The four year itch

Please note that this blog piece was originally published in the Revolts blog on 03 June 2014, and is available here.

By Philip Cowley

We’ve been producing end-of-session reports on the behaviour of government MPs at Westminster for almost a decade.  This morning we’ve launched the report on the 2013-14 session, entitled The four year itch (and which is free to download).  It contains plenty to concern the party whips.

1. A Coalition rebellion in 31% of divisions, up on 27% last session, and topping the comparable figure for all but five post-war sessions.

2. Conservative MPs have broken ranks in 24% of divisions (up from 19% in the last session, but still lower than the 28% in the 2010-12 session), Lib Dem MPs have done so in 17% (marginally up from 15% in the last session, and still down from 24% in the 2010-12 session).  The figure for the Conservatives alone is higher than for all but 11 sessions between 1945 and 2010, and higher than all but three sessions of Conservative government.

3. The rate for the Parliament as a whole (that is, 2010-14) now stands at a rebellion in 37% of divisions, meaning that the Parliament remains on course to be the most rebellious since 1945.  Even in the very unlikely event that the rate of rebellion drops off to nothing in the remaining session we would expect the overall total for the Parliament to be around 31%, still enough to make it the most rebellious in the post-war era.

4. A total of 201 Coalition MPs have now voted against their whip thus far during the Parliament. Most (159) of these are Conservatives.

5. Of the top ten most rebellious Coalition MPs, nine are Conservatives, headed by Philip Hollobone, with 153 rebellious votes since the election in 2010.  The most rebellious Coalition MP of the session was Philip Davies.  But in all three sessions of the Parliament so far the three most rebellious MPs have been Hollobone, Nuttall and Davies; all that changed in the last session was the rank order.

6. Past behaviour is a very good predictor of current behaviour: the correlation between rebellions in the 2013-14 session and in the first two sessions was 0.82.

7. Of the 159 Conservative rebels, 91 (or six in ten) are from the 2010 intake.  Of the new intake some 62% have rebelled at least once, and of those who have been on the backbenches throughout the Parliament the figure rises to 85%.

8. The average government majorities achieved in the session remain around the same level as in the preceding session (the mean average in the last session was 101, now 102).  It fell below 50 on 21 occasions, that is 9% of whipped votes, including one defeat.

9. The one outright Commons defeat was over Syria (which saw the largest Coalition rebellion of the session), but there were also very high profile retreats, as over the Queen’s Speech and the Raab amendment.  One aspect of both these latter votes – as with the votes in the preceding parliament on boundary changes – was that there was no coherent government position.  The Conservative frontbench abstained, the Liberal Democrats were whipped to vote down the amendments, and joined Labour in doing so on both occasions.  What was the position of Her Majesty’s Government on the Queen’s speech or the Raab amendment?  Answer: it depends which bit of Her Majesty’s Government you talk to.

10. The largest rebellions by Conservative MPs during the session numbered 33 MPs, on European matters (twice) and over the Second Reading of HS2.  During the session, there were eight votes when more than 20 Conservative MPs rebelled; all eight took place on votes over Syria, HS2, or Europe.

About the authors

Philip Cowley is Professor of Parliamentary Government at the University of Nottingham. Mark Stuart is Lecturer in Politics, also at the University of Nottingham.

Image: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.



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