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8 January 2021

Why is the most rebellious Conservative MP still in a government job?

The answer will surprise you.

By Stephen Bush

Why does the Conservative MP who has cast more dissenting votes in the 2019 parliament still have a £41,000 government salary?

He has cast a greater proportion of votes against his government in modern times: not only shattering the records held by Philip Hollobone, Kate Hoey and Jeremy Corbyn but also that of Paul Marsden – a backbench MP who was so rebellious he defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and back again over the course of 2001-5 – as the most rebellious MPs in the 2010, 2005 and 2001 parliaments respectively. Yet he still has a highly coveted front-bench job. Why?

The answer is because the most rebellious Conservative MP is Stuart Andrew, the deputy chief whip, who holds more Conservative proxy votes than any other single parliamentarian. Though he himself has not rebelled during this parliament and is one of the least rebellious MPs in the parliamentary party, because he is responsible for voting on behalf of so many Tory MPs, he has cast more rebellious votes than any other MP.

[see also: Nigel Farage’s new Reform UK party is unlikely to succeed – but his next one might]

The striking thing about that is one of the fears people had about the proxy vote system was that so many MPs, particularly Conservative ones, had opted to give their proxy votes to their whips. (On the Labour side, although many MPs have given their votes to their whips, many more have given them to close political allies.)

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However, these fears haven’t materialised. More than half of all rebel votes cast in this parliament so far have been cast by party whips. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense: because MPs’ legislative records are public, it’s not like rebel MPs have ever been able to keep their dissenting votes covert anyway.

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(Full disclosure: I only found this out because I thought it might have an impact on the rate of rebellion. However, it does not appear to. The 2019 parliament has been an incredibly rebellious and fractious one, not only thanks to veterans, but also thanks to a greater rate of rebellions by first-time MPs than any parliament has managed in its first year in modern times.)

While there are many advantages to voting together in person, the success of proxy voting – in allowing parliament to continue to legislate during the pandemic and in MPs continuing to feel able to rebel – shows that its benefits, both for MPs with caregiving responsibilities and for ministers, could and should be retained after the pandemic.

[see also: Keir Starmer faces his biggest challenge yet in lockdown three]