This week new analysis showed that the Parliament first elected in May 2010 has been more rebellious by far than the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown led Parliaments. Conservative MPs have been the most rebellious.
This should come as no suprise. Coalition governments are by nature different from majority governments. The Coalition is not enacting the Conservative manifesto, so it does not have the automatic loyalty that comes from fighting an election on a common platform. Whips cannot appeal to MPs who are unhappy with something by reminding them that their election was helped by the presence of this item in the manifesto, even if they themselves did not like it. Conservative MPs were not invited to a full meeting where we could all put our views about the potential Coalition before it went ahead, unlike Lib Dem MPs. No vote of Conservative MPs was taken over it.
However, I do not think the main reason Conservatives have been so rebellious is the existence of a coalition. Whilst some Conservative members think Lib Dems have influenced the government too much, there is not a huge amount of evidence to support that claim. It is true one of the most unpopular policies of the Coalition, the higher tuition fees, was worked out and proposed by a Lib Dem Secretary of State, but it is difficult to believe that either a Conservative or a Labour majority government would have come up with very different proposals in the circumstances. Both the main parties had given Browne a fair wind to produce his report and might have stayed a bit closer to it, but the differences were not huge. It is true the Lib Dems pressed a referendum vote on a different voting system against Conservative wishes, but the public dismissed it.
No. The main reason the Conservatives are rebellious is the EU. There are more rebellions on EU matters than others. And many of the issues which anger or annoy Conservative MPs are ones where EU law now has a considerable impact on what any Minister is allowed to do.
Carbon taxes, renewables and dearer energy, fortnightly bin collections, votes for prisoners, higher spending to fuel the EU budget, bail outs of Euroland countries, immigrati0n rules, human rights requirements for political correctness – all these matters are determined by the EU or are areas where Ministerial action is very circumscribed by the EU or the ECHR.
The EU has induced a dishonesty in UK politics over the years. Ministers do not normally come to the Commons and say they are proposing this solely because we have to comply with EU requirements, though much of our legislation is now to do just that. It may well be that individual Ministers do think the same as the EU on matters like recycling or dearer energy, so they are telling the truth when the recommend these courses of action to us. Overall, however, the impression is given that the UK government still has plenty of freedom to choose its own way, when in many areas it does not.
Conservatives in the government say they wish to limit immigration. Yet we all know that they cannot impose controls on EU immigration, including migrants from outside the EU who have spent some time in another EU country, unless EU law is changed. The government says it wishes to deregulate industry and commerce, yet much of the regulation is now baked into the European system and cannot be repealed. Ministers say they are establishing a new UK system of financial regulation, yet in reality they are agreeing to the EU undertaking more and more of the controlling functions in financial regulation.
The government is usually able to ignore the numerous Conservative Eurosceptics, because Labour and the Lib Dems agree with much of the EU lawmaking. It might be wise, however, for the government to amend its rhetoric on issues where the EU is in charge, and admit it. It would also be wise for the government to seek more powers back for the UK as the EU seeks our agreement to a further centralising drive in the name of saving the Euro. Conservatives at base worry more that any UK government now is just the provincial outpost of Brussels, than they worry about the balance of the Coalition.