As Mike Reid used to say in EastEnders (well, sort of), whilst shaking his head in sorrow: ‘Nadine, Nadine, Nadine’.
In a Commons with so many MPs who would in general be willing to support some form of restrictions on abortion, it takes a special sort of genius to go down to defeat by a factor of more than three to one. But that was the fate of Nadine Dorries’ Report Stage amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, which was heavily defeated yesterday by 368 votes to 118.
All sides had a free vote. The Conservatives were the most split over the issue. Some 96 Conservatives (including four Cabinet ministers) voted for the Dorries amendment, 114 voted against (including seven Cabinet ministers, or ministers entitled to attend Cabinet). And therein lies, if not the reason the amendment fell, but why it fell so heavily. First, a large number of Conservatives chose to sit the vote out altogether, including the Prime Minister. And second, of those that turned out, the majority of Conservatives voted against the amendment. One consolation for Dorries – perhaps the only one? – might be that exactly half of the 96 Tories to support her amendment were drawn from the new intake of MPs, a marginally higher proportion than they represent in the parliamentary party as a whole.
By contrast, Labour MPs were out in force – more Labour MPs voted yesterday than did Conservatives – and almost united over the issue, splitting 11/212 against. The Liberal Democrats’ split was also very slight: 3/41 against.
There was also a high turnout of women MPs – higher than male MPs by about by about 13 percentage points – with a pretty emphatic rejection of the Dorries amendment across all three main parties. Voting for the Dorries amendment, you had Naomi Long (Alliance), Sylvia Hermon (Independent Unionist), ten Conservative women and two Labour women. Just 14 in total. Against, however, you had Caroline Lucas (Green), 76 Labour women, 28 Conservative women, and four Lib Dem women, a total of 108.
In other words, of those who voted, Conservative women MPs were roughly 50% more likely to vote against the Dorries amendment than Conservative men (74% of Conservative women voted against the amendment, compared to 50% of Conservative men). Similar, if weaker, differences exist for Labour (97% of Labour women MPs voted against the amendment, compared to 94% of Labour men) and the Lib Dems (93% of Lib Dem men voted against the amendment, compared to 100% of Lib Dem women MPs who voted).
Yet we’ve noted in the past that whilst there is a gender effect on votes on abortion, it tends to be secondary to party. That’s still true: if you wanted someone who would vote against the Dorries amendment – and all you knew about them was their sex and their party – you were still better off with a Labour or Lib Dem man (6% and 7% respectively of whom voted for the amendment) than a Conservative woman (26% of whom voted for it). Party still trumps gender.