There has been some commentary recently on loyalty and rebellions in the Conservative party. I want to explore some of the reasons and consequences. Today I wish to dispel the wrong notion put around by some commentators that the rebellions are by the old and grumpy in the Conservative Parliamentary party, sitting in safe seats with no hope of preferment or recognition by the present leadership. We read that this small group of malcontents rebel and disrupt, causing difficulties for everyone else and making it more difficult for people in marginal seats. The briefing usually distinguishes between the 2010 intake, the future, and the rest, implying it is some of the rest who are the problem. This simply is not the case.
I define a major rebellion as a case where a group of MPs votes against a 3 line whip on a motion or piece of legislation that the Conservative leadership and whips say is important, and where the rebels can change the government’s stance as a result. There have been four such large rebellions in this Parliament, with the amendment to the Immigration Bill to continue last year’s arrangements for Romania and Bulgaria also a possible major rebellion depending on what happens next.
These five rebellions have all been led by MPs who first entered Parliament in 2010, not by old timers with no prospects of preferment. 3 of the five MPs sit for marginal seats, and decided their cause was just and would be attractive to their constituents. One has a majority of 536, and another 2243. They are listed below:
24 October 2011 David Nuttall proposed a referendum at a time when it was not official Conservative policy. The 81 Conservatives who voted for his proposal helped make it Conservative policy later to hold a referendum.
10 July 2012 Jesse Norman led the opposition to a certain type of Lords reform which the Coalition government wanted. 91 Conservatives voted for his rejection of the government changes, and the proposals were dropped by the government.
31 October 2012 Mark Reckless proposed a cut in the EU budget and helped defeat the government, with 53 Conservative MPs voting for his proposal. The government has now arranged a lower EU budget than planned.
Andrew Bridgen led the opposition to military engagement in Syria by organising a letter to the PM requesting a vote, signed by 81 Conservatives. A vote was granted leading to the defeat of the government’s policy and a new government policy opposing military intervention. He did not himself vote against on the eventual Commons vote which was held, as the government had by then changed the motion to exclude authorising the use of force so the case was already won.
Currently Nigel Mills with 74 Conservatives has proposed an amendment to the Immigration Bill.
These are all talented MPs who might have become Ministers had they chosen a different approach to this Parliament, and may well be Ministers in future. They are by no means old. They are recently elected MPs, with ages from 39 to 52. They are not grumpy or pessimistic. They just believe in things and are seeking to represent their constituents and the values of their party. Those who write in general terms about rebellion should remember the names and backgrounds of the leading rebels. They should also take into account that most Conservatives prefer the policies which these rebellions triggered. Most of us are far happier proposing a referendum on the EU than not, happier seeking a smaller EU budget rather than a bigger one, and pleased that the UK did not go to war in Syria.