Dissension in the House of Commons

Lord Norton

For those interested in how often MPs vote against their own party, the website revolts.co.uk is back in action.  There was a break because of the period of funding coming to an end, but the site, run primarily by Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart, has resumed service.  It has proved invaluable over the years to journalists and others who are keen to know just how rebellious MPs are and who comprise the rebels.   Dissension among Labour MPs has reached unprecedented levels and the best predictor of who will rebel is who has rebelled before. 

 I see the site also includes a link to the Browser and Philip Cowley’s selection of five books about Parliament that he recommends.  I had not seen the list before and its inclusion of a certain Hull academic’s first book!

20 comments for “Dissension in the House of Commons

  1. Croft
    23/01/2010 at 12:04 pm

    “Philip himself once said it’s the sort of book that once you put it down you can’t pick it up again.”

    I think you’ll need to work on a better quote to place on the front cover than that…

    😀 😉

    • Senex
      23/01/2010 at 5:16 pm

      I thought it was very funny as I can recollect quite a number of books where I have done just that.

  2. lordnorton
    23/01/2010 at 2:04 pm

    Croft: I waited until it was out of print!

  3. Senex
    23/01/2010 at 5:14 pm

    Lord Norton: Can you say whether there has been another Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords since the document linked below was commissioned by the QEII.

    Would you, Lord Tyler or any other peer be prepared between you to dissect or critique it on the blog now that we are some ten years later on.

    Ref: A House for the Future; Lord Wakeham DL, Jan 2000

    PS: If either Lords Soley or Tyler wants to reminisce in any real sense about their time in the Commons then they might like to try this:


    What level would they choose; easy, medium or hard?

    • lordnorton
      23/01/2010 at 6:05 pm

      Senex: Royal Commissions are few and far between and there has not been one on reform of the Lords since the Wakeham Commission. I commented on it at the time for BBC News Online. I have regularly made my views known on the subject, both inside and outside the chamber.

      • Gareth Howell
        25/01/2010 at 10:01 pm

        The Wakeham commission must have helped Lord Falconer, in no small measure, to crystallize his views on the reform he intended to carry out.

        Would that be right Lord Norton?

  4. Carl.H
    23/01/2010 at 5:59 pm

    It seem`s somewhat ludicrous that someone is labelled “rebellious” for merely voting how he thinks best in his right to represent his constituency. Rebellious in so much as he didn`t toe the party line maybe but that say`s so much about our politics and it`s all about money and business.

    Politics as a career seems to hold the key. A career after all is something one generally does for the betterment of self rather than any altruistic measure. As Lord Soley pointed out in his post evey person appears to have a different view so why join a party whose opinions won`t entirely match your own ? Well there`s the fact they are established, they are financially adept and you`re more likely to succeed, if you`re any good, with their backing…which comes at a price called “party first”.

    Of course to keep these vast parties going takes a few bob from the donours who obviously hold no sway amongst it`s elite ! They may have dinner together and be able to put their personal views but there is no corruption there. Just because you have the ear of the party after all means nothing, does it ?

    So you`ve got your start in politics and being a good party person “they” decide, knowing you`ll hold the party line to get you elected…in Great Snoring (real place), a nice safe seat. You drove through it once, it was shut and had far too many sheep for you. You duly get elected to represent your constituents, and their sheep buying a large house in Great Snoring which you`ll pay for from your salary as an MP for the “X” party.

    Your new wife, a millionaire donours daughter, delights in her new lifestyle. However all is not well, a Government Bill you strongly disagree with is going through, the whips are out and your thoughts turn to rebellion.

    The question is one of integrity and of balance. Of course we all know you`ll rebel, don`t we ?

  5. lordnorton
    23/01/2010 at 6:08 pm

    Carl H: As my work, and the more recent work of Philip Cowley has shown, MPs since the 1970s onwards have proved more willing than before to vote as they think fit and not as the whips have asked them to vote. The high point of party loyalty was the 1950s. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the rise of career politicians has taken place at the same time as Members have been more willing to demonstrate independence in the division lobbies.

  6. Carl.H
    23/01/2010 at 6:17 pm

    My Lord I thank you for that information, I did look at the site with the review of your book, which was actually better than “Croft`s” quote leads you to believe.

    I am pleased that the party line appears to being broken, though I hope it isn`t just as a signal to leadership battles as it appears in general.

    I realise at times I do come across as very cynical but it is representative of what I hear and discuss daily. The concept of the whips, in my mind, is the same as a school bully and I find it abhorrent.

  7. Gareth Howell
    25/01/2010 at 10:56 am

    “that someone is labelled “rebellious” for merely voting how he thinks best in his right to represent his constituency”

    On WMD for example? Tee! Hee! Hee!

    Thank goodness for the Lib dems!

    • lordnorton
      26/01/2010 at 4:19 pm

      Gareth Howell: There can be a substantial difference between what an MP thinks is in the interests of his or her constituents and what a majority of constituents actually think on an issue. There is no mechanism by which an MP can find out on any regular basis the views of a majority of constituents.

      Rallies or marches may demonstrate who shouts the loudest but not necessarily reflect the views of the majority.

      • Croft
        26/01/2010 at 4:47 pm

        In the sense that they can’t ask all their constituents this is true. (That said a MPs clubbing together to fund a poll in their constituencies over a number of issues would be a far better use than is generally put to the communications allowances (10k) which is too easily used for barely disguised party/personal propaganda) I’d suggest that MPs can find out – on some issues – the general views in a crude but not necessarily inaccurate measure by spending a sufficient amount of time with their constituent at events/surgeries and some of the more region/city/rural specific polling can be useful. But I don’t think finding out what people want or prefer is the issue. If you are sufficiently tribal (or fearful of the whips) that you won’t vote against your party) then all the knowledge in the world about the public view doesn’t have any purchase.

      • Gareth Howell
        26/01/2010 at 9:02 pm

        Lord Norton,
        “Rallies or marches may demonstrate who shouts the loudest but not necessarily reflect the views of the majority”

        It might show the level of political commitment of the marchers to the question, and the majority might be, in that case, fictitious.

        The Question of political management of the demonstrators also arises.

        Demo is the last bastion of democracy, and by no means always a successful one.

  8. 25/01/2010 at 4:18 pm

    Very glad to see revolts.co.uk back in action. Both it and Dissention in the House of Commons were invaluable resources when I was doing postgraduate research on backbench rebellions over Rhodesian oil sanctions. Thanks for keeping us informed!

  9. lordnorton
    26/01/2010 at 6:15 pm

    Croft: I wouldn’t disagree. There is also the point that some MPs will say ‘my constituents think…’ when what they mean is ‘I have spoken to carefully selected constituents who have agreed with me’.

    • Croft
      27/01/2010 at 10:54 am


      I almost put your ‘my constituents think…’ line in my previous post! It’s a ‘pet hate’ political phrase which seems a standard formula for ignoring whatever is the main topic of public discussion or source of political embarrassment and onto whatever the party line is that week.

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