parallels for the main opposition party helping the Government win votes. The Major Government survived votes helped by both the Ulster Unionists - then the largest Unionist Party - and the Liberal Democrats.
But the last time we are aware of a Government winning a vote because of the votes of MPs from the main opposition party was in October 1971 when 69 Labour MPs defied their three-line whip to vote with the Conservative Government on a motion approving the negotiated terms for entry into the EEC. A further 20 Labour MPs abstained. The Conservatives had granted a free vote on their side, believing (rightly) that this would make it easier for Labour MPs to vote with them, more than compensating for the 39 Conservatives who voted against and two who abstained. Because of the size of the Labour rebellion, the Government won comfortably by 356 votes to 244.
A less dramatic example of cross-party splits came on 16 December 1976 when the Labour Government won its ill-fated Scotland and Wales Bill Second Reading vote by 292 votes to 247 on a whipped party vote, despite 10 Labour MPs voting against, and with another 31 abstaining. Then, five Conservatives voted for the Government, including Alick Buchanan-Smith, resigning as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and Malcolm Rifkind, his deputy. Three other frontbenchers offered their resignations to Mrs Thatcher, but these were refused. Some 29 Conservatives abstained that evening (including newly-ousted leader, Edward Heath), contributing to the Government's victory, but the Government could have won without the Conservatives.
An even larger split came almost 40 years ago, in December 1965, when 31 Conservatives supported Wilson’s decision to introduce oil sanctions against Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia. The official Conservative line was to abstain, and the party split three ways: the majority abstaining, 31 voting with the government, and fifty Conservatives (including tellers) voted against the sanctions order. Don't expect anything like that today!
For those interested in recent government defeats, see our entry for 2 November (below).9 November 2005.
There appear to be only three ways that the Government might get its way this week over the Terrorism Bill, and avoid the 28 day limit put forward last week by David Winnick.
 Enough would-be Labour rebels change their mind, and either abstain or vote with the Government. This seems unlikely, given the mood amongst the PLP at the moment.
 The Conservative frontbench change their position, and agree to vote for the Government's compromise (whatever that might be). If this happens, the backbench rebellion could be huge and the Government would still win. At a stroke, the Government would be free – but the Tories have just repeated that 28 days is the upper-limit of what they would accept.
 Enough Conservative MPs – unhappy about the thought of voting against the advice of the police on a terrorism issue – abstain or vote with the Government. It would only take a few to do this and the possibility of a Government defeat would become noticeably less likely. If, say, 15-20 Conservative MPs, quietly abstained, and one or two voted with the Government, then any Labour rebellion would need to approach 50 cross-voters willing to defeat the Government, a much harder target than the 36 cross-voters needed with a full Opposition turnout.
If I was a journalist trying to predict these sort of things, therefore, I'd be just as interested (and perhaps even more interested) in the possibility of Tory rebels deciding the outcome later this week, as in the behaviour of Labour rebels.7 November 2005.
This website does not exist in order to cyberstalk Lord Hattersley, but he keeps writing really silly articles mentioning parliament, so we feel it is our duty to point this out. In his latest (published in today's Guardian, he claims that the recent discussion of the Terrorism Bill has 'at last, awakened a slumbering parliamentary Labour party'. On what planet has he been living for the last four years?
We'll restate the basic stats below. For more, either buy a copy of The Rebels (£9.99 and worth every penny), or consult our data handbook listing all the rebellions by Labour MPs in the last Parliament (a free pdf file, but over 2Mb in size).
* During the four years between 2001 and 2005, there were over 250 seperate rebellions by Labour MPs, involving more than 200 different backbenchers.
* That equates to a rebellion in 21% of divisions, which was a higher rate of rebellions than in any other post-war parliament.
* The rebellions included those over Iraq - which were the biggest rebellions against the whip by MPs of any party since the Corn Laws in the 1840s.
This wasn't 'slumbering'. They've been wide awake for years. What changed wasn't the attitude of the PLP - but the size of the Government's majority. The problem was that until the election the Government's majority was too large for Labour rebels to have much chance of defeating it.
Now it isn't. Hence the difficulties over the Terrorism Bill.
Yesterday, Lord Hattersley published an article in The Times, which contained the quite extraordinary claim that Labour backbenchers were "the most supine Members of Parliament in British history". It was not made clear on what basis this claim was made. It was clearly not made on the basis of any evidence.
Peter Riddell rides to the defence of MPs - and evidence - today, with an excellent article in the same paper in which he rightly dismisses such views as 'claptrap'. He also describes The Rebels as "entertaining and revealing", so he is obviously a man of sound views.
UPDATE: There were a further three small Labour rebellions during the second and final day of the Terrorism Bill's Committee Stage in the House of Commons. They numbered just two Labour MPs (Jeremy Corbyn and Lynne Jones), two (ditto), and six: Corbyn and Jones, along with Glenda Jackson, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Dennis Skinner, and Robert Wareing.
That means that there have now been eight rebellions on the Terrorism Bill involving 36 Labour backbenchers, and averaging 13 Labour MPs per rebellion. Next week’s Report stage and Third Reading (on Wednesday and Thursday respectively) should see the number of rebellions on this controversial bill rise still further.4 November 2005.
Earlier today (just before 4pm), the Government won a vote in the Commons with a majority of just one (300 to 299). That was the slimmest majority since 1997, even closer than the majority of five achieved at the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill in February 2004.
Facing defeat on a later amendment moved by the Labour backbencher, David Winnick, the Home Secretary then agreed to all-party talks to agree a limit for the amount of time a terror suspect could be held by without charge. Had they not done so, it appears highly likely - if not certain - that they would have been defeated.
It would have been the first Commons defeat suffered on a whipped vote by the Blair Government. Defeat was only avoided by a government retreat - with Winnick making it clear that he would only relent in his campaign if any proposed limit was considerably closer to his preferred 28 days than the Government's 90.
The last time a government was defeated on a whipped vote in the Commons was December 1995, when the Major Government went down on an EU Fisheries 'take note' motion. This was one of four defeats that the Major Government suffered on whipped votes between 1992 and 1997: two connected to the Maastricht Bill, a vote on VAT on fuel, and the fisheries take note motion.
The Major Government also achieved a majority of one, on a vote on the Scott Report on Arms-to-Iraq in February 1996.
The last time a Labour Government was defeated as a result of backbench dissent was 22 March 1979, just a few days before the fall of the Labour Government, over a Conservative Opposition Prayer to annul increases in fees for firearms certificates). That was one of 59 defeats they suffered - of which 36 were attributed to the Government's minority status, but 23 of which were the result of backbench dissent.
It might also be thought somewhat cheap (but hell, that's not going to stop us) to point out that just one week ago we held the launch party for The Rebels, the subtitle of which is 'How Blair Mislaid His Majority'. Even at the launch, one or two people weren't convinced this is what had really happened. Does anyone have doubts any more?2 November 2005.
We are expecting more rebellions today, as the Terrorism Bill begins its Committee Stage on the Floor of the House. More details to be posted as soon as we have them. We have already published one paper looking at the Bill's Second Reading rebellion (pdf, 20k) - and another looking at those Labour MPs who rebelled against the Government's last piece of anti-terrorism legislation (pdf, 44k). We noted in the latter that rebellions over anti-terrorism legislation tend to grow as the bills go through the Commons - with the Second Reading rebellions merely being the warm up acts.
We are, however, expecting concessions today, as Charles Clarke attempts to placate those who think the proposed legislation goes too far. But Clarke has a difficulty balancing act here. The Bill still has to get through its Report Stage and then onto the Lords, where further concessions will be demanded. So Clarke can't give too much today - or he'll have nothing else to give later during the Bill's passage.
UPDATE: As these words were being typed, Charles Clarke popped up on the Today programme to say that he was willing to be 'flexible'. Just watch him...
UPDATE 2: David Blunkett's resignation probably helps the Government with tonight's vote. All the signs were that they were in some real difficulties with the 28 day amendment moved by David Winnick, but today's resignation allows the whips to argue that Labour MPs would merely be handing the Tories a victory if they gave them the first backbench defeat on top of a Cabinet resignation.
A sample of photos from last week's launch party for The Rebels, allowing you to play spot the rebels. Also note the whips (three pictured) and ex-whips (another two).
UPDATE: The first review of The Rebels appears - in Tribune - and calls it 'lively and well-researched', 'balanced' and 'entertaining', and also talks of its 'admirable detail' (although we're unsure whether the last is merely a synonym for 'too much detail'!).
At least according to the letters page of The Telegraph. If only real life were so easy.
The argument - put forward in the letter - that the reason for the rise in defeats and rebellions in recent years is because of the rise in poorly drafted legislation is so parti pris that it's not worth wasting much time on. To believe that legislation only started to be poorly drafted or badly conceived in 1997 you need to have a very short memory and a particularly biased set of partisan specs. Moreover, you can't have it both ways. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the supposed weakening of Parliament - the initial source of the argument - simply hasn't occurred in recent years.
On a completely unrelated subject, The Rebels was cited by Paul Flynn in the Commons the other day, whilst discussing Clare Short's Private Member's Bill on War Powers. We'll be doing a paper on the Short Bill anon.31 October 2005.
Simon Heffer's article in the Telegraph on 26 October is surely in the running for the Annual Prize for the Stupidest Things Written About Parliament.
He lamented the removal of most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, on the grounds that we used to have a House of Lords that was a ‘proper revising chamber’, which defeated the government ‘with alarming regularity’. And he observes that the House of Commons of 1995 ‘had yet to adopt that posture of slavishness and ineffectuality that now characterises it’.
To their credit, the Telegraph have at least published a letter from one of the revolts team observing that the facts point in exactly the opposite direction. They removed, however, the final line of the letter: "If I received an essay from a first year undergraduate that argued such a factually inaccurate case, I would advise them to read a book occasionally, and not simply to make things up".29 October 2005.
A very interesting piece in the Sunday Herald yesterday (23 Oct) on how the Scottish Lib Dems are tightening up the rules for their MSPs in order to ensure tighter discipline - including a five-point disciplinary plan. A less interesting letter in today's Guardian, responding to the op-ed piece from a few days ago. Charles Scanlan writes:
Philip Cowley cites all the Labour backbench revolts and asks: "What more do you want?". How about just one rebellion that succeeds?
Rule one of studying MPs' voting: do not equate success with government defeats. For many MPs success comes when the government climbs down, and they therefore no longer need to rebel. By that criteria, plenty of rebellions since 1997 have succeeded.24 October 2005.
From the Sunday Express Crossbencher column (no link, sadly):
The late Robin Cook is remembered as a great parliamentarian but he started life in the Commons as a notorious mutineer. Philip Cowley's new book The Rebels reveals Cook voted against the 1974 Labour government no fewer than 88 times. This defiance strained Cook's later relationship with the whips during his time as the reforming Commons leader. One Labour insider reveals: "Robin though [chief whip] Hilary Armstrong was thick and she thought he patronised her. They were both right".
It is sometimes said that whips are like elephants - they never forget - but even the most vindictive is unlikely to have disliked Cook in 2001 for things he did in 1974! What strained relations between the whips and the 'reforming' leader of the House was his reforming.
And yes, that quote is genuine. But no, we're not saying who said it.
From Kevin Maguire's column in the New Statesman:
Political anorak Philip Cowley, in The Rebels, identifies Barbara Follett as an unlikely troublemaker. Whips blame the unexpected side effects of Emily's yeast for the rise of the socialite socialist in the rebels stakes.
No one can argue about the anorak bit. Nor about the Follett-as-rebel bit. Of all the women elected in the large 1997 cohort, she was the one who rebelled most during the last parliament. (Not a lot of people know that). But not entirely sure what the rest of it means...21 October 2005.
The Government suffered a backbench Labour rebellion on the first day of Commons proceedings after the summer recess (10 October). Fortunately for the whips, only three MPs were involved – John McDonnell, Bob Marshall-Andrews and David Taylor. The three supported a Tory amendment during the Report stage of the Civil Aviation Bill concerning aircraft noise. McDonnell rarely needs an excuse to rebel, but on this occasion he also had a clear constituency interest: his Hayes and Harlington constituency includes almost all of Heathrow Airport. Since the election, a total of 30 Labour MPs have so far voted against their whip.
The next test of the Government's new and reduced majority comes tomorrow (Tuesday 18th) with the Report Stage of the ID Cards Bill - although as we have explained before this is not likely to be an issue to cause too much difficulties for the whips.17 October 2005.
From the Guardian's backbencher column:
Finally, Philip Cowley's forthcoming book Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority has a sobering statistic for MPs making merry by the seaside. A parliamentarian serving for 20 years and who votes in 60% of divisions will spend an entire month of their life in the lobbies.
But the crucial question is: how much of that month would they know what they were doing. One MP estimates that he knows the subject of one vote out of every twelve.
"It's just not humanly possible to know about everything you're voting for," one MP told Cowley. "It's like Pavlov's dog. The bell goes and off we go." "I go through the lobby a great number of times not knowing a [word omitted] about what I'm voting for," confessed another.
How prim of the Guardian to omit words!
UPDATE: Tom Watson has done his own calculation. As well as describing the author as the 'stato of parliamentary divisions' ('This guy knows more about the voting behaviour of MPs than any other human being'), he has also worked out that if he remains an MP until retirement age, then he will spend a year of his life in hotel rooms in Blackpool. Like he says: 'it does make you assess where your life is going'6 October 2005.
Today's Crossbencher column in the Sunday Express contains a short piece based on the forthcoming book, The Rebels. Not available online, it says:
Labour rebels should watch their backs. A new book, The Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority by Philip Cowley, to be published next month, reveals that the four Labour MPs who formed the first backbench rebellion of the 2005 parliament - Jeremy Corbyn, Bob Marshall-Andrews, John McDonnell and Bob Wareing - may not have been so brave if they'd known the fate of those who broke ranks before them. The first Labour MP to do so in 1997, Jamie Cann, is now dead. The first in 2001, Sir Ray Powell, has also died. The whips clearly have a long reach...25 September 2005.
Expect to read quite a bit about this book between now and its publication on 24 October.
8 September 2005.
A snip at £9.99...
Details of the forthcoming book based on this research - to be called The Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority - to follow shortly. But we've just had a review of the book on the 1997 Parliament - Revolts and Rebellions - drawn to our attention at the Public Whip. It's jolly positive - and a lot more positive than this chap was - and says lots of nice things about it.
The Public Whip are a much more participatory bunch than we are, and so they allow people to post comments in their forum section. The author's had a go - pointing out that whilst the reviewer is right that there's no relationship between marginality and rebellion, it's not quite so damning an indictment as it might seem.
The MP-constituency link is important - and it's one that MPs spend an increasing amount of time over (some say far too much time) - but it rarely manifests itself in voting. You can occasionally see examples of it if you break things down below the overall level. Particular votes sometimes show clear constituency interests coming to the fore. (We gave an example of this recently on with many of the Conservative rebellions over the Crossrail Bill). But such cases are rare.
But it's not because MPs need the party's resources. It's much more that they are aware that - one or two exceptions aside - it's the party label that got them elected, and that they are, first and foremost, party politicians. They are aware that although the public say that they like independent-minded politicians, they also dislike divided parties. It's a difficult balance to get right.
It's also relatively easy to justify. If you are, say, a Conservative MP then you believe (quite sincerely) that a Conservative government is better for the country than a Labour government. You will therefore not want to do anything to make a Labour government more likely. This might on occasion prevent you doing things that (in the short-term) you would prefer if (in the longer-term) they make it more likely that the Opposition will win the next election. The interests of the party and the country are therefore as one.
Moreover, we are just finishing off a forthcoming conference paper which looks at the relationship between MPs' rebelliousness and their success at the subsequent election. For the record, we find almost no relationship. Rebels and loyalists were treated almost identically. Again, voters may say that they want more independent-minded MPs, but they then don't reward them at the polls. The only exception is the top-up fees vote, where rebels seem to have done marginally better, but the difference is less than one percentage point and it impacted on just six MPs. The paper's not quite finished yet, but when it is it will be available from here.
Anyone who disagrees is, of course, free to go to the Public Whip forum and stick the boot in...24 August 2005.
If you blinked, you’d have missed it. But last month saw the largest Conservative backbench rebellion for seven years.
On 19 July, 19 Tory backbenchers voted against the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill. That rebellion topped every other Conservative backbench revolt since September 1998, when forty Conservative MPs opposed the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill.
The Crossrail Bill is a ‘hybrid bill’, which combines both elements of a private bill and a public bill. Hybrid bills are used for projects of national importance where the Government of the day are obliged to take a lead in their strategic development. The last bill to be introduced of this kind was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill over a decade ago.
The Bill’s Second Reading was easily achieved (by 394 votes to 24), not least because the Conservative frontbench supported it – although only 39 Conservative MPs voted in the aye lobby.
Most of the 19 Conservative rebels were defending constituency interests. Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford, described the proposal to construct a 24-hour maintenance depot and sidings in a highly populated area of his constituency as ‘outrageous’. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) and Adam Afriyie (Windsor) would have preferred had the proposed railway ended at Reading, and not Maidenhead. Many other Conservatives expressed concerns about the knock-on effects on rail services in their constituencies.
Eight of the 19 rebels are new MPs: Adam Afriyie, Brian Binley, Philip Davies, James Duddridge, Philip Hollobone, Mark Lancaster, John Penrose and Ben Wallace. The other 11 were: David Amess, Eric Forth, Edward Leigh, Ian Liddell-Grainger, Peter Luff, Owen Paterson, Laurence Robertson, Andrew Rosindell, Bob Spink, Andrew Turner, and Robert Walter.16 August 2005.
Mark Stuart's authorised biography of John Smith has started to attract good media coverage, including appearances on both BBC1 and Radio Five Live on Sunday morning. The Sunday Times ran stories on the secret plan by Neil Kinnock to realign the pound within the Exchange Rate Mechanism - a plan that Smith went to his grave knowing nothing about. Monday's Times has covered the splits between Smith and the modernisers - including a blazing row between Smith and Jack Straw.
The Sunday Express picked up on a reference to Smith's impression of Roy Jenkins. Sadly, there's no link - but it involved Smith repeating a line of a Jenkins speech, in which he wished for Britain to become a 'major ranking power'. Jenkins's speech impediment somewhat changed the meaning...
And Mark has also written a separate paper, based on the PLP minutes of the period, looking at the way Smith managed the parliamentary party during his leadership. It's been submitted to Parliamentary Affairs, and is available to download from here (pdf, 96k).
UPDATE: Also see this piece by Mark for the Guardian, which points out the need for a healer post-Kinnock (Smith), and post-Blair (Brown?).13 June 2005.
Apologies for lack of recent revolts news - but we're much too busy thinking of ways to promote this book, by one of the revolts team, and which is coming out on Monday. A snip at £25.
It's currently being serialised in the Scotsman - although is not available online for some reason. Anyone who needs to contact Mark about the book, try 07913 201975 or email@example.com
Not interested in the life of John Smith? Shame on you! But if for some reason that's true, you could always download our end-of-parliament report on the PLP (pdf, 2.3Mb), which has proved surprisingly popular, despite being 136 pages long...10 June 2005.
Our end-of-parliament report on the PLP is a fairly hefty document (pdf, 2.3M) and it's hardly likely to challenge Harry Potter in the Amazon league tables, but we are getting a remarkably high number of downloads for it, so someone's interested.
As we show in that paper, it's quite common for Hansard to mix up MPs' names, and so the raw division lists need to be taken with some caution. And we might well be in for a bumper crop of such mistakes over the next four years. As well as all the old favourites still being in situ (Woolas, Willis, etc) we've now got Danny Alexander (LibDem) and Douglas Alexander (Labour). Then there's Ian Austin and John Austin, both Labour. Worse still: David Davies (Monmouth), David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden), along with Philip Davies (Shipley), and Quentin Davis (Grantham and Stamford) - all Tories! Then, there is Roger Williams (Brecon), Stephen Williams (Bristol West), and Mark Williams (Ceredigion), who are all LibDems, even before we get to Alan Williams and Betty Williams (both Lab) and Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru). The only saving grace (for us, although not for him) is that one of the Gareth Thomas's has gone!
Anyone arriving here looking for information on backbench Labour rebels - given the new, reduced, size of the government's majority - should start with our end-of-parliament report on the PLP, 2001-2005. It's a fairly hefty file (pdf, 2.3MB) which lists every rebellion undertaken by members of the PLP between 2001 and 2005, all 259 of them. We have yet to do a systematic analysis of Thursday night's winners and losers, but as pointed out in this short piece on the Guardian's election blog, there are 60 backbenchers amongst the PLP who voted against the whip 10 or more times between 2001 and 2005.
UPDATE: There's a good piece in the Independent (7 May) here showing what can be done with the data. Ben Russell points out that 56 of those who voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Bill are back, easily enough to defeat the government. There are also still 36 MPs who rebelled over the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 20 who objected to ID cards, and so on.6 May 2005.
Earlier this morning, Ruth Kelly claimed that Brian Sedgemore – who has just defected from Labour to the Lib Dems – had been ‘completely ill at ease with New Labour for a very long time’. There are 98 bits of evidence of this in our end-of-parliament report on the PLP (pdf, 2.3MB) which lists the 98 occasions when he rebelled against the whip between 2001-2005. This made him the fifth most rebellious Labour MP in the 2001 Parliament.
Sedgemore had been extremely rebellious in voice as well as vote. His last speech in the House of Commons as a Labour MP (before he retired prior to the election) was particularly scathing of the Government’s anti-terrorism bill, and his Second Reading speech hints at his later decision to defect:
Many Members have gone nap on the matter … It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as new Labour’s descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.
I hope that – but doubt whether – ethical principles and liberal thought will triumph tonight over the lazy minds and disengaged consciences that make Labour’s Whips Office look so ridiculous and our Parliament so unprincipled.
It is a foul calamity that we do today. Not since the Act of Settlement 1701 has Parliament usurped the powers of the judiciary and allowed the Executive to lock up people without trial in times of peace. May the Government be damned for it.
Sedgemore had begun the 2001 Parliament in the same way – vehemently opposing the Second Reading of the Government’s Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill (brought in after the September 11th attacks on the United States), claiming that, ‘Not since the panic and hysteria that overcame the British establishment in the aftermath of the French Revolution has the House considered such draconian legislation’, and describing the legislation as ‘a rag bag of the most coercive measures that the best mandarins minds from the Home Office can produce’.
Since his election in February 1974, he cast a total of 157 votes against the various Labour Governments: 47 between 1974 and 1979; just 12 between 1997 and 2001; and 98 between 2001 and 2005. In terms of votes cast against a Labour government this makes him the sixth most rebellious Labour MP of all time.26 April 2005.
Channel 4's Fact Check website has been in touch again, about a Lib Dem claim that Valerie Davey, who was the Labour MP for Bristol West until Parliament ended, DID NOT VOTE (as the Lib Dems very helpfully put it) over Iraq. In fact, Ms Davey rebelled twice on the issue, in both February and March 2003, in the latter rebellion participating in the largest revolt against the whip since the Corn Laws. In March 2003, having voted against the Government over the cross-party anti-war amendment (division 117), she then abstained on the Government's own motion (division 118), as did many other Labour MPs. It is this latter vote which the Lib Dems concentrate on, completely ignoring the vote immediately before it. This is at least as disingenuous (if not more) than the Cornish Conservative leaflet that the Lib Dems rightly complained about (see 5 April, below). We list all the Iraq rebels - on all the votes - in our paper on Iraq here (pdf, 532k).
UPDATE: The Bristol Evening Post, one of the local papers in Bristol, has carried a story about this dispute. It's not available online, but a copy can be read here (jpg, 272k)
UPDATE 2: This story is rumbling on in the press in Bristol.10 April 2005.
We've been passed an election leaflet put out by the Conservative candidate for North Cornwall, Mark Formosa, in which he cites some work by one of us as the 'information source' for the following claim: 'The Liberal Democrats have voted with Labour and against Cornwall on two thirds of all Parliamentary legislation'. Now, we've no wish to get involved in election disputes - hardly our role - but it is possible to quibble over this a teeny-weeny bit.
The first problem is that, whatever else we are, we are most assuredly NOT the source for any claim that any party voted against (or for) Cornwall in any way! One of us has a Cornish mother - from North Cornwall, as it happens - and so is particularly touchy about this. (Just for a cheap laugh here's a picture of a young Cowley, with even younger brother, playing on Newquay beach. Proof that we only went to the beach when it was freezing cold is here).
The claim refers to a point made in Revolts and Rebellions (Politico's, 2002 - and now a real bargain at just a tenner!) that during the 1997-2001 period the Lib Dems voted with Labour on the principle of just over two-thirds of all legislation (backing Labour on 68% of 2nd and 3rd reading votes). That bit of any claim is fair enough - but we make no judgment on whether this was or was not good (for anyone, not just Cornwall).
But it is also worth pointing that the 68% figure is for the votes on the principle of legislation only: Lib Dems were much less likely to vote with the Government on other votes (such as at Report stage): with the result that between 1997 and 2001 they voted with Labour 557 times and against Labour 556 times – an almost perfect split. Moreover, it is also worth realising that the Lib Dems have become noticeably less likely to support Labour since 2001. We published the most recent figures here (pdf, 32k) and they show that in the last session (2003-4) the Lib Dems voted against Labour in 73% of votes, and with the government in just 27%. They are now much more likely to be voting with the Conservatives than with Labour. So the claim made on the leaflet is both somewhat disingenuous and out-of-date. Other than that, it's just fine.5 April 2005.
An MP dumped from Parliament for not sticking to the party line?! Who’d’ve thought it? If this is going to be what we demand from our MPs, then there's more than just poor old Howard Flight who should be watching their backs. Most of the Lib Dems are probably safe, since there's very few of them who have rebelled very often, although Mike Hancock, the most rebellious Lib Dem – who has voted against the party line on 22 occasions – might be in a bit of trouble. Of the Tories, there’s at least three – Douglas Hogg (whose voted against his whip on 38 occasions), Richard Shepherd (33), and Bob Spink (23) – whose record is hardly slavish, along with another 71 who have defied the whips at some point . And as for Labour… well, with over 200 rebels since 2001, there frankly wouldn’t be many Labour MPs left if the same sort of demands were made of them. How many of the following – all still standing at the next election as Labour candidates – can be thought to agree with large parts of the Government’s programme? Jeremy Corbyn? John McDonnell? Dr Lynne Jones? Bob Marshall-Andrews? Bob Wareing? Alan Simpson? Dennis Skinner? Kelvin Hopkins? Neil Gerrard? Mark Fisher? Diane Abbott? And they’re just the most rebellious. Comparisons with, say, George Galloway – who both had the whip withdrawn and who was then expelled from Labour – are a bit facile, not least because of the difference between the nature of Galloway’s remarks and those made by Flight, and the leeway previously given to Galloway prior to his expulsion. If it sets a precedent, Howard’s move could represent a serious ratcheting-up of party discipline in the UK.
Note: Yes, I know this is about a week too late. But better late than never, surely?2 April 2005.
In his interview with Cosmo – the one that kick-started the recent debate about abortion – Michael Howard said: ‘In the past I voted for a reduction to 22 weeks and I would be prepared to go down to 20, but not 12’. This confuses us a bit – since the voting records do not appear to support Howard’s claim.
In our earlier briefing paper (pdf, 51k) on Howard’s voting, we noted how he’d voted for 24 weeks. This was as part of the voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill on 24 April 1990. The six crucial votes are divisions 168-173. MPs started with a vote on 24 weeks. Howard voted yes. Then there was a vote on 18 weeks. Howard voted no. Then 28. Howard voted no. Then 20. Howard voted no. Then 26. Howard voted no. The crucial vote comes last: it was division 173, held at 12.17am (so in the real world, on 25 April). It was on a 22 week time limit. It was the one decided by the narrowest majority (just 46 votes between aye and no). And Howard voted no, against 22 weeks.
(For the record, both Blair and Kennedy initially voted for 24 weeks. Blair then voted against any reduction below that - so against 18, 20, and 22, but didn’t vote on the attempts to raise it above 24. Kennedy's voting was almost the opposite: he didn't vote on two of the attempts to lower the age - to 18 and 20 - and he opposed attempts to raise it to 28 and 26 weeks, but (unlike Howard) he did vote to lower it to 22 weeks.)
There were then three other votes, on different aspects to the Bill (divisions 174-175). But none were to do with time limits. And then there was the vote on whether to add the clause, as amended, to the Bill (division 176). As someone opposed to 24 weeks, Kennedy voted against this. Blair and Howard both supported it.
This makes Michael Howard’s claim confusing. We are not aware of any votes on abortion since then, and (again, as far as we are aware) earlier votes wouldn't have given him the chance to vote for 22 weeks either. The Bruinvels Bill in 1987 was for 24 weeks; David Alton's – also in 1987 - was for 18 weeks. It is, of course, quite possible that there is some vote somewhere in which Michael Howard did vote for 22 weeks, and we are just not aware of it (or that we've misunderstood one of the votes). But at the moment, we can’t find it. Can anyone help us out?
UPDATE: The Guardian have picked up this story, and it appears as if Howard was mistaken, and has not voted for 22 weeks.17 March 2005.
Nothing much to report on yesterday's Second Reading debate on the Constitutional Reform Bill. The Tories moved a reasoned amendment, which only they supported (the Lib Dems backed Labour) and there was no vote on Second Reading itself. The only formal rebellion came over the Bill's programme motion, and that involved just one MP: the Labour backbencher Denzil Davies voting against. And yet, informally, the Minister, Chris Leslie, still got a pasting from Labour backbenchers in the debate, indicating that there might be trouble ahead. The Government also conceded an extra day's debate for the Bill's Committee Stage, some of which (because the Bill is a constitutional measure) will be taken on the Floor of the House.
The night also saw Robert Jackson casting his first votes as a Labour MP. The last time Jackson voted in the Commons, on 12 January, he voted against the Government on the Programme Motion on the Child Benefit Bill as a 'loyal' Conservative MP; by the following Monday, he was voting 'loyally' with his new party on the Constitutional Reform Bill.18 January 2005.
Despite being described by the Guardian's Backbencher as 'punishing', most of our Christmas quiz questions caused no difficulties. The Labour MP who has rebelled most often since 2001 is Jeremy Corbyn (Q1); the Commons whip who has served in the same post since 1997 is Tommy McAvoy (Q3); the two Labour members of the 2001 intake now serving in the Whips' office are James Purnell and Tom Watson (Q4); the Labour MP who makes a habit of voting in both lobbies to register an abstention is David Taylor (Q5); the two Conservative MPs who abstained on the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill were Peter Duncan and Ian Taylor (Q7); and the issue which recently saw all three party leaders voting in the losing division lobby as well as splitting the Lib Dems right down the middle was fox hunting (Q10).
Some (normally very clever) people couldn’t work out the identity of the MP who said, after attending one of Charles Clarke's seminars on top-up fees: 'I now appreciate a little better how Maoist re-education worked all those years ago' (Q2). The answer is John Grogan. (Try going to the Parliament search engine and typing in ‘Maoist re-education’…). More problematic were the most rebellious Conservative and Lib Dem MPs, with plenty of people going for Ann Widdecombe and Lembit Opik respectively, almost certainly because that’s who the Public Whip lists. But we asked for the most rebellious MPs, whereas (for all its excellent qualities) what the Public Whip provides is a record of those occasions when MPs have deviated from the majority of their party – which is something else altogether. As a brief glance at either of their voting records will confirm, most of the occasions when Opik or Widdecombe have deviated from the majority of their colleagues have been on free votes, most obviously (and repeatedly) over hunting in both cases. The most rebellious Conservative MP since the 2001 election has in fact been Douglas Hogg (Q6); the most rebellious Lib Dem is Mike Hancock (Q9).
More difficult still was Q8: how many Conservative MPs voted against their party whip over ID cards? Nearly everyone went for 10, which was the number to support Douglas Hogg’s Reasoned Amendment at Second Reading of the Bill, and then to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading itself. But, as we explained in our briefing paper on the vote, one other Conservative – Henry Bellingham – defied his frontbench to vote in the aye lobby, in favour of the Bill, and against the Reasoned Amendment, when his frontbench were abstaining. The total number to vote against their party whip therefore was 11, not 10.
Feel free to write in and complain, accusing us of mind-numbing pedantry. It won’t make any difference to the result – judge’s decision is final and all of that – but it might make you feel better.7 January 2005.