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Friday, December 31, 2010

Rebels with lots of causes

Just when David Cameron and Nick Clegg thought that they might be able to relax over Christmas, The Independent publishes the results of some research that is guaranteed to send a chill down their back.

They say that Government MPs are rebelling against their parties' policies on a scale not seen since 1945. During the Coalition's first seven months, dozens of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, including many elected for the first time in May, have repeatedly defied House of Commons' whips to vote against the Government:

The findings suggest the Coalition – which has a Commons majority of 84 – could be vulnerable to defeat as the Government becomes more unpopular and the austerity measures hit home. Earlier this month the rise in tuition fees scraped by with a majority of 21.

The research, conducted by Professor Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of Nottingham University, found Government MPs rebelled in 84 of the 160 Commons votes between May and 20 December when Parliament rose for the three-week Christmas break. They say the 53 per cent rebellion rate is "without parallel in the post-war era".

Tories have rebelled in 38 per cent of divisions, with 73 backbenchers voting against the Government at least once. Fifty-one Conservative MPs, including 26 new arrivals, have already broken ranks over Europe, with 37 backing a rebel move to cut Britain's contributions to the EU budget.

Conservatives have also repeatedly rebelled over plans to hold a referendum on changing the voting system (26 revolts) and over moves to introduce fixed-term parliaments (12 rebellions). By far the most contrary Conservative was Philip Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, who voted No on 44 occasions, more than 27 per cent of votes.

Professor Cowley said: "Even Jeremy Corbyn, the most rebellious Labour MP of the Blair period, could only manage a rate of around 20 per cent, so Mr Hollobone is breaking new ground."

Next most rebellious was David Nuttall, the new Tory MP for Bury North, who voted No 29 times. The leading Liberal Democrat dissenter, and the only one in his party in the top 10 rebels, was Mike Hancock, the MP for Portsmouth South. Just five of Mr Clegg's 38 backbenchers have so far remained wholly loyal to the Coalition.

Although, I am the Group whip in the Welsh Assembly, managing five members in which the most awkward is me is not that difficult. My sympathies lie with the Government whips for having such an impossible job.

However, that does not mean that I disapprove of the rebels. After all, didn't the voters elect us to think for ourselves? Thank goodness far more MPs are prepared to do that, and then stand up and be counted.
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