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.