Some thoughts on 5 big rebellions in this Parliament

 

There have now been four occasions when a Commons debate and vote has decisively changed Coalition policy and actions and one when a letter signed by 81 Conservative MPs changed the government’s approach. It shows that this Parliament is a stronger Parliament than its last few predecessors, willing to challenge and if necessary defeat the government.  We need to ask why this is happening. There are lessons for government, for Oppostion and for everyone else interested in  the evolution of our democracy.

On 24th October 2011 81 Conservatives voted for David Nuttall’s amendment seeking an EU referendum, with 19 more abstaining.  The pressure for a referendum from Conservative MPs finally resulted in the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech and the offer of a referendum should there be a majority Conservative government next time.

On 10 July 2012 91 Conservative MPs voted against Lords reform, in a rebellion against coalition policy led by Jesse Norman. In  August the government announced it was dropping its Lords reform Bill.

On 31 October 2012 53 Conservatives supported Mark Reckless’s amendment to cut the EU budget. Labour also voted for his amendment, and the government was defeated. The Prime Minister then successfully negotiated a reduction in the EU budget.

On 5 June 2013 Andrew Bridgen sent a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 81 Conservative MPs urging him to hold a debate and vote before making any further commitment to Syria. The Prime Minister accepted this advice.

On 29th August 2013 31 Conservatives voted against the government’s motion on Syria with Labour, defeating the government after it had in effect accepted it had no majority for military action and would not  be bringing forward a second vote to approve a  missile strike as required by the amended motion.

This pattern of rebellions against the recommended line of the whips is unusual. Firstly, the rebellions bring far more MPs to vote against the government than in previous Parliaments. Secondly, they tend to be on the really big fundamental issues. Thirdly, they are not made bitter by personal rivalries or by people seeking to become leader. Fourthly, each one has been organised by a different MP. Everyone has been organised by an MP of the 2010 intake, not some  former rival of Mr Cameron . The Syria vote did not require a leader, as there was no amendment or rival motion involved. Nick de Bois, the Secretary to the 1922 Committee and a member of the 2010 intake, was one of the more active in the media on it.  Fifthly the personnel  varies considerably depending on the issue. It’s not just a hard core of anti leadership people.   Sixthly, the 2010 intake, whipped more energetically than more experienced MPs, is usually half the rebellion, reflecting their proportion of Conservative MPs overall.

I think much of this behaviour can be put down to the coalition. Too many talented Conservative MPs are free to think their own thoughts. They think the coalition has not pushed through enough Conservative measures and they remain truer to the Conservative Manifesto they fought on. The EU is the biggest source of disagreement, as most Conservative MPs want a new relationship with the EU as soon as  possible, and deeply resent the continuing increase in EU powers and laws, as more Directives and court judgements rain down on us.

The Syrian motion brought out some surpising rebels. Fiona Bruce, Tracey Crouch, Anne Marie Morris, Phillip Lee would not be head of most people’s lists of likely rebels.  When  usually loyal representatives of the middle of the Conservative party feel they have to help vote down the government, it should be time for a rethink on how whipping works and policy is formed and approved.

The modern Conservative party wants its Ministers and leaders to work with it, to persuade, to listen, to discuss. Most sensible MPs know that if MPs treat every vote as a free vote and object to anything that might be unpopular, you end up with anarchy. The party which opposed the Syrian war strongly, has given the governemnt good majorities so far for the Lobbying Bill, even though there are criticisms of it flying from both sides.

Anyone wishing to get a measure through this Parliament has to remember the arithmetic. If the coalition speaks for both its parties, they have a good  majority. If coalition ministers agree with Labour’s line they have a majority, regardless of Conservative backbenchers. If  Labour votes with rebel Conservative backbenchers on a measure Conservative MPs do n ot regard as sensible, they have the majority, as the larger rebellions see more than 50 Conservatives in disagreement with the government.

 

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54 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    “Not pushed through enough Conservative measures” indeed hardly any at all have been pushed by Cameron at all does he know what one is? So far they have ratted on the EU, inheritance tax, married allowances, the deficit, caps on care costs, they have increased taxes, increased energy prices by design and religion, increased relative incentives not to work, increased daft regulations, put gender neutral insurance in place and not sorted the banks ………..

    Fifty to one hundred sensible MPs is not nearly enough. The fact that all, but a tiny handful, of MPs voted in 2008 for the climate change act show clearly the appalling, innumerate and unscientific level of the average, sheep MP.

    These few rebellions were all good and solid but so little, given the dreadful Cameron total lack of direction on almost every issue.

    I suppose we have to be grateful for HIP packs (almost) going, the M4 bus lane, and the new squatting law (but not yet for commercial, why on earth not)? Why not pro growth, lower taxes, a smaller state, incentives to work, cheaper energy, released of the EU vision?
    Why is the UK state sector 50% overpaid relative to the more productive private sector and so huge, bloated, misdirected and so incompetently run?

    • Bazman
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Incentives to work? I bet you do not have higher pay by companies making massive profits do you? More like cuts in benefits to boost these companies workforces and the wages increases to real amounts by the state? If the state as you fantasise is 50% overpaid then by how much is the private sector underpaid and the states subsidies for this? The market sets the rate for supermarkets workers and the like? Pure fantasy they set the rates and who would want to work for these companies when you propose to undermine conditions and pay even further? Do tell us how incentives to work will work. Desperation as an incentive? Again no reply, but will continue to rant anyway? etc

    • nemesis
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Totally agree, Life logic. I think you perfectly demonstrate that Cameron has the sort of political judgement that blocks lavatories.

      • Bazman
        Posted September 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        See above and get back to us. Or not…?

  2. lifelogic
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    “Anyone wishing to get a measure through this Parliament has to remember the arithmetic.”

    Perhaps also remember why Cameron failed to beat sitting duck Brown in 2010 outright and we have this arithmetic. His blatant pre-election EU ratting on Lisbon, his soft, wet, high tax, “BBC think”, fake green, soft socialist, Lord Patten type of agenda. This and giving Clegg equal TV billing in the debates.

    I read that Norway and Switzerland both happily out of the EU, are second and third in some happiness index of countries. How is Cameron’s absurd happiness index coming along and how much has been wasted on it so far? It seems to have gone all quiet!

    I wait to see how that arithmetic looks in MEP voting in May 2014 and then MPs in May 2015. The Tories are surely as dead as they were after Major’s loss 3+1/2 terms so far.

    • Bob
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      @lifelogic

      The Tories have been the “dead men walking” party for some time, and if it hadn’t been for Gordon Brown’s disastrous government the Tories would have finally been put out of their misery at the last General Election.

      There are a number of extremely good people in the Tory Party but sadly they are far outnumbered by the Common Purpose types.

      • lifelogic
        Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, but had they elected a leader with a working compass and not a fake green, pro EU, big state, socialist, ratting, turncoat they would actually have won the last sitting duck election things would have been rather better.

        I hear from KPMG that HS2 will pay for itself in a decade. I assume they were paid well. Clearly should need no tax payer state subsidy then! KPMG are clearly living in a dreamland (etc ed)

        Meanwhile more drivel on PM about global warming taking x days off the average life. These soothsayers are amazing not only do they know the weather in 100 years but its exact effect on life expectancies too, these people are totally bonkers. Needless to say no sensible questioning on this drivel by the BBC interviewer.

        • Bob
          Posted September 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Exactly, if it had a ten year pay-back the government wouldn’t need to use taxpayers money to fund it.

          I wouldn’t trust KPMG as far as I could spit.

  3. Andyvan
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    “if MPs treat every vote as a free vote…you end up with anarchy”
    Sadly you don’t. Anarchy is not merely a government/ legislature arguing with itself and unable to make decisions. Anarchy is the total lack of any group exerting power over others backed by force. It is often defined as the absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual and is regarded as a political ideal.
    If only we did get anarchy that easily.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      And what when your local gang of thugs decided that they were perfectly happy to use force to exert power and impose their will on you?

      Would you go and lecture them on political philosophy, and explain that what they were doing was not in the true spirit of anarchy?

      Over history there have been episodes of anarchy or near anarchy in this country and elsewhere in the world, and guess what?

      The mass of the people are usually relieved to go back to having a government and the restoration of some kind of law and order.

  4. JoeSoap
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Nothing here about how you might more equally align what happens in Parliament to the views of electors. This post is really about dragging measures which are driven by a small number of lobbyists and officials into the real world, via a cohort of rebel MPs. Not the ideal way to run the UK. Better to have more direct democracy in the first place.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Joe–Totally agree–I realise that few would see it this way but I increasingly do not understand why the mere fact that MP’s have been elected should mean much. Item: We are told that a Committee of MP’s is going to look at helicopter safety but what do MP’s know about helicopters or much else for that matter? Changing gear, what did or does Patten know about Broadcasting or again about much else? We need to review the way our leaders get put in place. Let’s hear it for experts. The main reason for the rebellions is obviously that the present Government is not much cop and often tries to promulgate nonsense.

      Reply The whole point of elected MPs is that we are generalists capable of asking questions and challenging profesional and official advice, and capable of obtaining the best advice around to come to a judgement.

      • lifelogic
        Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Generalists 95%(?) of whom voted for the climate change act, without having a clue on the science, the engineering or the economic effects. Or, one assumes, taking any sensible advice from (unbiased) people who did.

        Hardly a decent Science or Maths A level between these fools alas rather like the BBC.

        • uanime5
          Posted September 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          Between the second and third reading of the climate change bill scientists were asked to comment on it and they agreed that it was correct.

      • JoeSoap
        Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        Reply 2 reply:
        Generalists yes, but we need more intelligent generalists, with life experience rather than people with a good history/PPE/social sciences degree who have frankly never analysed anything more than their navel since.
        Just where are the IT, science, engineering graduates, accountants and traders, tradespeople and shopkeepers? Anywhere but the Houses of Parliament.
        This type of democracy attracts (present company excepted) politico-lifers, who would network their way up in the BBC, civil service, NHS or some other large cosetted institution if it all went belly up tomorrow.

  5. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    What is actually apparent is that no one party represents all the views of its party members who should be allowed( without secretly being blackmailed) to express their own views whether in the cabinet or house and it should not be classed as dissension.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I know not a lot about the new Conservative intake of Mp’s, but if they have been self employed or run a business (the people we want more of in Parliament) I would imagine whipping, and being told how to vote, would get right up their nose, because they would be used to making their own decisions.

    May be, just may be, the internet exposure of politics and political thought, and ease of contact to your MP is also just starting to have some effect.
    You are ahead of the game here JR, as you have been running this excellent site for years with the number of comments slowly growing, so you are perhaps of all Mp’s more in tune with voters thoughts on a whole range of issues, on a daily basis (no matter that most are perhaps not in your constituancy).

    Given the above, if and when we get open primaries and the right to re-call, where the locals choose their own representitives instead of an HQ shoe in, we may get even closer to real democracy.

    I would agree a minor majority makes in many cases for better government, because back benchers views simply cannot be ignored.

    Such a shame that David Cameron does not appear to have a very wide circle from whom he takes advice in order to keep in touch with the majority of people in the UK.

    Thus my hope is for a Conservative government with a majority of about 15 next time.
    I live in hope !

    Reply Conservative Associations can and do select their own candidate without taking any top of the list preferred candidate from HQ. Members of Associaitons have real power over candidate selection.

    • alan jutson
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Reply-reply

      Perhaps you have then aswered your own question, if those newer intake Mp’s were chosen by the rather more local independent type thinking Associations, rather than those whom seek to comply with HQ thoughts.

    • Chris
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      They didn’t have much power over candidate selection with regards to the Swaffham furore and Liz Truss. Those who dissented were ridiculed by CHQ and remarks such as Turnip Taliban etc were conveniently “leaked”. Rather similar to the fruitcake treatment.

  7. Robert K
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I had thought Peter Tapsell was Father of the House, but Nick de Bois must beat him by a country mile 🙂
    (“Nick de Bois… and a member of the 1922 intake”)

  8. Denis Cooper
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    “The party which opposed the Syrian war strongly, has given the governemnt good majorities so far for the Lobbying Bill, even though there are criticisms of it flying from both sides.”

    But what is called the “Lobbying Bill” is in fact the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill”:

    http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration.html

    That full title is not just an example of a parliamentary draftsman being profligate with words, it’s telling us that this is what I’ve termed a “composite” Bill, with three Parts which are legally disconnected but which have nonetheless been arbitrarily lumped together in one Bill.

    Some of the criticism has been of the provisions in Part 1, which is actually on lobbying, but much has been directed against Part 2, which has nothing at all to do with lobbying but which could impose sweeping restrictions on freedom of speech for more than a year up to the next general election.

    JR, are there any good reasons why these three unrelated Parts have been stuck together in one “composite” Bill rather than being three separate Bills?

    Reply THis was a subject beloved by the Lib dems. There are connections between the 3 parts, related to the role of money in elections and politics generally.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Maybe this is a rare occasion when the LibDems are right?

      This is the official summary of the Bill, it:

      “introduces a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and establishes a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements

      regulates more closely election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties

      strengthens the legal requirements placed on trade unions in relation to their obligation to keep their list of members up to date.”

      In what way would it cause problems if those three separate topics were dealt with through three separate Bills?

      One being a “Transparency of Lobbying Bill”, another a “Non-party Campaigning Bill”, and the third a “Trade Union Administration Bill”?

      Apart from making it more difficult for the government to smuggle through legal changes potentially suppressing freedom of speech for more than a year before the general election, which would arouse widespread public concern if the public wasn’t misled into assuming that the so-called “Lobbying Bill” was just about the lobbying of MPs and peers by “consultant lobbyists”, and therefore any criticism of the Bill could be immediately dismissed as emanating from vested interests who wanted to continue to have backdoor influence over the government?

      Reply Please credit MPs with a bit more intelligence than you imply. The government has split the Bill into 3 clearly defined different sections, and has allocated a day for each, so I cannot see what difference it would make doing it in 3 bills at a day each.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted September 12, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        Of course MPs understand that this is a “composite” Bill, and that only one part of it is actually about lobbying while another part is about restricting expressions of dissent for more than a year leading up to the next general election; but not having the Bill before them to read – even though they could easily look it up – members of the general public do not so readily understand that, and their comprehension is hardly assisted when it is constantly referred to as the “Lobbying Bill”. I’m sure that as a democrat you would prefer public debates to be properly informed, so why should you not want to facilitate that simply by having the separate topics dealt with in separate Bills?

  9. Robert K
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    You raise an important point. I feel my own (Conservative) MP simply toes the party line. One important principle of our Parliamentary democracy is that local views are represented in the national assembly. Too often, it seems that the whips have the upper hand over the local electorate. Nor can it be healthy that the only way for advancement to ministerial level in Parliament is at the behest of Downing Street. That part of the system breeds cronysim.

  10. Mike Wilson
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    There are lessons for Government, for Opposition and for everyone else interested in the evolution of our democracy.

    On 10 July 2012 91 Conservative MPs voted against Lords reform, in a rebellion against coalition policy led by Jesse Norman. In August the government announced it was dropping its Lords reform Bill.

    Yes, the Conservative party is really interested in ‘the evolution of our democracy’.

    It is important to be able to reward lickspittles and party donors with a seat in the ‘Lords’.

  11. Denis Cooper
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “it should be time for a rethink on how whipping works”

    My rethink is firstly that we should stop paying extra salary to whips for subverting our democracy, and secondly that Parliament should pass an Act waiving parliamentary privilege to the extent that they would automatically be exposed to the full force of the law for any acts performed inside Parliament which would be recognised as unlawful outside Parliament.

    That would be both criminal law – bribery, blackmail, threatening behaviour, assault etc – and also civil law.

    Reply MPs are subject to criminal law in the way you wish.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted September 12, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Then why do we hear stories of whips behaving in ways which would potentially expose them to criminal charges or civil actions if it was outside Parliament?

      Like this:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10276410/David-Camerons-No-10-isnt-a-patch-on-Tony-Blairs.html

      “The next step is delivery. Or as it is experienced by backbench MPs, enforcement. A strong whips’ office is vital in tight votes. A Cabinet minister who served in both the Blair and Brown governments retells his first encounter with Labour whips. Newly elected, he was walking through the corridors of the House when he was accosted by one. He was pushed against the wall, his testicles grabbed and twisted sharply – and painfully. “Son, you’ve done nothing to annoy me. Yet. Just think what I’ll do if you cross me.” That is how you manage backbenchers.”

      Or, without physical assault, this from Dr Sarah Wollaston:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/9926648/Heres-to-Sarah-Wollaston-the-Tory-tweeter-who-cannot-be-silenced.html

      “Two years ago she explained how she turned down a job as a ministerial bag carrier because, she said, it was “a Faustian pact: in return for the vague illusion of having the minister’s ear, I would have had to resign from the health select committee, agree to never speak on health matters and to always vote with the Government”. “

  12. Hope
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    The posh boys do not listen, that is one claim you cannot make with any credibility. There are so many examples it would take too long to remind you. Cameron gives a sound bite hoping it will make the news and then acts in contrast. He surrounds himself with clones and is not in touch with the real world. Most conservatives are still waiting, three years on in government, for some conservative drive in changing society. Amber on offers social democrat and in his words is a liberal conservative-whatever that means. He claims to be the heir to Blaire and we have seen some of these traits in unnecessary Middle East wars, gay marriage, 5.2 percent increase in welfare so it do not pay to work, fleecing us with ever increasing taxes because he will not make spending cuts, as you pointed out so many times. As for the EU, no one needs convincing anymore what he stands for. He is very pro EU and will not lead the country out of it, in contrast to the EU sceptic impression he gave before the election. No, Cameron does not listen or deliver on what he says. Te exception being he is the heir to Blaire.

  13. Tony Harrison
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “On 24th October 2011 81 Conservatives voted for David Nuttall’s amendment seeking an EU referendum, with 19 more abstaining..”
    I remember this very well. I commented at the time to my MP that this represented only around one third of Con MPs…
    “On 31 October 2012 53 Conservatives supported Mark Reckless’s amendment to cut the EU budget..”
    And this vote represented even fewer – about one sixth…
    I tend to cite these figures myself, when people (usually Tory loyalists) get a little bit too enthusiastic about the alleged “EU-scepticism” of their Party. Apart from reminding us that the Parliamentary Conservative Party is still remarkably slavish toward its avowedly pro-EU leader, the figures are not an especially impressive demonstration of Parliament’s independence of thought.

  14. Douglas Carter
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    ….’if MPs treat every vote as a free vote and object to anything that might be unpopular, you end up with anarchy.’…

    Whilst notionally that might be true it’s a slight caricature of what may actually occur in Parliament. A Government which has difficulty passing a variety of Bills may be referred to by the press as ‘weak’ – the Westminster tribes voting against those Bills as ‘indisciplined’ but the nature of rebellions is such that they will usually occur under terms of poorly-thought-out dogma or policy preceding (e.g. Blair’s ninety-day detention policy). Rebellions also rise when putative policy proceeds even in the teeth of virulent and principled opposition to the emergence of a status that MPs feel is entirely wrong for Parliament to permit – for example the Maastricht Treaty under the terms John Major presented.

    Arguably you might contend that a core of the party in Parliament which forms the Government might consider itself under a democratic obligation to oppose that Government, specifically within eras where there is no effective opposition in the HoC – example during the term Neil Kinnock served as Labour Leader. At that time there was no competent nor effective opposition – no matter the incumbent Prime Minister’s personal competence or professionalism at that time.

    However, in times of coalition, the Government fights not only opposition but the continual holding-to-ransom of its structure; if the terms of the coalition it originally built were not very strictly defined – and that structure was not adequately, honestly and clearly declared to the senior party in that coalition at the time then it sows the seeds of legitimate dissent at that time.

    Made more complex of course, if your Parliament is no longer the ultimate authority in that nation, and that the incumbent leaders of that governing party have no intentions of returning full authority to that Parliament.

    So in terms, it would appear that nearly all the problems a Government might face in terms of rebellions are largely self-inflicted, and that generally the solutions a Government might turn to exist within itself, and not on the back-benches?

  15. Mike Stallard
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Wasn’t it Tony Blair who moved the Whips out of Downing Street and replaced them with a Spin Factory? Didn;t his Chief Whip have to move out of the front bench and sit in the aisle for some important debates? I imagine his reforms are still in force – and the disgraceful sacking of Mr Mitchell probably has not helped much either.

    Old Etonians… Well, you have to be one really… Poor old David Davies!

  16. Acorn
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Two party democracy is the worse of them all. In a two party system, opinions and stances tend to get split down the middle. As a result,a shift to the partisan extremes is inevitable in order to show the voters a stark contrast between the two parties. (HT Debate.org). The Lib Dems never quite ignited a multiparty system in the UK, but, the split in the Conservative Party has effectively, temporarily, introduced a multi party system. With two parties, the majority of voters, who still think it is their duty to vote, will be voting for the lesser of two evils.

    The first-past-the-post voting system, tends to reduce the number of political parties to a greater extent than most other methods do, (Duverger’s law), making it more likely that a single party will hold a majority of legislative seats. (In the UK, 21 out of 24 General Elections since 1922 have produced a single-party majority government.) (HT Wiki)

    We have four parties Con Ideologs; Con Neo Libs; Lib Dems and Labour. We may even get five if UKIP scores heavily at the next election. There again, this could all melt away when thoughts are turned to the sixty five grand a year, gold plated pension and an expense account to die for. The bottom line is, no MP is going to vote to put him /her out of work.

    Like it or not, an MP is basically party lobby fodder. He is selected by a small clique of constituency party members, many a candidate dropped into the constituency by parachute. Open Primary Elections would reverse that procedure, the candidate would select his / her party preference.

    Reply Having a majority party in government and large party leading opposition to it can provide a good way of providing a coherent and consistent set of policies for government, and a strong critique with an alternative for the next election so people have a real choice of government. Fragmented Parliaments with lots of parties end up giving no voters what they want, as all is a compromise cobbled together after the election.

    • Acorn
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Some 35 countries in Europe have post election coalitions or pre election alliances. Down and out basket cases like Germany; France; Switzerland; Norway; Netherlands; Sweden etc etc. None with the super dynamic economic performance of the UK mind you; with its two party, ping pong, Punch and Judy, Buggins’ turn parliament.

  17. oldtimer
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    These rebellions also reflect, to some degree, public disaffection with coalition policies and the response of some MPs to that disaffection. I believe this to be true of the votes on the EU, on House of lords reform and more recently on Syria. They are a welcome blow against the elective dictatorship that is the executive arm of the UK government; a sign that public consent actually matters.

  18. Bert Young
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I question whether the Whips have a meaningful role to play . If a candidate stands for his party based on his/her manifesto case , the subsequent role of the Whip is redundant ; the changes that do occur during the lifetime of a parliament are due to unexpected events cropping up ; at such a time public opinion is paramount and must sway how an MP votes . The Syrian case emphasises why MPs should examine their own consciences without the fear and role of the party Whip . If the leadership of the party is effectively tuned in to the public , differences would be minimal and public embarrassment avoided .

    Reply Whips have a most important role. It has to be two way. They need to tell Ministers what MPs are thinking, and they need to tell us how the government would like us to vote where we agree with the government. MPs are too busy to follow every Commons debate in detail, so need guidance on individual amendments etc

  19. DaveK
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    John

    I would like to thank you for your comments during the debate (on climate change ed)

    Hopefully it could become the next rebellion, since all the minister could do was trot out dogma with no sense of actual thought on the matter.

    Regards

    Reply I will write about climate change tomorrow.

  20. Neil Craig
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    And none of these issues have been of great importance to the Labour party (they have supported both sides, sometimes on the one issue & when voting against the government have done so for the sake of opposition not principle). Indeed none of these issues fit any normal left/right delineation of politics.

    I think the rebels were wrong, on balance, over Lord’s reform (& it has certainly seriously damaged Tory re-election chances) but on the others they were right.

    Reply The government carried the Commons with a large majority on Lords reform but abandoned it owing to the doubts some MPs put up, and to the likely opposition in the Lords to it.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply: If you stuff a place full of people who get paid hundreds of pounds a day for turning up to a gentlemen’s club – you can hardly expect them not to argue with changes to their happy existence.

      If there is an argument for a revising chamber – filled with the great and the good (and there is) – we need to find a way of populating it that has nothing to do with the elected journeymen in the House of Commons.

  21. John Wrake
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,

    Your post is interesting, concerned as it is, with HoC arithmetic, and makes clear the disquiet evident amongst M.P.s about the present state of affairs. However, there is another arithmetical factor at work, which is that contained in lifelogic’s comment at 5.51 today.

    Lifelogic asks the question – Why is the UK state sector 50% overpaid relative to the more productive private sector and so huge, bloated, misdirected and so incompetently run?

    The relative size of the state sector to the private sector amongst voters, quite apart from the ratio of their pay, has a profound effect on the support given to political parties at elections and therefore, the relative strengths of the parties in Parliament.

    Those employed and paid by the state are not likely to vote for candidates to seats who support small government, private enterprise and independent thinking. It is not just constituency boundaries which give real Conservatives a disadvantage.

    John Wrake.

  22. English Pensioner
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I believe that the rise of UKIP has much to do with the change of attitude amongst quite a few Tory MPs. particularly those with small majorities. UKIP is offering a number of traditional Tory policies, such a Grammar Schools and strengthening of our military forces, both of which have strong support in Tory areas of the country. Sitting MPs can see that UKIP could collect enough votes, not necessarily to get elected, but to ensure that the Tory doesn’t, letting in Labour. UKIP is making great play on listening to people and many MPs realise that they are going to have to do the same, and thus these rebellions are one way of saying to their constituents “Yes, I am listening”.

    Reply Not so. UKIP has not figured in these rebellions.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      @English Pensioner – Why do you think Grammar Schools are a Tory policy? From an article in the Guardian … ‘Margaret Thatcher holds the prize as the secretary of state who closed or merged the most grammar schools for a comprehensive alternative.’

      Why do you think strengthening our military forces is a Tory policy? Is it?

      Grammar schools used to be a way out of the working class for bright, working class children. It was middle class parents whose kids did not make the grade that led the clamour for ‘comprehensive’ (non-selective) eduation. You can thank Tories for that one.

      I think most people would agree with the statement: ‘We need strong military forces to deter people from attacking us and to defend us if they do. And to defend our interests on the high seas.’ That’s not Tory or Labour policy. It is just common sense.

      UKIP, it strikes me, has common sense policies – not ‘Tory’ policies.

    • JoeSoap
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      As Mr Barrosso says, why vote for the copy when you can vote for the real thing?

  23. Mike
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The only reason the average lickspittle Tory MP is willing to vote sensibly is because they know UKIP is breathing down their necks.

    It was Nigel’s opposition to a Syrian war which won the vote, nothing to do with what John singularly fails to paint as principled and benign Tories voting with their conscience.

    Reply I can assure you Mr Farage’s view on the war was little known and never discussed. We made our own decisions and took our own actions, as elected MPs charged with just that duty.

    • JoeSoap
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      I think more importantly your views are more aligned with his than to your own leader. Period.

  24. Andy Baxter
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    All well and good….Mr. Redwood and more a result of a weak enfeebled PM lacking gravitas, or conviction where MP’s like the proverbial circling shark smell blood in the water.

    BUT if we had true separation of powers; there would be NO ONE from the Government (Executive) sitting in Parliament so you would have a total divorce from those who want to implement policy and those who are responsible for scrutinising and giving either a ‘nay’ or ‘yea’ to such.

    You’d also get;

    a) A payroll vote which would be non-existent by definition
    b) Limited if any ‘whip’ influence as MP’s would be truly representatives of their constituents, not party animals seeking office and baubles on the greasy pole.
    c) A chamber which was solely and totally devoted to legislative matters, with real teeth and power to hold the executive to account.

    And perhaps true sovereignty residing in the will of the people not party machines that fail to garner even 1% of the electorate as their members yet who because of the system as it stands concentrate POWER which should reside with the people into the select hands of the few.

    Representative democracy as it stands is not fit for purpose anymore without real change or perhaps abolition of some of the power structures currently in place.

    A radical devolution of power is required modelled on the Swiss example where individual communities and regions can set their own tax rates, decide on local policy and where central government functions are restricted to essentials like Infrastructure, defence, Aviation etc.

    Time for change Sheeple….

    are we awake yet?

  25. peter davies
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Westminster has the constituency link presumably so that MPs speak for their constituents as opposed to always “towing the party line” like sheep as in the case of Iraq, Climate Change Bill and many others – this has long been eroded in my view so perhaps a PR based system of voting where every vote counts and not just the swing seats might be the way to go.

    What you describe in the way you change Govt direction on big issues is progress, you can achieve what you want with allies but its a shame you have to do this

    – it seems to me that (with exceptions like the owner of this site) too many of the wrong sorts of people get into politics – the Cleggs, the Millibands, the unions reps, the leftie BBC journo, the Councillor, the union rep baron – people who have never worked outside politics or organisations run on committee type structures but fit the bill of what a party wants so gets parachuted into a safe seat when it becomes vacant.

    As for the EU parliament and all that state of the union Crap, they are even worse.

    They talk about issues like solving climate change ignoring the scientific fact that the ice melt coming from Greenland is coming from the earths mantle (which may help explain why Antarctic hasn’t melted), the North Western Passage having 60% more ice this summer than last year and the fact that we are hitting a period of solar minimum.

    – yet we still have to put up with expensive energy policies which would go a long way to sorting the economy if abandoned – utter clueless morons with too much power yet our govt go along with it.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted September 12, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      The problem is that there is no conventional PR system which does not weaken the constituency link. Whether it’s a vile party list system as for the elections to the EU parliament in most of the UK, or the preferable STV system which is used for those elections in Northern Ireland, the only way to get greater proportionality is to have large multi-seat constituencies. If you attempt to correct the party composition of the assembly through parties appointing additional members, as with the Scottish Parliament, then you have members floating free detached from any constituency and accountable to nobody apart from their party bosses. AV would have been a small improvement on FPTP; but while AV is a limiting case of STV where only one seat is to be filled in a constituency, and so as in the Irish Republic it can be used for by-elections where the general election has been held by STV, because only one candidate can be successful AV is not PR. This is why I have suggested that we should think outside the box of conventional PR systems and make good use of the second House of Parliament to mitigate the deficiencies of FPTP for the first House, and get something closer to proportionality across the two Houses taken together.

  26. forthurst
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    “Most sensible MPs know that if MPs treat every vote as a free vote and object to anything that might be unpopular, you end up with anarchy.”

    What you end up with when governments can force through their own agenda with the compliance of lobby fodder, is what we have now: a country subsumed into a European superstate which is filling very rapidly with those of absolutely no cultural sympathy with whom we English see ourselves to be. It were better that parliament passed no laws at all than to swell the pre-existing oversized statute book with more constraints on our freedoms and offering more employment possibilities for overremunerated and under-talented public ‘servants’ and higher taxes and deficits to pay for them.

  27. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully, some 81 Conservative MPs will tell the Prime Minister what his renegotiating position with the EU and its Member States ought to be. The PM’s Bloomberg speech contained many fine words and was accompanied by an IN/OUT referendum pledge but it is thin on specifics and ‘red lines’. We will get nowhere with renegotiation unless we tell the EU what ‘red lines’ are defined and that no Treaty is forever.

    Reapkly Indeed – there is a lot of work going on at the moment to map EU powers and inform the Manifesto debate on what the new relationship should look like.

  28. uanime5
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    On 10 July 2012 91 Conservative MPs voted against Lords reform, in a rebellion against coalition policy led by Jesse Norman. In August the government announced it was dropping its Lords reform Bill.

    Given that this bill passed with a majority of over 300 the fact that it was dropped because 91 Conservative MPs objected shows just how little democracy the UK has. Effectively a bill supported by the majority of Parliament was dropped because a minority objected to it. I’m also not surprised that you omitted the vote on boundary changes, where Parliament voted to delay this until after the next election, which scuppered the Government’s plan to introduce them in 2015.

    Regarding MPs being more rebellious this may be due to the coalition as sharing ministerial positions with the Lib Dems means there’s fewer positions to offer to Conservative MPs.

    Reply: it was not a big Conservative rebellion that stopped the boundary changes, but a change of mind by Lib dems, not the subject of my piece.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply: Why did the government drop it if the bill was passed with a majority of 300?

      Reply: It did not feel it could proceed with so little support on its own side, and with the possibility of defeat in the Lords to follow.

      • uanime5
        Posted September 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        As there was a majority of 300 supporting this bill it was highly likely to pass even if the Conservative backbenchers opposed it and due to the Parliament act it could be forced through the Lords. Thus it was possible to proceed.

        It says a lot about how little democracy the UK has when the largest party is able to kill off bills because a minority of MPs object to them.

        Reply It would be very difficult to use the PARLIAMENT Act for a fundamental constitutional reform opposed by the Lords, with a major chunk of the biggest Commons party also in disagreement.

  29. APL
    Posted September 12, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    JR: “Some thoughts on 5 big rebellions in this Parliament”

    Can we stop playing the BBC leftoid game, please?

    We are supposed to live in a democracy, the government SHOULD have to work for its support, it’s only tin pot dictatorships that can count on the unwavering support of its ‘delegates’.

  30. Dave
    Posted September 13, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    One aspect worth considering is the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. This ‘decouples’ a govt defeat on a key plank of its declared policy from wider issues of ‘confidence’ in the govt as a whole. As you well recall, it was only by making the treaty an issue of confidence in 1993, that Major was able to ratify Maastricht (w/o the ‘social chapter’). Tory MPs who vote against this govt know they are not turkeys voting for early christmas. FTPA requires a rethinking of many parliamentary conventions; not least the circumstances under which a Ministry should be reformed mid term absent the option for a defeated PM of appealing to the country.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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