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Labour's rebels: Principled and old join usual suspects

Even the most hardened rebels were surprised by the size of Wednesday night's Commons revolt over lone parent benefits. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, asks if the new Labour worms are starting to turn.

Even this week they were being dismissed by party hacks as a handful of Trots. But while most of the "usual suspects" were among the 100 or so who failed to support the measure, there were others who had been totally loyal until now.

Of the 47 who voted against, 14 were newly elected in May this year. Some of those, such as the former GLC deputy leader John McDonnell and both Ann and John Cryer, widow and son of the former Labour MP Bob Cryer, were known to be left-wingers. Others, such as Martin Caton, MP for Gower, and Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, had not been picked out as potentially disloyal. Their whips' office files will have been marked.

Some were prepared to sacrifice their careers, including Malcolm Chisholm, who resigned as a Scottish Office minister, and Gordon Prentice, a Parliamentary Private Secretary. His colleague Alice Mahon, deeply loyal since being made a PPS this year, was previously known as a left-winger.

There is always a balance to be weighed between ambition and principle, of course, and the list of rebels is heavily peppered with those whose career prospects were slim.

Half were more than 55 years old and therefore regarded as being on a downward slope towards retirement. Then there were the "unlikely lads and lasses", whose slim majorities rendered their prospects of surviving the next election almost non-existent. In that category were Hilton Dawson, the Lancaster MP with a majority of just 1,295, and Jonathan Shaw, member for Chatham and Aylesworth with a majority of 2,790.

Perhaps even more interesting is the list of those who did not vote. Fourteen abstained in person, while another 38 stayed away. The abstainers included George Galloway, colourful MP for Glasgow Kelvin, and Julie Morgan, new MP for Cardiff North.

Many previously deeply loyal Blairite new MPs stayed away. Some may have had genuine reasons, but others will have had permission to be absent because they would not vote with the Government. Among the absentees were Oona King, from Bethnal Green and Bow, who was in Bangladesh, and Claire Ward, the 25-year-old from Watford, who was said to have had an important meeting to attend.

Paul Flynn, member for Newport West, said in his recent book, Commons Knowledge, that backbenchers were much more difficult to control than they used to be. After telling the whips he would vote against the Government on Wednesday, he was in the event unable to attend. A large number of MPs were too old, too left-wing, or simply too damn independent to be controlled, he added.

"Backbenchers are no longer disciplinable in the traditional way, but the party thinks they are. There are lots of groups that just can't be pushed around," he said.

New Labour's edifice remained intact this week, but for those who care to look closely, the cracks are beginning to show.

the 47 dissidents

Diane Abbott (Hackney N and Stoke Newington), John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead), Harry Barnes (Derbyshire NE), Tony Benn (Chesterfield), Dr Roger Berry (Kingswood), Harold Best (Leeds NW), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Dennis Canavan (Falkirk W), Martin Caton (Gower), David Chaytor (Bury North), Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh N and Leith), Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley), Frank Cook (Stockton N), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington N), Ann Cryer (Keighley), John Cryer (Hornchurch), Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre), Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich), William Etherington (Sunderland N), Maria Fyfe (Glasgow Maryhill), Dr Ian Gibson (Norwich N), Dr Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde), Bernie Grant (Tottenham), David Hinchliffe (Wakefield), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton N), Brian Iddon (Bolton SE), Dr Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak), Terry Lewis (Worsley), Ken Livingstone (Brent E), John McAllion (Dundee E), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Kevin McNamara (Hull N), Alice Mahon (Halifax), Dr John Marek (Wrexham), Bill Michie (Sheffield Heeley), Gordon Prentice (Pendle), Brian Sedgemore (Hackney S and Shoreditch), Jonathon Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford), Alan Simpson (Nottingham S), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Llewellyn Smith (Blaneau Gwent), Ian Stewart (Eccles), Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby), David Winnick (Walsall N), Audrey Wise (Preston), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen).

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) was recorded as voting both for and against the amendment despite having backed the Government. So the total was 47 and not 48, as reported in yesterday's Independent.