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In the News

Rebels continuing to give the PM a headache

Mike McCartney

24th January 2021

Useful article in the news this weekend on Tory backbenchers unhappy about the government’s covid strategy

In response to the idea that we live in a post-parliamentary age Parliament could say, as Mark Twain did, ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’ Not only is there evidence that Westminster is increasingly representative, its scrutiny powers have been enhanced significantly thanks to the development of select committees, there is also a great deal of evidence that MPs are more rebellious than ever.

And much of this evidence has been visible for nearly twenty years, with backbench rebellions beginning to cause governments from the Blair era onwards major headaches - suggesting the party whipping system is not as strong as has 'traditionally' been the case is therefore far from being a new development.

The Independent reports this weekend on the activities of the Covid Reform Group (the CRG). Andrew Grice writes in the Independent:

“The 50 to 60 strong group are a minority of the 365 Tory MPs. But they make a lot of noise, and it is magnified by right-wing newspapers – something the hardline Brexiteers enjoyed.”

See the full article here:

While we’re here it is worth considering again the question as to why MPs are more rebellious.

One explanation for the increasing independence of MPs is that party loyalty among the electorate is no longer as high, i.e. partisan dealignment has occurred so that voters no longer vote blindly according to previous psychologically based attachments. We could add that the rise of the career politician also helps us understand this trend. This runs contrary to a great deal of media criticism, which contends that those who have entered the Commons without real-world experience, or a profession, to fall back on are more likely to do what their respective party whips command of them because this type of MP wants to be promoted. In fact, because MPs of this nature have been steeped in politics long before entering the Commons, the argument is that they can spot flaws in government plans and vote for what they as being the best course of action for their constituents.

See an article summarising a recent piece of academic research here.

So, overall, there is evidence that we are moving more to the American system of legislator, where they see themselves as delegates rather than trustees, or mere lobby fodder upholding the party mandate. One of the most rebellious MPs is Philip Hollobone, and he talks about his desire to represent his Kettering constituents here.

So there it is. Reports of the death of Parliament have been greatly exaggerated for some, and so it is questionable why the idea that our country's MPs are no longer sheep is still a story. In other words, high rates of rebellions by MPs are now part of the Westminster landscape.

That said, one final thing before signing off. We shouldn't get carried away here. Academics, like Philip Cowley, are keen to point out that this is all relative. In our system, members of the legislature do vote with their party, the vast majority of the time.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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