Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Vote on the Education Bill

Yesterday (Wednesday March 15) Tony Blair was forced to rely on Conservative support in the Commons vote on the Second Reading of the Education Bill. The Bill won its Second Reading by 458 to 115, a Government majority of 343. There were 52 Labour back-bench rebels who voted against the Bill and another 23 did not vote. Some Labour MP's who did vote for the Bill are thought to have had their "arms twisted" by the whips. The Conservatives had imposed a two-line whip and, although no Conservatives voted against the Bill, 19 did not vote. The 63 Liberal-Democrats voted against the Bill. This is not the biggest back-bench rebellion on the Second Reading of a Government Bill that Blair has had to face: in 2004 72 Labour rebels voted against tuition fees, and in 2003 65 Labour rebels voted against foundation hospitals. However that was before the 2005 General Election, when Labour's overall majority in the Commons was larger. Blair also relied on Conservative support in the 2003 Commons vote on the decision to go to war in Iraq; on that occasion there were 139 Labour back-bench rebellions. Following yesterdays vote William Hill the bookmakers have reduced the odds on Blair leaving office before the end of the year from 2/1 to 6/4. The comparisons with Ramsay MacDonald seem a little overdrawn, however. In Macdonald's case only a minority of Labour MP's followed him when he split with the Labour Party in 1931 (some "big names" like Snowden, to be sure, but still a minority). After the 1931 election there were only 13 "National Labour" MP's and although it was a disastrous election for Labour they still had 52. In Blair's case 274 "New Labour" MP's voted for the Bill (many reluctantly, presumably, but they went into the "Ayes" lobbly just the same).


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