MPs are on a week’s recess. It will give government whips some time to recover from what has so far been an extraordinary session. The first session in any parliament – especially those formed after a change in government – are usually fairly quiet (as this paper shows). The government usually basks in its election victory, MPs don’t want to rock the boat and new MPs take time to learn the ropes.
This one is different. There have already been 110 separate backbench rebellions by government MPs since the coalition was formed in May 2010. Less than a year into this government, there have therefore already been more rebellions by government MPs than in the entire Blair first term, as well as more than in the whole Attlee government (both terms), as well as more than in the parliaments of 1951, 1955, 1964, 1966, and February 1974. Indeed, there have been more rebellions so far than in the entire period from 1945 until 1959 combined. We are closing fast on the figure for the whole of the 1959 Parliament as well (120), and we wonder how long it will be before rebellion surpasses the figure (159) for the first Thatcher term.
Sixty of the 110 rebellions have involved just Conservative MPs, 27 have involved only Liberal Democrat MPs, while 23 have comprised both Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs. Yet even disaggregated from figures for the Coalition collectively down to its constituent parts, these figures are still extremely high. The 83 Conservative revolts represent a rate of one Conservative rebellion in 39% of divisions. This is as high as anything seen in any session in the post-war era (matching the 39% seen in 2004-5), whilst the overall coalition rebellion rate of one rebellion in 52% of divisions easily surpasses anything seen since 1945.
A total of 104 Coalition MPs have broken ranks: 76 of these are Conservatives (representing one quarter of the parliamentary party), while 28 are Liberal Democrats (very nearly half of their MPs, and almost all backbenchers). The most rebellious MPs are nearly all Conservatives. Philip Hollobone leads the way (59 rebellions), followed by David Nuttall (40) and Philip Davies (33). The remaining members of the top ten rebels are: Richard Shepherd (31), Peter Bone (30), Andrew Turner (28), Christopher Chope (27), William Cash (26), Bernard Jenkin (24), and Mike Hancock (22). Hancock is the only Lib Dem MP in the top ten rebels and Conservatives make up 17 out of the top 20 Coalition rebels (David Ward and Andrew George being the only two other Lib Dems).
The good news for the whips is that the average (mean) size of a Coalition rebellion so far is only seven. MPs are rebelling often, but not yet in large numbers. Backbench discontent is clearly widespread and persistent, but is not yet coalescing into anything that may be dangerous. Government whips are not yet reaching for their revolvers. Disharmony within the two wobbly wings of the Coalition doesn’t appear to threaten its durability. Not yet anyway.