Friday, August 30, 2013
How many MPs failed to either turn up or otherwise not to enter the division lobby yesterday in the vote that led to the defeat of the Government?
The vote was 285 to 272, giving a total of 557 votes. To these, eight others need to be taken into account. There are four in the Speaker's team, who don't by convention vote. Then each side puts in two tellers, who count the votes of other MPs' as they come out of the division lobbies. The figure then goes up to 565, except that a Conservative and a Liberal entered both lobbies as a means of exercising positive abstentions. The calculation then goes back down to 563. With a total of 650 MPs this leaves 87 to be accounted for. Three of these were Government Ministers. Ken Clarke missed the vote as he was away for "family reasons". Then Justine Greening (Secretary of State for International Development) and Mark Simmonds (Parliamentary Under Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) were together in a meeting in the parliament building, but did not hear the division bells. On the other hand they should have been aware that votes from 10 pm are a standard procedure on major issues when the Commons has commenced at 2.30 pm. That leaves us now with 84 other MPs to be accounted for. (Update 23.35 hours, 30 August : The Daily Telegraph now claim that in "total, including Liberal Democrats and a Downing Street adviser, 10 members of the Government are recorded as not having voted" - numbers of whom claim to have been excused the whip and some who face the sack.)
84 missing MPs is almost 13% of the total. It is a lot to be missing for a crucial vote. There are a number of possible explanations for absences. First, some could have decided to abstain - either being in the Commons at the time of the vote or being elsewhere. Some could have been "paired", where a Government and an Opposition MP have an agreement sanctioned by the whips not to vote on various items, so their votes will normally cancel each other out. It normally allows MPs to be away from parliament. But with 49 Government supporters coming to defying their whips, it is odd for people to be excused whipping arrangements - unless the whips felt that the people concerned were unreliable and might rebel, or they just had no idea what was going to happen. August is also a bad time for a Government to recall parliament, unless their whips are pro-active. Given the parliamentary time-table and constituency commitments it is the best time in the year for MPs to take a holiday break. With children still on school holidays, some MPs could be overseas with their families. What efforts did their whips make to contact them and pressurize them to turn up? Given the result, the Government whips failed to deliver in a startling fashion. Had they warned Cameron of the dangers of defeat? If not why not? Did he ignore such warnings? After the defeat of the Government. will the opposition now put forward a motion of no-confidence in the Government? If this was lost it would trigger either the appointment of a new Prime Minister or a General Election.
Look for changes in the Government team. There are no less then 17 of them in the whips office. They are headed by Sir George Young, who is far too kind a man for such a job. I bet they return to having a Rottweiler.
Also see here about the MP whose move ten years ago paved the way for yesterday's vote.