For all that backbench behaviour has changed over the post-war era – with MPs becoming more rebellious, less willing to be lobby fodder – there has been one constant: rebellion has always remained the exception, cohesion the norm. Whilst the exact rate of rebellion has varied from year to year and parliament to parliament, the majority of divisions (votes) in the Commons have seen complete unity amongst Government backbenchers.
Yet so far this Parliament the opposite has been true: rebellion has become the norm, cohesion the exception. Out of the first 110 divisions in the Commons since Parliament resumed, there have been rebellions by government MPs in 59. That is a rate of rebellion of 54%, simply without parallel in the post-war era. This briefing note (pdf, 128k) explains the composition of those rebellions and puts them into some historical context.
One nugget that we spotted, when going through our end-of-session calculations last year, was the extent to which the Conservative frontbench voted against a mere four bills at Second or Third Reading in the last session -- just 15% of government legislation. This is part of a parliament-on-parliament decline since 1997. We provide the details in this very short briefing note (pdf).
The note's been written up in today's Times. The Conservative explanation is that this is all Gordon Brown's fault: "He wants to manoeuvre us into a position where we are seen to be voting against motherhood and apple pie. So rather than vote against the Bill as a whole we try to change it later. There is a lot in the Equality Bill that we did not like at all, but they would have loved it had we been put in a position where we were opposing equality. Brown has also been trying to get us to oppose the 50p tax rate. But we won’t play his game.”
We think there's something in this. But, as our note shows, the decline began before Gordon Brown became Prime Minister: the Conservatives opposed just 21 and 22 percent of legislation in the 2005 and 2006 sessions of this parliament, when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. So there's also something else going on.5 January 2010.
* Labour MPs defied their whips on 74 occasions, a rebellion in 30 percent of divisions, exactly the same as the preceding session’s figure.
* The Parliament as a whole is currently averaging a rate of 27 percent, on course to become the most rebellious in the post-war era. The current record is 21 percent, set by the 2001 Parliament.
* In absolute terms, that record has already been achieved; the 2005 Parliament has already seen more revolts against the whip by members of the governing party than any other post-war parliament.
* A total of 102 Labour MPs voted against their whips during the session; the total number of Labour rebels under Brown now stands at 137.
* Rebellion remains concentrated amongst a small group of Labour MPs. The top ten rebels in the 2008-09 session accounted for marginally under half (46%) of the total rebellious votes cast; the top 20 rebels accounted for exactly two-thirds (66%) of the total.
* John McDonnell took the top spot as the most rebellious Labour MP in the fourth session, clocking up 46 dissenting votes.
* He was closely followed by Jeremy Corbyn on 45. Corbyn’s total number of votes against the whip for the Brown administration alone has now passed the 100 mark, with more than 400 in total since 1997.
* The government suffered two defeats during the session as a result of its backbenchers defying the whip – on Gurkhas and Parliamentary Standards.
And one fact not in the paper: The Parliament as a whole has now seen six defeats, caused by backbench dissent, on whipped votes. No Parliament with a majority of over 60 has seen this many defeats in the post-war era.
As normal at this time of year, as we get yet another Queen’s speech, we have compiled our end-of-session report on the behaviour of the PLP in the preceding year. It contains a mixture of good and bad news for the whips. Here are some of the scores on the doors:
• Gordon Brown’s first complete parliamentary session as Prime Minister, saw Labour MPs defy their whips on 103 occasions. That compares to 96 occasions in Tony Blair’s whole first Parliament.
• A total of 103 was also greater than the number of rebellions in a single session by members of the governing party during any session for over 30 years.
• As a percentage of divisions, this constituted a Labour rebellion in 30%, ranking fourth during the 60-plus sessions since 1945.
• The rate of rebellion for the Parliament as a whole is greater than one rebellion in every four divisions – meaning it remains on course to see the highest rate of rebellion of the post-war era.
• The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty accounted for more than a quarter of the rebellious votes cast during the session.
• As usual, the good news for the whips was that most of the rebellions to take place during the session were not large: the mean was almost exactly eight, the median was just four, and almost three-quarters of the revolts consisted of fewer than ten Labour MPs.
• The largest, on 4 November 2008, during a debate on the Employment Bill; saw 45 Labour MPs vote against their whips. Every session since 1997 had seen at least one rebellion of a larger size by Labour MPs against their whips.
• A total of 104 Labour MPs voted against their whips during the session, and a total of 107 have already voted against their whips during Gordon Brown’s Premiership.
• Of the 50 most rebellious Labour MPs to vote against the whips during the Blair premiership, all but two have now rebelled under Gordon Brown’s leadership.
• The top 20 rebels accounted for 58% of the total rebellious votes cast.
• The most rebellious Labour MP was (yet again) Jeremy Corbyn.
The full report contains even more fun – along with full lists of every rebellion, and data on every Labour MP to defy the whip since 2005. What more can you possibly want?
After weeks of mind-blowing dullness, the only interesting vote of the entire Lisbon ratification is approaching. Most focus will be on whether the Government will be able to defeat calls for a referendum (answer:yes), whether they would still have won had the Lib Dems voted for a referendum instead of officially abstaining (answer: probably yes, although it might be a close run thing), along with discussion of the size of any splits within the various parliamentary parties (we expect to see proportionally larger splits within the Lib Dems than within Labour, which in turn will be larger than among the Conservatives).
There is, however, one other interesting angle to take, which is to compare the
stances taken by particular individuals in 1993 with those they will take in 2008. That's what we do, in this short briefing paper (pdf, 35k). There could be up to 70 Conservative MPs voting for a position this week which is exactly the opposite of that they took on the Maastricht treaty.
We have been publishing regular updates on the Lib Dems voting for several years now, and have tracked a remarkable change in the party’s behaviour. Having previously been more likely to vote with the Government than against it at the beginning of the Blair Premiership, leading to accusations that the party was in bed with the government, the Lib Dems then transformed into a bona fide party of Opposition.
Evidence from the most recent sessions - available from this short briefing paper (pdf, 68k) - reveals that that transformation has continued apace. The session saw hostility to Labour at a new high, with the party voting with Labour in just 12% of divisions, and with the Conservatives in 71% of votes. The figures for the votes on the principle of government legislation were even more dramatic, with the Lib Dems supporting just one piece of Government legislation at Second or Third Reading (voting for the Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Bill), voting against the principle of the government’s legislation in 94% of the relevant votes.
We don’t draw conclusions as to what’s driving this transformation. We posted a very short version of the findings at Lib Dem voice this morning, and lots of Lib Dems (as well as being very defensive about the findings) are convinced that it’s not them that’s changed, but Labour. Maybe. But whatever the cause, the effect it pretty dramatic.14 January 2008.
There were a total of four Labour revolts over the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on 9 January, as well as splits within both the other two main parties. The Labour revolts involved a total of 44 rebels, of whom 32 were voting against the Brown government for the first time. We now make it 56 Labour MPs who have voted against the whip since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. This short briefing paper (pdf, 40k) lists the rebels.
To mark the second anniversary of David Cameron's leadership tomorrow, we've produced a short briefing paper, giving an analysis of the voting of his MPs over the last two years.
None of the overall figures for rebellion are especially worrying for the Conservative whips. Conservatives are currently rebelling less often than Labour MPs and in smaller numbers; although a slightly larger proportion of Conservative parliamentarians has rebelled compared to Labour, few of these have cast more than a handful of dissenting votes, and even the most rebellious would find himself high up the PLP’s league table of troublemakers.
But there have been some striking divisions on free votes, and we find that more than half of the 2005 intake have rebelled already.
There's also some interesting stats on the stance of the Conservative frontbench - they allow nearly four-fifths of Government legislation through on-the-nod, without a vote at second or third reading. In this parliament, they've contested the principle of just 21% of government bills.
This is significantly down on the 32% average for the whole of the 2001 Parliament, which was itself down on the 41% in the 1997 Parliament. This downward trend began before David Cameron took office, but it has become much more noticeable under his leadership.5 December 2007.
As another parliamentary session gets underway, here (pdf, 278k) is our briefing note on the one that's just finished, listing every Labour rebellion.
After the record-breaking events of the first session of the 2005 Parliament, the second session could seem like a bit of a let-down. From a rebellion in 28 percent of divisions – which was a post-war record for the first session of a parliament – the rate of rebellion fell in 2006-7 to 20 percent. And after the four Commons defeats in 2005-6 – also a post-war record for a government with a majority of more than 60 – the 2006-7 session saw normal service resumed, with the Government winning every whipped vote.
Yet the 2006-7 session still saw a Government backbench rebellion in one in five divisions, the fourth highest rate in the New Labour era (behind 2005-06, 2004-05 and 2001-02) and the seventh highest since 1979. The rate of rebellion for the Parliament as a whole remains one rebellion in every four divisions, which means the Parliament is still on course to see the highest rate of rebellion of the post-war era. The session saw 122 Labour MPs defy their whip (marginally up on the 114 in the preceding session), and the revolts over the renewal of Trident produced the largest rebellion ever by Labour MPs over their own government's defence policy. The 2006-07 session may have seen Labour dissent fall back slightly, but it did not see it vanish.8 November 2007.
Given the depth and breadth of dissent by backbench Labour MPs during the last ten years, and especially given the problems the issue has caused for previous Labour leaders, it is something of a surprise to discover that the issue of Europe did not produce any large-scale Labour rebellions during the Blair era. At least on the Labour benches, Europe has been very much the dog that didn’t bark.
Now, however, there is talk of a possible significant Labour revolt on the subject. The Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson is claiming to have the support of more than 120 fellow Labour MPs in calling for a referendum on the latest European Treaty. This short briefing paper looks at the rebellions over the last decade, along with the identity of the rebels, and considers the possibility of Prime Minister Brown encountering a large backbench revolt over the European treaty.
Its conclusion is simple: if Ian Davidson has secured 120 MPs prepared to defy their whips, then he must have secured the backing of an awful lot of Labour backbenchers who have previously not expressed any misgivings about the issue of Europe.12 September 2007.
Most new governments enjoy a relatively peaceful time with their backbenchers when first in power. And at first sight, this appears to have been true of the new Brown government. The first month of Gordon Brown’s premiership produced a handful of small backbench rebellions in the House of Commons, but none were especially large or worrying.
Yet when compared to other post-war Prime Ministers, it is noticeable how many rebellions Brown suffered in his first month, how large they were, how quickly they occurred, and how many MPs they involved. In all of these four areas, the Brown Government has already set post-war records for backbench dissent.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 45k) gives the scores on the doors.26 July 2007.
In all the discussion of Gordon Brown's offer of government positions to Lib Dems, no one's pointed out just how hostile the Lib Dems have been to the Government recently.
We have been publishing regular updates on the Lib Dems voting for several years now, and a remarkable change has come over the party. Having previously been more likely to vote with the Government than against it at the beginning of the Blair Premiership, the Lib Dems have now long been transformed into a bona fide party of Opposition. Our summary of the 2001 Parliament is here (pdf, 93k).
Our briefing note (pdf, 53k) on the last complete session, 2005-2006, shows that that transformation has continued. The Lib Dems voted with Labour in just 21% of whipped votes and against them in the remaining 79%. They are hardly ready coalition material at the moment.21 June 2007.
The first ever backbench rebellion against a Labour government took place over defence policy. The Rev Herbert Dunnico, the then Labour MP for Consett, voted against the government's programme of light cruiser construction - the Trident of 1924.
Here, in anticipation of Wednesday's vote, is a short briefing paper (pdf, 71k) analysing the current rebellion. It discusses the scale of the likely rebellion facing the Government and explains some of the background. It also identifies a list of likely rebels and gives some simple historical comparisons.
Amongst other things, we point out that if - as we all expect - Wednesday's vote is only carried thanks to support from the Opposition, it will then mean that the Prime Minister has enacted his key foreign policy decision (Iraq, in 2003) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition; he has enacted a key plank of his third term domestic agenda (schools reform, in 2006) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition; and he will have enacted his key defence policy decision (Trident, 2007) thanks only to the votes of the Opposition. This, despite enjoying comfortable to landslide majorities for his entire time in office.
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: This is the way to do it! Note the copious references to the source...13 March 2007.
Wednesday 28 February saw the largest Labour backbench rebellion so far this session when 51 Labour backbenchers (including tellers) voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Neil Gerrard during the Report stage of the Offender Management Bill. This short briefing paper (pdf, 44k) examines the rebels - and the pattern of rebellion that enabled the government to survive rebellions involving more than 50 of its MPs.
For the record, there have now been 19 Labour rebellions so far this session, averaging just nine MPs per rebellion, a figure likely to be boosted by the impending Trident rebellion on 14 March. More on that later…5 March 2007.
As promised (threatened?), here's our end of session report (pdf, 1M) for the first session. The story’s pretty straight-forward:
• 95 rebellions in total, involving 114 Labour MPs
• More rebellions as a % of votes than in any other first session since the war
• More defeats than any government with a majority of 60+ has managed in one session since the war
• 89% of the rebels have ‘form’ – including all of the most rebellious 56 from the last parliament
• Leadership candidate John McDonnell is the most rebellious Labour MP, just nudging out Jeremy Corbyn
Also: one stat that’s not in the report, but which will be of interest given the nature of the Queen’s Speech – 54% of all the rebellions were on Home Office matters, including all four defeats. Trouble ahead, wethinks.
UPDATE: The Independent have done a good piece on the paper, linking it to the upcoming Anti-Terror legislation, as have the Guardian. The Independent's diary has also picked up on our earlier work on the new 2005 Tory intake and their propensity to defy the whip. They quote Philip Davies as saying "David is relaxed about us having different views on certain issues." We bet that such a relaxed line doesn't last very long in government...
UPDATE 2: Ex-whip Tom Watson is not approving of the behaviour of his would be leader.
UPDATE 3: Turns out our paper got quite wide coverage. Not all of it is in online places, but those that are include Ben Bogan's blog, The Daily Telegraph, the politics.co.uk website, Bill Jones's website, and the Islamic Republic News Agency.13 November 2006.
The high profile vote on Iraq on 31 October obscured another interesting division which took place on the same day. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries introduced a ten-minute rule bill that, among other things, would have reduced the time limit for legal termination of pregnancy from 24 to 21 weeks. Her bill failed by 108 votes to 187. The subject of abortion used to be a perennial topic of debate and vote within the Commons – there were, for example, 15 attempts to reform the abortion law between 1969 and 1987 – although the topic has somewhat faded from the political radar in recent years, since the last reform in 1990. Dorries’ bill stood no realistic chance of success – even if she had won the October vote, the bill would not have reached the statute book, such is the ease with which controversial private members’ bills can be blocked – but it was perhaps a sign that the issue is about to return to the political agenda.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 42k) looks at the voting patterns displayed in the vote, and at the way men and women MPs behaved.8 November 2006.
One of the standard rules of parliamentary reform is that there is an inverse relationship between the importance of any reform and the amount of media coverage it attracts. The decision to allow MPs to make a point of order during a division without wearing a hat attracted considerable media coverage; the introduction of automatic programming of legislation – which has had real consequences for the scrutiny of bills – came into being without almost any external discussion. So it was on 1 November 2006, when MPs voted on a series of reforms to the legislative process and to members’ allowances. Many of the changes were passed without any discussion (or even mention) at all outside the House, including the wider use of the Special Standing Committee procedure for the consideration of Government bills, a reform which could do more to improve the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of bills than any other reform in the last twenty years.
Several of the changes – including the wider use of SSCs – passed without a vote. But in addition, MPs divided on four other issues, summarised in this short briefing paper (pdf, 44k).3 November 2006.
In April, we produced a conference paper, summarises and discussing the rebellions seen so far in Labour’s third term for the annual PSA conference. We’ve just updated it, for the biannual Conference of Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Scholars, which took place last weekend, and it’s available from here (pdf, 170k), and summarises the state of play by the summer recess.
The headline figures have not changed much. We are currently seeing a Labour rebellion in 27% of votes, higher than in any other first session since 1945, and higher than in 1992-3, when the Maastricht rebellions were causing John Major such headaches, when rebellions were running at 23%. The 80 separate backbench revolts, have involved 112 Labour MPs, nearly all of whom had rebelled against the Government before: the correlation between the number of votes cast against the whip in the last parliament and now is currently running at 0.91. Whatever else is going on, it is not an uprising of virgins.1 August 2006.
Very belatedly, as a result of masses of essay and exam marking, here (pdf, 36k) is our briefing paper on the final day that the Education and Inspections Bill spent in Report and Third Reading. Perhaps the most useful part of the paper is that it lists all of those to vote against any part of the Bill.
One of the oddities it notes (and which was pointed out to us by an observant reader of this site) is that one of the rebels at the bill's Third Reading was Ian Stewart. It wouldn't be the first time he's rebelled (he did so on three occasions during the 1997 Parliament) and therefore this might not be all that shocking - except that he was (and appears to still be) the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary.
The scale of backbench dissent experienced over the last few years has forced the Government to relax the conventions of collective responsibility as they apply to PPSs somewhat – beginning with Iraq, where PPSs who failed to back the Government were not immediately dismissed as would have been normal, through to the recent pronouncements of both Ashok Kumar (on the leadership) and Stephen Pound (on Prescott) – but if Stewart’s vote is genuine, and not simply a Hansard mistake, then it will be a qualitative step up in what is considered acceptable. The idea that a senior minister’s own PPS could vote against one of that minister’s key bills and yet remain in post would be a novel constitutional development if it turns out that this is what has happened.
It's possible it's just a Hansard mistake - these things have been known - but so far we've seen no correction.
UPDATE: We've just spotted a small mistake in the paper, and which alters the figures for the numbers of each party who voted on Third Reading. We've changed the paper accordingly, but it doesn't alter the basic facts: the Bill did not require the support of the Conservatives, but it did require support from Opposition MPs (Conservatives AND the DUP).
UPDATE 2: We've also been told that Ian Stewart did in fact resign immediately before the vote, in order to vote against the Bill. Note that Jacqui Smith's PPS, Martin Salter, did the same in the run up to Second Reading. To lose one PPS from the department might be considered a misfortune...7 June 2006.
The first day of the Education and Inspections Bill's Report Stage only saw one revolt - but what a whopper! This short briefing paper (pdf, 43k) examines the rebels. Of the 69, only one was defying his whip for the first time.
A reminder: the comparisons for tonight's Third Reading vote are:
* if it consists of more than 30 Labour MPs voting against their whip, it will be the largest third-reading revolt since Blair came to power, beating the numbers involved in the rebellion at the third reading of the prevention of terrorism bill in February 2005;
* more than 37 MPs, and it will be the largest since Labour first entered government in 1924; and
* if it consists of more than 41, it will also be larger than the Conservative rebellion against the third reading of the Maastricht bill, on May 20 1993.
Third Reading won't see as large a rebellion as yesterday's -- they never are - but the chances of a record-breaker still seem high.24 May 2006.
This briefing paper (pdf, 48k) sets out some simple comparisons for both Report Stage and Third Reading rebellions over the Education and Inspections Bill, as well as providing a list of MPs to watch. As it shows, the possibility of a record-breaking rebellion at Third Reading is very real.23 May 2006.
This week saw the annual conference of the Political Studies Association, which this year was held in Reading. It included a series of papers dealing with parliaments, mostly organised by the PSA’s Specialist Group on Parliaments and Legislatures.
They included this paper (pdf, 168k) by two of the people behind this site. It summarises and discusses the rebellions seen so far in Labour’s third term. The headline story is easily summarised. We are currently seeing a Labour rebellion in 29% of votes. How many other first sessions have seen a level of rebellion that high? Answer: none. Rebellions in 1992-3, when the Maastricht rebellions were causing John Major such headaches, were running at 23%. We’ve also seen four defeats so far. How many governments with a majority of 60-plus have seen as many defeats? Answer: again none. Major’s government suffered just two defeats in its first term.
The same panel also saw a paper by Meg Russell and Maria Sciara of the Constitution Unit on why the Government gets defeated in the House of Lords. They show comprehensively that the answer’s usually got nothing to do with the supposedly lower levels of partisanship in the Lords or the much-vaunted crossbenchers. It’s all about the Liberal Democrats…6 April 2006.
Wednesday 29 March saw four separate backbench Labour rebellions, along with two Conservative revolts, as MPs debated a series of Lords amendments to the Identity Cards Bill and the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill.
This very short briefing paper (pdf, 20k) details the rebels and the rebellions. As a result, by the Easter recess, 29 per cent of all votes in this Parliament have so far witnessed Labour rebellions (61 out of 208 divisions), averaging 11 MPs per rebellion.30 March 2006.
Concern is growing among Labour MPs about the Government’s possible plans to replace Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine system. By mid-December 2005 (pdf, 73k), a total of 56 Labour backbenchers had expressed their doubts in three separate anti-Trident early day motions. As of 28 March 2006, that figure stood at 80.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 53k) lists the MPs to have expressed doubts so far, and examines their voting behaviour to date.29 March 2006.
On Tuesday 14 March the House of Commons voted by 476 votes to 63 in favour of a ban on the cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails, but with exemptions for working dogs. A later amendment introducing a total ban then failed by just nine votes (267 votes to 278).
All three major parties allowed free votes, votes that revealed considerable divisions within their ranks, with each party failing in one of the votes to achieve a ‘party vote’ (the phrase used for situations in which at least 90% of MPs vote in the same lobby). This short briefing paper (pdf, 36k) details the divisions on both the free and the later whipped votes.
PS. There's no reason it's a bit late - other than that we have other things to do sometimes...22 March 2006.
As a postscript to the Second Reading of the Education and Inspections Bill, here's a very short briefing paper? (pdf, 65k) - containing a very colourful table - tracking the voting behaviour of those Labour MPs who signed up to the Alternative White Paper. It'll come as no shock to discover that those who stuck with the rebellion were those with plenty of 'form'; those persuaded by the government's concessions were the less rebellious.21 March 2006.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the announcement of Harold Wilson’s resignation – and Wilson would recognise some of the difficulties Tony Blair is having with his backbenchers. An exasperated Wilson addressed the PLP on 2 March 1967 and complained about their behaviour, employing a famous canine metaphor: ‘Every dog is allowed one bite’, he said, ‘but a different view is taken of a dog that goes on biting all the time’. He warned them: ‘He may not get his licence renewed when it falls due’. The allusion has lost something since the UK abolished its dog licensing scheme, but anyway, there was little evidence that Wilson’s threat did much good even then – the dogs just kept biting. Blair’s issued similar warnings in the past – and no-one’s taken much notice of him either.
Last night’s rebellions were the largest backbench rebellion so far this Parliament, as well as the largest on a programme motion since the procedure was introduced. They also saw Tony Blair carrying a government bill only because of Conservative support for the first time since 1997 - although as we pointed out (pdf, 32k) a few days ago, he is hardly the first Labour Prime Minister to do this.
Our short briefing paper (pdf, 62k) provides a more detailed analysis of the rebellions.
UPDATE: Despite Martin Salter's kind suggestion, we went with a different title...16 March 2006.
On 28 February (below), we wrote:
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.
And that now looks as if that is exactly what is going to happen, with the government facing an unholy alliance of Labour rebels and the Conservative frontbench. This short briefing paper (32k) details previous rebellions faced by the Government over its programming or timetabling motions. They've faced a rebellion of 40 before on this sort of vote (but when they had the majority to cope with it), and a total of 49 Labour MPs have voted against the government on this sort of issue before.
As always with these things, MPs may pull back from the brink (it's quite something to hand control of the parliamentary agenda to the Opposition), but the Government cannot be confident of victory. The numbers are there for a defeat, if Labour MPs decide to go for it.14 March 2006.
Unless something miraculous occurs between now and the Second Reading of the Education and Inspections Bill it looks as if the Bill will receive its Second Reading only as a result of Conservative support – with the Labour rebellion large enough to defeat the Government if the Conservatives opposed. Cue lots of talk of Ramsay MacBlair.
Yet should Tony Blair win Wednesday’s vote as a result of Conservative support, it will not be the first time a piece of Labour legislation has been delivered thanks to the Tories. This short briefing paper (pdf, 32k) details other occasions on which Labour governments have relied on Conservative support to enact their legislation, in the face of rebellions from within their own ranks.
Confronted with accusations that he is the 21st Century’s Ramsay MacDonald, Blair will be able to respond that he is in fact merely doing something that all his predecessors have done – and that if it was good enough for Clement Attlee, it is good enough for him.
In the run up to the second reading of the Education and and Inspections Bill on 15 March, we will be doing a couple of briefing papers, looking at the likely rebellion and its possible consequences. Our first is a short briefing paper (pdf, 72k) looking at previous large Labour rebellions at second reading. As the paper shows, if the rebellion is of the size currently estimated - around 40-60 MPs - it will rank as one of the largest by Labour MPs against the second reading of a government bill since the party first entered government in 1924.8 March 2006.
Somewhat belatedly, this briefing paper (pdf, 88k) is our analysis of last week's votes over smoking. It covers the splits within the Tories and the clear generational effects - with newer MPs being much more concerned with the health of workers/willing to stick their nose into things that don't concern them (delete according to your prejudices). And it identifies the one Labour MP who felt so strongly about the issue that he cast his first ever dissenting vote against the Government.
REQUEST: There's just one bit of the paper about which we are unsure. The Bill's Third Reading saw a group of 21 Tories oppose, whilst 25 (including Andrew Lansley) voted for. But was this a whipped vote? We think so - but we are not 100% sure. Any information gratefully received (in confidence) to firstname.lastname@example.org February 2006.
There are doubtless some relieved whips this morning, after yesterday’s ID Cards votes proved something of an anti-climax. The largest revolt last night consisted of 20 Labour MPs, along with three much smaller revolts (of two, two and one; short briefing paper here, pdf, 18k). Even this, however, took the PLP past another historical landmark. Last night saw the 397th, 398th, 399th, and 400th rebellions by Labour MPs since Labour came to power in 1997.
More importantly, keeping the rebellion to this level was only achieved as a result of granting various concessions to the rebels. Before the votes, they conceded that there would have to be a fresh vote in both Houses of Parliament before any cards became compulsory, and then, during the debate, they accepted an amendment from Frank Dobson requiring six-monthly reports on the cost of ID cards. Dobson’s amendment defused what could have been a more serious rebellion over costs, had the Government merely tried to overturn the Lords amendment delaying the introduction of identity cards until the full costs were set out. These concessions limited the rebellion to a core of out-and-out opponents (of the 20 who voted against last night, 18 had rebelled on Second Reading) and were enough to persuade less determined opponents to support the Government or to abstain.
This – along with today’s free vote on smoking, and the string of concessions on the Education Bill – may be a sign that the Government has woken up to the realities of governing with a small majority.14 February 2006.
Two years ago today, the Government managed - just - to get its way on the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill, by a majority of five. Also, on the same day this website was launched. So happy birthday to us!
Two years on, and they find themselves in trouble over education again; 91 Labour MPs having signed up to the rebel Alternative White Paper. This short briefing paper (pdf, 28k) - our birthday present to you, as it were - shows how all but six of the 91 have rebelled against the government before; almost half having done so since May 2005.27 January 2006.
Ever since George Galloway went into the Celebrity Big Brother in order to bring politics to the masses there have been complaints about what he's been missing at Westminster.
In total, he's missed 24 divisions in the House of Commons. Of these, nine occurred in the past two days concerning the Committee stage of the Government of Wales Bill. They talk of little else in Bethnal Green and Bow, apparently. And even the much–publicised division that Galloway missed on 12 January concerning the Crossrail Bill was merely a technical motion creating an extra Select Committee stage, a division that received almost unanimous cross-party support.
Judge for yourself. Here (pdf, 24k) is a list of the votes he missed.25 January 2006.
The possibility of the Government getting its legislation through on the back of Conservative votes has led to much talk of the Prime Minister as a potential Ramsay MacDonald figure (‘Ramsay MacBlair’). It is not a historical comparison that stands up to much serious examination, not least because the likelihood of the Conservatives (indeed, any Conservatives) agreeing to serve in a government led by Tony Blair – as they did with MacDonald – has to be almost microscopic.
But still, the possibility of the Government gaining some of its key legislation as a result of Conservative support is a very real one. This short briefing paper (pdf, 60k) looks at the recent voting patterns of the Conservatives. It identifies two different measures of consensus – the 68 per cent consensus that exists between the two major parties on the principle of legislation, and the five per cent consensus that exists between them on all votes. It also shows the difficulties that a Conservative leader might have in asking Conservative MPs to start trooping through the lobbies in support of the Government.
Just three days into the New Year - and before Parliament has resumed - and it's been announced that John Hutton is writing to the MPs of the 100 areas with the highest number of Incapacity Benefit claimants as part of his campaign to win support for his proposed reforms. This short briefing paper (pdf, 28k) has two purposes. It both examines the identity of the 100 MPs Hutton is writing to and reports previous Labour rebellions over similar issues. As will become clear, it ain't exactly new to find a Labour government encountering trouble with its backbenchers over benefit reform.
Query: One of the 100 constituencies is Hutton's own. Did he really write to himself?
Update: According to one user of this site, Hutton did in fact write himself a Dear John letter. How curious...
Following the Government’s defeat on the Terrorism Bill, people have been quick to identify future flashpoints ahead, of which the most obvious are the proposed education, health and benefit reforms.
But most of these are medium-term problems for the Government. This short briefing paper (pdf, 36k) identifies two more immediate headaches, over housing benefit and smoking. In each case we identify the problem issue and list those MPs who have already indicated their opposition to the Government’s position.
ALSO: Radio 4's The Westminster Hour had a good interview with Kevin Barron on this subject.28 November 2005.
There was very little that was surprising about the identity of those Labour MPs who inflicted the first Commons defeats of the Blair Premiership. Almost invariably, most media attention focused on the more surprising names – the ex-minister Nick Raynsford, and the handful of the 2005 intake – and failed to notice the most striking feature about the vast majority of the rebels: that most of them have been rebelling like that for years. It is not in any way to diminish their behaviour to note that it was entirely predictable.
In this very short briefing paper (pdf, 37k), we list the 62 Labour MPs who had voted against their whip during the first six months of Blair’s third term, up until the end of last week. Nearly all have what Police Officers call 'form'.15 November 2005.
The Government have just suffered two defeats in the Commons on the Terrorism Bill, both as a result of backbench dissent. They were the first defeats for the government since it came to power in 1997, and the largest substantive* defeats on whipped votes in the Commons since July 1978, when the Labour government failed to overturn a Lords amendment on the Wales Bill. That motion was negatived by 280 votes to 247, a majority against the Government of 33. On that occasion, 22 Labour MPs voted against the Government, including Neil Kinnock, and a certain Gwyneth Dunwoody - the only Labour MP who took part in that rebellion to take part in tonight's rebellion.
Our briefing paper (pdf, 57k) looks at the rebels and the current rate of rebellion. There was nothing very surprising about the identity of those Labour MPs who inflicted the first Commons defeats of the Blair Premiership. Most of those who trooped through the division lobbies against the Government have been doing so regularly over the last few years. It is not in any way to diminish their behaviour to note that for the most part it was entirely predictable.
NOTE: We say 'substantive' because technically, the last time any Government was defeated by this much was on 28 March 1979 when a Conservative MP moved a prayer annulling an increase in the price of firearms certificates. Then, only one Labour MP - Max Madden - rebelled, but the Government did not have its troops in place, and the prayer was carried by 115 votes to 26, a majority against the Government of 89.
UPDATE: One very observant reader pointed out that there was also a Government defeat – rightly described as ‘Peter Kilfoyle's finest hour’ – in January 1997, on an amendment to restore to the Education Bill powers to allow Grant Maintained Schools to expand without asking permission. What we mean in the paper was that the last defeat caused by backbench dissent was in 19959 November 2005.
Following last night's rebellions during the Committee Stage of the Terrorism Bill, this short briefing paper (pdf, 36k) looks at the rebellions. One mystery which needs clearing up is why the published division lists give the Government a majority of three, rather than the one that was declared in the chamber. We think this is because they have missed out two rebels.
The other mystery is what some of the absent MPs were up to. Vince Cable has already tried to explain his absence from the division lobbies. But what about George Galloway, also absent, which - given the subject matter under consideration - is on the face of it even more remarkable.3 November 2005.
There were two important parliamentary events last night. One was the launch party for The Rebels (photos to follow...). The second was the Second Reading of the Terrorism Bill. This saw splits within all three main parliamentary parties, as we explain in this short briefing paper (pdf, 20k). The Labour rebellion was not very large - 16 MPs voting against their whips - but as we explained in our earlier paper on the Bill (pdf, 44k), Second Reading is not normally where the problems occur on Bills like this. The rebellions last night bring the total number of Labour revolts since the election to 17, almost one in four divisions. This is a higher rate of rebellion than in the last Parliament - which was itself the highest in the post-war era.
The division was also remarkable for seeing a double vote abstention by Boris Johnson.27 October 2005.
Wednesday night (26 October) sees the Second Reading of the Terrorism Bill. The behaviour of Labour MPs at the Second Readings of anti-terrorism legislation has been varied in recent years – and is not necessarily a good guide as to the size of rebellions during the later stages of a Bill’s passage.
This short briefing paper (pdf, 44k) explains the behaviour seen in recent years over anti-terrorism legislation and identifies the MPs whose behaviour will be crucial in determining the extent of the difficulties the Government might find themselves in. It also provides some simple historical comparisons in advance of the vote.23 October 2005.
Last night's voting on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill produced the first Labour rebellions of the new parliament. Four Labour backbenchers – Jeremy Corbyn, Bob Marshall-Andrews, John McDonnell and Bob Wareing – supported a Conservative Reasoned Amendment declining to support the Bill's Second Reading, and Corbyn and McDonnell both went on to oppose Second Reading as well. As rebellions go, it was pretty small fry - but it's more rebellion than there had been by this point of either the 1997 or the 2001 parliment. By division 15 of this Parliament: six dissenting votes. By division 15 in 1997, none. By division 15 in 2001, one.
And there were also signs of other trouble to come. Earlier in the day, the Government faced criticism of its plans to abandon jury trial in complex fraud cases, and Tuesday sees the Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill. We've already published an analysis (pdf, 52k) pointing out why we don't expect the rebellion to be a significant test of the government's new reduced majority. But the vote will be a first sign of which MPs from the new intake might cause trouble. In our latest briefing paper (pdf, 38k), we publish a brief analysis of what happens to newly elected MPs who rebel soon after they have been elected.
We can summarise it as follows: if you've just been elected and you were planning to rebel on Tuesday, then you are much more likely to have a future career as a backbench rebel than as a government minister...22 June 2005.
The first serious backbench revolt of the 2005 Parliament looks as if it will come over the government’s proposals for Identity Cards. This is already being seen as the first test of how the government will cope with its much reduced majority – and whether backbenchers will really have the nerve to face down the government. Yet in many ways, the issue of ID cards is likely to be a very poor test of what life will be like in the third Blair term. This short briefing paper (pdf, 52k) explains why, and identifies those MPs most likely to revolt over the issue -- both those who rebelled in 2004 and early-2005, and those who have previously indicated their opposition to ID cards but who did not break ranks last time.
UPDATE: Tom Happold at the Guardian's Newsblog reached exactly the same conclusions - albeit based on the data contained in our end-of-parliament PLP report (pdf, 2.3Mb). Great minds think alike and all that.17 May 2005.
This will probably not be much interest or use to those who were not there and wanted to download a copy, but this (pdf, 320k) is a presentation given to a student conference at the LSE in the run-up to the election. Others are free to download as well -- most of it will be self-explanatory (although not terribly revealing to anyone who visits this site regularly).
Note: the poodles on the first slide are *ironic*4 May 2005.
We've been sent a very useful excel file (220k) from the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities which lists the three main votes on the key pieces of anti-terrorism legislation since 1997: the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti Terror Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.
Just for the record, the revolts team have eclectic political views – some would support the CACC wholeheartedly, others would frankly criminalise everyone if they could - but that doesn’t mean we can’t provide a link to a useful resource. T'is up to you to decide what you do with it.28 April 2005.
Today's Times has two interesting pieces about backbench behaviour.
The first is a leader, urging voters in Bethnal Green and Bow (where, one presumes the Times enjoys a vast readership?) to stick with Oona King and not to vote for George Galloway. It notes that Galloway's voting record in the last parliament was not great, and that in the 2003-4 session he voted in just one percent of votes. It is true that Galloway's participation in votes was not frequent after he was expelled from Labour. But what the leader doesn't note, however, is what he was voting on - and how he voted. We do that in this short briefing paper (pdf, 30k).
The second piece is a series of readers' contributions to a Debate section on electoral 'apathy'. Several contributions mention MPs' behaviour, including one, from a Bryan Yates of Surrey, which complains about witnessing 'a stream of mentally manacled backbenchers, marching through the voting lobbies at the bidding of their parties'. One wonders where Mr Yates has been over the last four years. Or perhaps it is just a fact of life that, no matter how often MPs rebel, there will always be someone silly enough to moan about them. We are still working on our briefing paper on Labour MPs since 2001, but with 259 seperate rebellions, it's taking a while...18 April 2005.
In the run-up to the election on 5 May, we will be publishing summary papers covering different aspects of backbench (and sometimes, frontbench) behaviour. This briefing paper (pdf, 93k) is our first contribution. It covers Lib Dem voting in the Commons between 2001 and 2005. It updates, and replaces, our earlier papers on the subject, and includes overall figures for Lib Dem voting, a full list of Lib Dem rebellions, and identifies the most rebellious Lib Dem MP, who (just like the most rebellious Labour MP), has a beard...
UPDATE: Channel 4 Fact Check has used this research as part of an investigation into whether the Lib Dems really are the 'real alternative'.