Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Those rebellious coalition MPs

Professor Philip Cowley (founder of revolts.co.uk, THE source for data on parliamentary rebellions and co-editor and author of the definitive guide to last year’s general election) published a wonderful little blogpost about government backbench rebellions this morning.

There are some fascinating tit bits of information. Backbench rebellion is at an all-time high, amongst Conservative MPs higher than under John Major. According to Cowley MPs there is now a rebellion in almost half of votes.

Given that we are in the first parliamentary session of a new government this is, in some ways, quite shocking. New governments tend to have stable parliamentary majorities and new MPs have historically preferred to attempt to prove their loyalty. The good news for the Government is that the two government parties tend to rebel on different subjects and not at the same time, so when Conservatives rebel Lib Dems remain loyal, and vice-versa, meaning bills will usually pass on the votes of one of the two parties. Of course coalition means that, unlike in the Labour years, the backbenchers are not united in their issues with the government. Lib Dem backbenchers are generally to the left of the government, Conservative backbenchers are generally to its right.

This explains some of the rebellion, as does the size of the government majority itself (77), which gives licence to decent sized rebellions as MPs know it will take a large-scale rebellion to defeat the government.

At the same time, however, I am told that MPs, rightly, or wrongly, increasingly view rebellion as a ticket to re-election in marginal constituencies. Voters, particularly voters for the MP’s political party, generally like their MP to be a ‘maverick’ figure, and indeed there are obvious advantages to, say, being a Lib Dem MP and being able to put on your election leaflets that you voted against tuition fees.

Politics is localising. Modern elections are increasingly fought on a constituency by constituency basis and MPs in marginal constituencies are increasingly elected on wafer-thin majorities. A hundred votes can decide the MP in some seats and a maverick vote in the right policy area might just be enough to do just that.


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