Are rebellious MPs more effective?

Image by Steve Punter

Image by Steve Punter

This post originally appeared on politics.co.uk.

As someone who’s spent a long time – and probably far too long – studying the willingness of MPs to vote against their party line, I’m often asked the question: is it effective? MPs who rebel, especially those who rebel a lot, claim it is: that only by voting against their party line can they make their party leadership listen. But others, especially those who rebel rarely if at all, will tell you that it is possible to work perfectly effectively within the confines of the party system; indeed, they will claim that by rebelling MPs often diminish the clout they can have with the leadership and that working behind the scenes is more effective than going public with disagreements.

This poll of ‘experts’ (I was one of them, so I put the phrase in quotation marks advisedly), measuring the effectiveness of MPs, offered a chance to get to grips with this question. At least that was the hope. The problem is that by producing such a mixture of types of people and behaviour, it is no helpful at all!

For sure, top of the list comes Douglas Carswell, who has rebelled on 32 occasions so far this parliament, making him one of the more rebellious Conservative MPs.  But right behind him comes Robert Halfon, who has rebelled only very infrequently (just twice this parliament), and he’s followed by Stella Creasy, who has been 100% loyal to the Labour line.

Joint fifth you have two Labour MPs with very different types of behaviour: Frank Field, rebellious on a relatively high number of occasions (17 so far this parliament) but very far from the most rebellious Labour MP and Margaret Hodge, steadfastly loyal to the party whip, but who uses the select committee system to great advantage.

Add in the three names who were on the shortlist but who just failed to make the top five – Ken Clarke, Graham Allen, Zac Goldsmith – and the picture gets even foggier. Clarke was a leading Conservative rebel during the last parliament, before being invited back onto the frontbench, where he is loyal in vote (if not always in voice). Zac Goldsmith has rebelled on 28 occasions thus far this parliament and is one of the more rebellious Conservatives.  Graham Allen, however, will vote against the party line, but only does so rarely (just six times so far this parliament) and is another who is currently utilising the select committee system to good effect.

We can, probably, claim two things. The first is that, whilst being willing to vote against the party line isn’t a requirement to be seen as effective, it does help. Of the eight names on the short list, all but two had rebelled in this parliament or the last. But equally, being seen as a serial rebel does not help. It is striking that none of the top five Conservative rebels – Philip Hollobone, David Nuttall, Philip Davies, Peter Bone, Christopher Chope – made the shortlist. Or indeed none of the top five Labour rebels – Dennis Skinner, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, or Paul Flynn.

There is also not a single Liberal Democrat on the list, whether rebellious or not, but that may be another story.

Philip Cowley

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