30 minutes with John Bercow

John BercowJohn Bercow is possibly the most famous Speaker of the House of Commons in modern  history, and he’s not even half way through his self imposed nine year term. His shifting political positions, high profile confrontations, outspoken wife, short stature, verbose oratory, all make John Bercow a recognisable and easily caricatured figure.

I am currently researching the effect of Bercow’s reform agenda – which aims to empower backbenchers – on his relationship with frontbench MPs. Not the most exciting topic on first appearance, but I have found some interesting tales of parliamentary dissent, and found praise for the Speaker from unlikely sources, including the infamous Nadine Dorries. It is because of this research that Mark Stuart asked me to chair the Q&A session with John Bercow during the Parliament in the UK module’s recent trip to Westminster.

After sessions with Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House), Sir George Young (Chief Whip), Steve McCabe (former Labour whip), and Jack Straw (Former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House), I was excited to finally meet Bercow. It’s odd to meet someone you’re writing an essay on; the abstract suddenly becomes real. The first thing that struck me was that he isn’t as short as I thought, maybe because I am not tall myself, but I do think the enormity of the Speaker’s Chair adds to the “dwarf” caricature.

During the Q&A session Bercow displayed the passion, whit, and self-deprecation for which he is known. He answered questions on The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the body in charge of MPs expenses, with a determined and zealous defence of MPs and the agency, whilst admitting there is still room for improvement. He diplomatically deflected a question on the convention that the three major parties do not contest the Speaker’s constituency by saying the decision lay with the House.

I questioned him on his high profile confrontations with MPs, such as former Government Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin and former Health Minister Simon Burns, who called Bercow a “sanctimonious little dwarf”. Bercow jovially repeated this line to the audience to a response of awkward laughter. He admitted he could have dealt with the situation involving McLoughlin better, and should have kept his temper, but maintains that he is not a “barer of grudges” and holds no ill will towards the two.

After my 30 minutes with John Bercow I think I will have to rewrite parts of my essay. I have come away with the impression that Bercow does want to uphold Parliamentary integrity, even if he is still prone to the occasional outburst, self-promotion, or longwinded speech.

Adam Charlton is a third year BA Politics student at the University of Nottingham.

Polling Observatory #11: When is a tie not a tie?

This is the eleventh of a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence, we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

“Prediction is very difficult” Niels Bohr wrote once, “especially about the future.” Over Christmas, we wrote that the polling boost Cameron’s Conservatives received following the EU summit “veto” might prove fleeting, as voters’ attention returned to the bleak landscape of domestic politics. Our latest estimates defy this prediction, with the Conservatives continuing to poll above their 2011 averages in the New Year. Our estimate of Conservative support for January 2012 is 37.7%, up 0.3 points from last month and close to 4 points above the low points of 2011. Labour’s estimate stands at 37.8%, down 0.8 points from last month. For the second month in a row the two main parties are in a statistical tie. The junior partner in the governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, continue to flatline below 10%. We have them at 8.6% this month, down 0.2 points on last month.

Cameron’s resurgence in the polls, and Ed Miliband’s continued struggles, have lead some commentators to speculate about a possible Conservative majority at the next election. This is premature. Although the two parties are level pegging in the polls, the Conservatives continue to suffer a handicap when votes are translated into seats at Westminster. Estimates from the Electoral Calculus website suggest that at equal vote shares of 38%, the Labour party would be 38 seats ahead of the Conservatives, and only three seats short of an overall majority. The Conservatives need a lead of 3-4% in votes in order to draw level in seats, and a lead of 7-9% in order to achieve a majority of one seat. So, in other words, drawing level in votes is not enough for Cameron’s Conservatives: they need leads close to double digits to be confident of securing an outright majority.

Why does the electoral system put the Conservatives at such a disadvantage? As detailed by Michael Thrasher and colleagues in a recent article, the main advantages to Labour are the result of the geographical distribution of its support, and variation in turnout between constituencies. The geographical effect comes about because Conservative votes tend to be concentrated in constituencies with very large Conservative majorities, while Labour votes are more evenly spread across the seats Labour win. This means less Labour votes than Conservative votes are “wasted” just to add to already large majorities in already safe seats.

Also, turnout tends to be higher in Conservative held seats than Labour held ones, so even if both sets of constituencies have equal number of eligible votes, more votes are cast to elect Conservative MPs than Labour MPs, as in Labour seats fewer voters show up at all on polling day. A third, much smaller, source of Labour advantage is differences in the number of eligible voters in Conservative and Labour seats, which results both from constitutional legacies such as the over-representation of Wales at Westminster and from the continuous movement of voters away from declining, Northern, Labour voting regions towards expanding, suburban Southern seats which lean Conservative.

Many commentators have suggested that the boundary changes being brought in by the Coalition will “level the playing field” at the next election. This is unlikely. The boundary changes will only deal with the effect of uneven constituency sizes, which is a small contribution to the bias in the system. The much larger effects of uneven geographical distribution and voter turnout will remain. Loyal Conservatives in the shires are likely to continue dutifully piling up massive majorities for their local MP’s at the next election, and as a result Cameron’s party will continue to face a tougher challenge than the polling suggests.

Rob FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup

Gay Marriage, Conservative Divorce?

‘Prediction is very difficult’, said Niels Bohr, ‘especially if it’s about the future’ – and it’s always potentially embarrassing when you revisit things you wrote and in which you had confidently predicted what was to come.

Take, for example, this 2009 article, looking at the likely state of the Conservative Parliamentary Party after the election.

It argued the party would look very different: lots of new MPs, more women, more from ethnic minorities, although no less middle class than before.  That was at least right, if fairly easy to predict.  It went on to argue that in the short term this would be good for the whips, because new MPs are less rebellious, but that balancing their demands with those of the more established MPs  would cause problems of party management. That was (at best) only half right, with the new MPs being far more rebellious than expected.

It also argued that there was a group of existing rebellious Conservative MPs whose behaviour was unlikely to change, and of those it identified almost all have indeed continued to cause trouble for the whips (save for the most rebellious of the lot, Ken Clarke, who finds himself in the Cabinet – but let’s see how long that lasts…). And it argued that whilst there would be backbench trouble ahead, there would at least be a short honeymoon. That one proved almost completely wrong; the honeymoon was so short as to be non-existent.

When it came to the issues that might trigger discontent, it argued that predicting which issues would cause difficulties for in government was ‘a bit of a mug’s game: too much depends on the circumstances in which legislation is introduced, how it is handled by ministers and so on’. But it argued there ‘are several issues where at least the potential for trouble is clear’, of which ‘the most obvious’ was Europe.  So, again, correct, if fairly obvious.

The other area highlighted was issues ‘such as abortion, Lords reform and homosexuality’.  Whilst not traditionally high politics, these issues can often be defused at least in part by allowing backbenchers to vote as they please, but as the example of fox hunting showed after 1997, such issues can matter to backbenchers more than some traditionally important ones.  And (as the 2009 piece noted), based on their voting thus far, ‘David Cameron, and especially George Osborne are much more socially liberal than much of their parliamentary party, and that split will need to be handled carefully’.

Abortion has already caused some headaches.  The vote on gay marriage – which has been promised before the next election – will be another good test of this thesis.  Whilst the Conservative Party’s relationship with the issue of gay rights is more complicated than it first seems – as the excellent new book Tory Pride and Prejudice shows – the stance of the majority of Conservative MPs over the last few years has been predominantly hostile to moves to liberalize the law, whenever they’ve been given a chance.

In March 2007 for instance, 85 Conservative MPs voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which brought into force provisions for gay adoption. This dwarfed the 29 Conservative votes for, on a free vote, which included David Cameron.

It is true that the majority of those Conservative MPs to vote – again on a free vote – backed the Civil Partnership Bill itself in 2004 at both Second and Third Reading, but on a lowish turnout in both cases, and when it came to the detail of the bill many dug their heels in.  By Third Reading, the division was 43 Conservatives for, 39 against, with the rest absent.  Our suspicion is that there will also be a lot of convenient absences over gay marriage.

Much will depend on how the mass of new MPs behave.  Conventional wisdom is that they are more socially liberal than those they replaced.  Maybe so, but by how much?  One other point made in that 2009 paper is that it is not easy to read directly across from attitudes claimed when outside the Commons to those inside, and we’ve so far had relatively little hard evidence on which to judge claims about the new intake.  There have been just over 40 free votes since the 2010 election, but many have not been on issues that would provide much or any insight into how the new MPs will vote on an issue like gay marriage.  Until they vote, like everyone else, we’re just guessing.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

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

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

What do you think the Government’s Commons majority is?

On paper, it’s 76.  Those with some knowledge of way Westminster works in practice will have remembered to add in the five non-sitting Sinn Fein MPs, plus the Speaker and his Deputies, which takes it past 80.  The really sharp amongst you might mention that the eight DUP MPs usually (though not always) vote with the government, which would take you to close to 100.

But the average majority in practice has been a whopping 142 – and we bet no one thought it was that.  That’s the mean average in the 306 whipped votes to have taken place since the election; we’ve excluded the 25 occasions when Coalition MPs were given a free vote.

The first clue to working out what’s going on is to note that the figure of 142 is the mean average.  The median average is a much less surprising 94.  This suggests that there are some very high outlier figures, dragging up the mean average – and indeed that’s what happening.

The key factor is the behaviour of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Most of the time (some 238 votes so far), Labour oppose the government, and when they do the average majority is 91 (with a median of 87).  But when Labour abstain (44 votes), the majority averages 270 (median: 276); and when Labour support the government, the average majority rises to 421 (median: 450).  (The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that these numbers don’t sum to 306 – because there was one vote when the government was whipped, but Labour allowed a free vote).

The most striking example of this occurred on 21 March this year when the Government won a vote endorsing military action in Libya by 557 votes to 13, thanks to the support of the Labour frontbench, producing the largest Coalition majority so far this Parliament of 544.

Another good example of huge Coalition majorities occurred during the passage of the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill, which was discussed on the Floor of the House of Commons in March 2011.  As reported in The Independent, Conservative MPs complained bitterly to their whips at having to stay late to vote on divisions where the Government was enjoying massive Commons majorities.  The Independent calculated that the Government’s day-to-day majority between January and March 2011 was 150, and it had enjoyed a margin of more than 250 in 24 out of 75 votes.  What the story didn’t point out, however, was that this was because most amendments on the Scotland Bill were being put by SNP MPs, and that the Labour frontbench chose in almost all occasions to join the Coalition in opposing them in the no lobby. This factor on the particular Bill, more than any other, contributed to the high Government majorities in the first quarter of this year.

The consequences for any government backbench rebellion succeeding should be obvious.  On paper, it would take 39 Coalition MPs to rebel to defeat the Government – but only if the Labour frontbench was to vote with the rebels.  There are plenty of issues on which 39 Conservative MPs might rebel, but there aren’t as many on which the Labour party would be willing to join them. That is not to say that it won’t happen at some point in the future, merely that it is not likely to happen very often.

The hurdles in overturning a large in-built Coalition majority are even more acute for the Liberal Democrats. Their backbench MPs number only 35, so even if all of them vote against the Government with all the Opposition MPs, that would still not be enough to defeat the Government.

For the Government’s majority to fall much below 50, both Conservative and Liberal Democrats need to rebel in decent numbers, with the support of the Labour frontbench and the minor parties. This has been happening rarely since May 2010.  The Government’s majority has only fallen below 50 on only six occasions in its first fifteen months in power.

But it can happen.  On 9 December 2010, over university tuition fees, 21 Liberal Democrat rebels combined with six Conservative backbenchers, the Labour frontbench and the minor parties, reducing the Government’s majority to 21, which remains the lowest Coalition majority thus this Parliament.

The Coalition not only has a stable working majority on paper, but also a very high average day-to-day working majority in practice.

This was one of the conclusions of a paper given at the recent Elections, Public Opinion and Parties conference, held at Exeter University.  The full slides from the presentation are downloadable here; all the data are correct as of the start of the summer recess.  This updates, and replaces, the earlier slides we uploaded in July.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

New MPs kick off

One of the most striking features about the House of Commons after the 2010 election was the number of newly-elected MPs.  A full 36% of the House was newly-elected, including 48% of Conservative MPs.  In the past, newly elected MPs have tended to be relatively acquiescent – at least to begin with – but one of the most striking features about the behaviour of the 2010 cohort, especially on the Conservative side, is how troublesome they have been.

In absolute terms, more Conservative newbies have rebelled (46) compared to Labour ones (21) or the Lib Dems (7). In percentage terms, while 31% of new Tory MPs have now rebelled, 33% of Labour ones have done so, with the highest percentage of newbie rebels located among the Liberal Democrats: although there are only 10 newly elected Lib Dem MPs, a full 70% have defied the party whip.

But these headline figures mask an important difference in terms of dissent by the new MPs of the three main parties. Between them, the newbie Tory rebels have cast a whopping 249 rebellious votes, compared with a modest 23 for Labour, and only a slightly higher number, 27, for the Liberal Democrats.

Tory newcomers have accounted for 31% of rebellious votes cast by all Conservative MPs, compared with a tiny 5% for Labour, and 15% for the Liberal Democrats. The top Labour newbie rebel, Yasmin Qureshi, has accrued only five dissenting votes. Even the top Liberal Democrat newcomer, David Ward, can boast 11 rebellions.  But the top Conservative newbie rebel, David Nuttall, has amassed 54 rebellions.

Nuttall is only the most rebellious of a rebellious cohort. The top ten Conservative new MPs are:

David Nuttall: 54

Andrew Percy: 23

Mark Reckless: 21

Zac Goldsmith: 17

Richard Drax: 12

Jacob Rees-Mogg: 11

Gordon Henderson: 10

Jason McCartney: 10

Martin Vickers: 10

Steve Baker: 9

Together, these top ten Tories account for more than seven in ten (71%) of the dissenting votes cast by Conservative newcomers; and they account for more than one in five (22%) of Conservative rebellious votes cast thus far this Parliament.

As well as trouble from the old guard – many of whom have serious doubts about the Conservative leadership – David Cameron’s whips therefore are also confronted by a hardcore of highly rebellious newcomers.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

In the rebellion game, everyone’s a winner

Conservative MPs are the most rebellious in the House of Commons, as the right kicks against Cameron’s leadership.  Actually, that’s not true.  Liberal Democrats MPs are in fact the most rebellious, with widespread rebellions against the policies of the coalition.  Actually, that’s not true either.  The party which has been the most rebellious since 2010 has been Labour, revealing the extent to which Ed Miliband is not in control of his parliamentary party.

Which of these is true? The answer is all of them, and it all depends what you decide to use as your measurement.

So far this Parliament, Labour MPs have rebelled in nearly 20% of all Commons divisions, almost identical to the Liberal Democrat rate of 19%, but far outstripped by the Conservative rate of 33%.  So, on that measure Conservative MPs are the most rebellious.

But while Conservative MPs rebel more often, they do so in smaller numbers than Labour.  The average Conservative rebellion consists of just seven MPs; the average Labour one comprises eight MPs. The average Lib Dem rebellion is just three MPs.  So, on that measure Labour MPs are the most rebellious.

Labour’s got fewer MPs to begin with, so the figure for Labour is not only higher in absolute terms but also higher as a percentage of the two respective parliamentary parties (3% as opposed to 2%).  But if we’re talking about percentage rebellions, then the highest average rebellion occurs among the Liberal Democrats. Their mean of three MPs constitutes five percent of the parliamentary party.  So, on that measure Lib Dem MPs are the most rebellious.

So, depending what you focus on – and depending what you are trying to prove – you can make a case for any of the three main parties as the ‘most divided’.

And you can do something similar if we look at how far the habit of rebellions has spread amongst the parties.  A total of 86 Conservative MPs have rebelled so far, along with 30 Lib Dems.  But 119 Labour MPs have defied their party’s whip, more than the Conservatives and Lib Dems put together.  On that measure, then, Labour are the most rebellious.  Those Labour MPs make up 46% of the PLP, outstripping the 28% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party who have rebelled.  But the highest percentage of rebels is to be found within the Liberal Democrats: 53% of MPs have rebelled at least once.

For what it’s worth, we’ve long been skeptical about comparisons between rates of rebellion in government and in opposition.  The whipping arrangements are very different; rebellion matters much less in opposition.  So rather than get into these comparisons, it’s best just to say that they are not comparable.  But for those who want to, you can make the numbers tell almost any story.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart