The latest study by The University of Nottingham into dissent by backbench MPs has found David Cameron remains on course to head the most rebellious Parliament of any Prime Minister since 1945.
Professor of Parliamentary Government Philip Cowley and Research Fellow Mark Stuart of the School of Politics and International Relations have been producing end-of-session reports into how government MPs vote in the House of Commons for almost a decade.
Their latest report examines levels of backbench opposition in the 2012-13 session and identifies the most rebellious Coalition MPs.
Cambo Chained or Dissension Amongst the Coalition’s Parliamentary Parties, 2012-2013: A Data Handbook finds that while David Cameron has faced fewer rebellions in 2012-13 than last year — when the Government Whips were defied more often than in any session since 1945 – this Parliament remains on course to be the most rebellious for almost 70 years.
Unusually for a new intake of MPs, who are normally relatively pliant, of the 148 Conservative rebels, 90 (or six in ten) are from the 2010 General Election intake. Of those members of the 2010 intake who have been on the backbenches throughout the Parliament some 85% have now rebelled.
Of the Lib Dem side of the Coalition — excluding ministers or parliamentary private secretaries who are expected to remain loyal to the government — not a single Lib Dem MP who has been on the backbenches throughout the Parliament has remained loyal to the party whip.
There were rebellions by Coalition MPs in 61 divisions in the last session of the Parliament. Europe, House of Lords reform, child benefit and housing benefit, the succession to the Crown and planning regulation were among the catalysts for revolt.
Professor Cowley says that while there were rebellions in 27% of divisions, down from the 44% in the last session, the level of backbench dissent is still high for the postwar period.
The report found:
- Conservative MPs have broken ranks in 19% of divisions (down from 28% in the 2010-12 session)
- Lib Dem MPs rebelled in 15% (down from 24%)
- The rate for the Parliament of 2010-13 now stands at a rebellion in 39% of divisions, easily topping the 28% seen in the 2005
- 185 Coalition MPs have voted against their whip so far during the Parliament
- Most (148) of these are Conservatives, but this is not surprising, given that there have been more Conservative rebellions and there are more Conservative MPs.
Professor Cowley said: “Even if the rate of rebellion drops again by half — down to a rate of around 13% — in the remaining two sessions, we would expect the overall total for the Parliament to be 29%, still just enough to make it the most rebellious in the post-war era.
“The good news for the whips, therefore (and right now they probably need some), is that we can report a gradual reduction in the level of backbench dissent on the Coalition side. But the rate of rebellion in this session only appears low when compared to the unprecedentedly high levels seen in the preceding session.”
He said a key factor in the relative decline of backbench revolts in the 2012-13 Parliamentary session was the scrapping of proposed reforms to the House of Lords, thus “removing considerable combustible material from the Government’s legislative programme”.
However, the Government still wins most votes easily — the median majority in whipped votes this session was 71. But close run things are becoming slightly more common: in its first 24 months in power the Government’s majority only fell below 50 on 22 occasions; in the last 12 months it has fallen below 50 on 17 occasions.
The most rebellious nine Coalition rebels are Conservatives, headed by Kettering MP Philip Hollobone, who was also the most rebellious in the last session. He has now voted against his whip 129 times since the election in 2010.
Cambo Chained or Dissension Amongst the Coalition’s Parliamentary Parties, 2012-2013: A Data Handbook is available to download at the School of Politics and International Relations site, Ballots & Bullets
Professor Cowley’s website www.revolts.co.uk, which he runs with Mark Stuart, offers the definitive academic analysis of backbench behaviour. He co-authored The British General Election of 2010 and was instrumental in establishing the award-winning 2010 Election Blog, which reached an estimated audience of 46m people. The Guardian newspaper said of Professor Cowley: “Rare is the scholar that penetrates beyond the academy and into public consciousness. The work of Nottingham's Philip Cowley has indisputably made the leap.”
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