How Cameron has backed Labour in parliament

New research shows the Tories have supported most bills

Election campaigns tend to magnify the differences between parties but, however much tribalists on both sides might protest, the long view suggests that the political differences between Labour and the Tories have continued to narrow.

New research by the indispensable Revolts shows that the Conservative front bench voted against just four out of 27 bills in the last session -- a mere 15 per cent of government legislation. In total, the Tories opposed just one in five of the bills introduced since 2005. David Cameron has clearly lived up to his promise to support Labour when it does the right thing.

By contrast, under William Hague, the Tories voted against two out of every five; and under Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard they opposed one in three.

Much of this support is based on political calculation and Cameron has been careful to avoid Gordon Brown's elephant traps. As one senior Tory MP told the Times:

There is a lot in the Equality Bill that we did not like at all, but they would have loved it had we been put in a position where we were opposing equality. Brown has also been trying to get us to oppose the 50p tax rate. But we won't play his game.

But there is also a more principled approach at work that rejects opposition for opposition's sake and recognises that it's better to improve a bill than to reject it.

It is important to note that the research doesn't include free votes on issues such as abortion, human fertilisation and fox-hunting, where significant ethical differences between the parties remain. But it does suggest we are moving towards a more consensual, European-style system.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.