Parliamentary nerds! Here be more facts for you!

Last night saw 81 Conservative MPs rebel against the Government, making it not only the largest ever Tory rebellion on Europe in Government, but very nearly twice as large as the previous biggest Tory rebellion suffered by David Cameron in Government.

The 81 Conservatives were joined in the aye lobby by 19 Labour rebels, eight DUP members, one independent unionist, one Green, one Liberal Democrat (Adrian Sanders), along with two Conservative MPs – Iain Stewart and Mike Weatherley – who cast deliberate abstentions by voting in both lobbies.

Previous rebelliousness on Europe proved an astonishingly good predictor of last night’s voting patterns, as the table below shows. Of the 78 Conservative MPs to have cast dissenting votes on Europe so far this Parliament, 62 (80%) voted against the Government last night. The rebels found safety in numbers. Moreover, as the table shows, there was a clear relationship between previous propensity to rebel and behavior on Monday. Of the 39 who had rebelled on at least two occasions before over Europe, all but one did so again last night.

(Similarly, of the 60 Conservative MPs who signed the rebel motion last week, 56 went on to dissent last night. Only two Conservative backbenchers – David Mowat and Ian Liddell-Grainger – who signed the motion voted with the Government, while one – Mike Weatherley – cast a deliberate abstention by voting in both lobbies).

What is most striking however, about last night’s rebellion is that of the 81 Tory rebels, 49 were drawn from the 2010 intake. In other words, very nearly six in ten of the rebels (59%) were new MPs. New MPs are usually disproportionately loyal. Not this lot, as we’ve noted before. One frustration – though only one – is that the whips cannot offer them jobs in Government because there simply are not enough to go around given the need to satisfy the Liberal Democrats.

Of the 81 rebels, 64 already had form from this Parliament, having defied the whips at least once. But that still leaves 17 new rebels. With the exception of the two PPSs who resigned – Adam Holloway and Stewart Jackson – together with the Monmouth MP David TC Davies (all three of whom are drawn from the 2005 intake), the remainder of the new rebels were first elected in 2010: Stuart Andrew; Dan Byles; Lorraine Fullbrook; George Hollingbery; Marcus Jones; Andrea Leadsom; Karen Lumley; Anne Marie Morris; James Morris; Stephen McPartland; Neil Parish; Priti Patel; Julian Sturdy; and Heather Wheeler

Taken together, the addition of these 17 new rebels bring the total number of Conservative MPs to have defied the whip so far this Parliament to 116.

There have now been 121 Conservative rebellions so far this Parliament, representing 32.5% of divisions – in other words, almost one third of all divisions have seen some Conservative dissent. Relationship between previous behavior on Europe and referendum vote

Name Previous rebellions on Europe, 2010-2011 Vote on Referendum, 24 October
Hollobone, Philip 22 For
Bone, Peter 21 For
Nuttall, David 19 For
Cash, William 17 For
Carswell, Douglas 16 For
Turner, Andrew 16 For
Chope, Christopher 15 For
Davies, Philip 15 For
Main, Anne 15 For
Clappison, James 14 For
Reckless, Mark 14 For
Jenkin, Bernard 12 For
Shepherd, Richard 11 For
Lewis, Dr Julian 10 For
Baker, Steve 9 For
Percy, Andrew 9 For
Redwood, John 9 For
Davis, David 8 For
Goldsmith, Zac 8 For
Henderson, Gordon 8 For
Drax, Richard 7 For
Binley, Brian 6 For
McCartney, Jason 6 For
Tapsell, Sir Peter 6 For
Walker, Charles 6 For
Baron, John 5 For
Bridgen, Andrew 5 For
Gray, James 5 For
McCartney, Karl 4 For
Vickers, Martin 4 For
Stuart, Graham 4 Against
Leigh, Edward 3 For
Rees-Mogg, Jacob 3 For
Bingham, Andrew 2 For
de Bois, Nick 2 For
Kelly, Chris 2 For
Stewart, Bob 2 For
Blackman, Bob 2 For
Reevel, Simon 2 For
Brady, Graham 1 For
Dineage, Caroline 1 For
Field, Mark 1 For
Mercer, Patrick 1 For
Mills, Nigel 1 For
Mosley, Nigel 1 For
Offord, Matthew 1 For
Pritchard, Mark 1 For
Smith, Henry 1 For
Tomlinson, Justin 1 For
Whittingdale, John 1 For
Wollaston, Dr Sarah 1 For
Bebb, Guto 1 Against
Bottomley, Sir Peter 1 Against
Cox, Geoffrey 1 Against
Eustice, George 1 Abstained
Freer, Mike 1 Against
Halfon, Robert 1 Against
Heaton-Harris, Chris 1 For
Latham, Pauline 1 Against
Lilley, Peter 1 Against
Raab, Dominic 1 Abstained
Stanley, Sir John 1 Against
Stephenson, Andrew 1 Against
Crouch, Tracey 0 For
Davies, David T C 0 For
Dorries, Nadine 0 For
Liddell-Grainger, Ian 0 Against
Morris, Anne Marie 0 For
Mowat, David 0 Against
Murray, Sheryll 0 For
Nokes, Caroline 0 For
Patel, Priti 0 For
Robertson, Laurence 0 For
Rosindell, Andrew 0 For
Spencer, Mark 0 Abstained
Weatherley, Mike 0 Double vote
Wheeler, Heather 0 For
Whittaker, Craig 0 For

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

The Conservative Euro revolt: 10 points to note

Oh happy days. Just when we think we’re getting a bit tired of doing this rebellions lark, along comes something like Monday’s Euro rebellion.  We knew it would be big, but we were surprised it was quite that big.  Today’s Sun has a Rebelometer, which points to: Utter Disaster.  That’s going a bit far, but not much.

So here’s ten points to bear in mind about last night’s rebellion:

1.    This has not come from out of the blue.  As we’ve been saying for months now, this is the most rebellious parliament of the post-war era, with a rate of rebellion easily outstripping any other Parliament since 1945.  Cameron had already suffered multiple rebellions over Europe in particular before Monday.  This was just the latest, and  the largest.

2.    In a broader sense, this is also evidence of an argument we have been making for years (and which was made, before us, by Philip Norton).  Contrary to the golden ageism of received wisdom – and more than one columnist who should know better – MPs have been getting more rebellious and independent-minded in recent years, not less.  This is the latest record-breaking rebellion, but it’s the latest in a long line.

3.    It was, as everyone has said (and we wonder just how they know it so confidently?), the largest Conservative European rebellion since the war, double the size of the largest Maastricht revolt.  But because it outstrips the Labour Euro rebellion that occurred in January 1978, it is also the largest European rebellion by members of any party since the war.  Indeed, as someone pointed out last night, there weren’t an awful lot of Euro rebellions before the war, so we could just as easily say: this was the largest rebellion by members of any political party over Europe since dinosaurs ruled the earth.

4.    It is not the largest Conservative or Labour rebellion on any issue since 1945 – both sides have seen larger rebellions in recent years.  But it comes pretty close.  Indeed, aside from the gun control rebellions faced by John Major in early 1997, the largest of which saw 95 Conservative MPs vote against their whips, we make this the largest rebellion to hit a Conservative Prime Minister since 1945.  From 1951 until 1974 the largest Conservative rebellion numbered 69; Margaret Thatcher then saw 72 Conservative MPs vote down the Shops Bill in 1986.  This outstrips the lot of them.

5.    It took Tony Blair six years to face a revolt this big.  Indeed, he survived his whole first term as Prime Minister without facing a rebellion of 80+ MPs – and he had far more MPs to worry about.

6.    Yes, Labour are split on this too.  But not as badly, and anyway no one cares about divisions in Opposition Parties.  During the 1992 Parliament it was Labour MPs, not Conservatives, who had been the most rebellious; even over Europe – the issue that so damaged the Major Government – it was Labour MPs who were the most divided.  No one noticed (except us).

7.    Aside from the scale of the rebellion, two things that should concern the whips.  First, one of our rules of rebellions is that they almost always end up being smaller than the figures that were initially bandied around: deals are done, favours called in, appeals to party loyalty are made. Would-be dissidents are usually bought off by a series of concessions and compromises, by their desire not to harm their own government, and (in some cases) by the lure of self-advancement.  This probably happened here, but by nowhere near enough.  In part, this will be because of the issue – it’s a difficult one to negotiate over – but also because once rebellions hit a certain size there is safety in numbers, as happened over Trident in 2007.  But it’s also because there was no mood for compromise on the part of the rebels.  There is a Masada-like tendency developing on the Conservative benches that should worry the government’s business managers.

8.    Our second rule is that just like domestic arguments between husband and wife, disputes between front and backbenches are almost never just about the issue being argued over.  This rebellion was about Europe, but it wasn’t just about Europe.  It was also evidence of the broader frustrations on the Conservative backbenches.  That came across strongly in many of the speeches, evidence of a lack of trust, of respect.

9.    We have some sympathy with those who argue that the government should have made this a free or semi-free vote, and allowed MPs to let off steam, rather than whip it.   But that was hardly a pain-free option.  How big would the pro-referendum vote have been in that case?  100? 150? 200?  Does anyone really think that having rallied, say, 150 MPs to his cause, David Nuttall would have decided that he’d had his fun and then kept schtum about the issue for the next few years?  If the whip had been relaxed, then all of today’s headlines would be about how almost the entire backbench had told Cameron where to go, and all those writing pieces about how the Prime Minister had mishandled the affair would merely be writing different pieces on how he had mishandled the affair.

10.    We’ll be publishing a more nerdy analysis of the voting later today.  But here’s one finding for now.  Of the 81 Conservative rebels, a massive 49 were new MPs, elected in 2010.  Another of the normal rules of rebellions is that newly elected MPs can more easily be kept onside.  Not this lot.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

How to measure today’s rebellion

The first benchmark for today’s vote is 41 Conservative MPs.  That is (as we have explained before) both the largest Conservative rebellion by government MPs against Europe ever AND the largest Conservative rebellion so far during this Parliament.  Should at least 42 Conservative MPs rebel, then this will be the largest Conservative euro revolt ever.  Forty-two is also the answer to life, the universe and everything, although we don’t expect the whips will see it like that.

The next benchmark is the largest Labour euro rebellion.  That occurred in January 1978, when 80 Labour MPs voted against a programme motion for the European Assembly Elections Bill.  (There have been bigger splits amongst the PLP over Europe during the post-war era, such as the split over the issue of continued membership in 1975, but these were on explicitly free votes).  So anything involving 81 Conservative MPs or more, and today’s vote can be seen as the biggest rebellion against the whip on a European issue by members of any British political party.

The largest Conservative rebellion of all in the post-war era occurred in 1996, when 95 government MPs voted against their whip over the post-Dunblane gun control legislation.  So if there are 96 or more Conservative rebels today, this will be the biggest Conservative revolt of the post-war era.

The largest Labour rebellion in the post-war era occurred in March 2003, over the Iraq war.  Then, 139 government MP voted against their whip.  But all the evidence is that this was not just the largest post-war rebellion, but the largest of any party, on any issue, since the vote over the Corn Laws in the 1840s.  So if we get up to that level (and we don’t for a minute think we will) then this is the largest backbench rebellion since the formation of modern political parties in the UK.

Note that these figures exclude abstentions – which are impossible to measure systematically.   There’s a good book dealing with all of this, you know.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

The European magic number: 41

As the size of Monday’s Conservative rebellion over a referendum on EU membership appears to grow – Newsnight on Friday were talking about 100 Conservative MPs defying the whip – David Cameron might well be wishing that he had led the Conservative Party in the 1950s. There were two sessions during that decade in which not a single government MP rebelled.  Alternatively, he would no doubt happily swap places with Harold Macmillan, who faced just one Conservative rebel – in the shape of Anthony Fell – when in August 1961 the Commons debated Macmillan’s decision to open negotiations with Europe about possible EEC entry.

It was Edward Heath who faced the first bout of Tory discontent over Europe, following his decision to take Britain into the Common Market.  In one remarkable session, 1971-72, Heath experienced no fewer than 88 separate rebellions on the European Communities Bill. The only saving grace was that this came from a hard core of determined opponents.  The largest rebellion, in April 1972, saw 18 Conservative MPs support a move to hold an advisory referendum on EU entry.  We safely predict rather more than 18 Conservative rebels on Monday.

Margaret Thatcher got away relatively lightly over this issue.  In all three of her terms in office combined, over a total of 11 years, she faced fewer rebellions over Europe than Heath had in just four years (and fewer than Major was to face in his seven years).  The passage of the Single European Act, one of the largest shifts of sovereignty from the UK, provoked just 11 rebellions, the largest involving ten MPs.  Mrs Thatcher’s largest European rebellion of all came over the EC (Finance) Bill in June 1985, when 19 Conservative MPs voted against the whip.  Again, we safely predict more than 19 Conservative rebels on Monday.

It was John Major who faced the second, and most serious, bout of Tory discontent over Europe.  Hamstrung by a Commons majority of just 21 after 1992, he faced no fewer than 62 rebellions over just one Bill: the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, more commonly known as the Maastricht Bill.  These rebellions involved 50 MPs, who between them cast more than 1,100 dissenting votes. Although Heath had experienced more rebellions over Europe in the 1970s, the average Europe rebellion under his leadership had involved fewer than 10 MPs; during Maastricht and Major’s leadership it involved over 18 MPs.  There were a further 14 Conservative rebellions on other European issues during the 1992 Parliament.  John Major also holds the record (until Monday anyway) of suffering the largest Conservative Government backbench rebellion on Europe on whipped business: on 20 May 1993 some 41 Conservative MPs voted against the Third Reading of the Maastricht Bill.

That same number, 41, is coincidentally also the largest Conservative rebellion so far in this Parliament.  On 10 October 2011, 41 Conservative MPs (plus two Lib Dems) supported an amendment to the programme motion for the Protection of Freedoms Bill which would have allowed time on a vote to remove all offences based on insulting words or behaviour.

More than a decade of studying rebellions has made us cautious about claims made about the size of any upcoming rebellions.  It is an almost inviolable law that the number eventually discovered to have voted against their whip will be smaller than the figures bandied about in the run-up to the vote.  But by Friday, if you combined the list of those Conservative MPs who had signed the referendum with those who have already defied their whips over Europe since May 2010, you got a figure of 78.  All the signs therefore are that Monday will produce the largest Commons rebellion of Cameron’s premiership – and the largest ever rebellion by Conservative MPs when in government over the issue of Europe.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart