Government faced with the most rebellious Parliament since 1945

Nigel Morris,Deputy Political Editor
Friday 31 December 2010 01:00

Government MPs are rebelling against their parties' policies on a scale not seen since 1945, new research for The Independent has revealed. 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.

The Liberal Democrat leader's MPs have rebelled in 25 per cent of Commons votes, including revolts over next Tuesday's rise in VAT to 20 per cent, the introduction of "free" schools and changes to civil servants' redundancy terms.

The biggest rebellion came this month when 21 Liberal Democrats opposed increasing the cap on student tuition fees to £9,000 a year. Although most recent media attention has focused on Liberal Democrat dissent, the research shows that right-wing Tories are in an even more fractious mood. Many believe Mr Cameron is giving too much ground to their Coalition partners on a range of issues. Professor Cowley said: "For all that backbench behaviour has changed over the post-war era, there has been one constant: rebellion has always remained the exception, cohesion the norm.

"The majority of divisions have seen complete unity among Government backbenchers. What marks this Parliament out so far is that the opposite is true: rebellion has become the norm."

Between 1945 and 1970 the rate of revolts was about 10 per cent, rising to about 20 per cent in the 1970s. It fell during the Thatcher and Major years and was just eight per cent during the first Blair Government. It climbed to 21 per cent in 2001-05 and a post-war peak of 28 per cent in 2005-10, but still only just over half the current rate.

The top five coalition rebels

Phillip Hollobone Conservative

Hollobone is the biggest rebel since Labour's Jeremy Corbyn regularly defied Tony Blair. Has voted against the Government on bills from Europe to loans to Ireland.

David Nuttall Conservative

The Tory MP's website slogan is "straight-talking common sense". Has told the whips to get lost on votes such as the EU budget and whether to allow children to debate in the Commons.

Philip Davies Conservative

Davies claims he always puts his Shipley constituents' interests above his political career. With his voting record so far the 37-year-old is unlikely to become a minister any time soon.

Peter Bone Conservative

Bone (Wellingborough) was one of the 10 most active MPs in Parliament in terms of questions asked – but also one of the most rebellious. He also tried to stop the Youth Parliament using the Commons.

Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat

While unlikely to be part of a Russian plot to bring down the Government, the Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, has proved to be the most rebellious of the Lib Dem contingent in the Commons.

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