Liberal Democrats MPs have rebelled against their leadership more times than the other two main parties in British politics, and they’re hard to beat seeing as every one of their backbenchers has rebelled at some point this parliament.
Overall, seven out of ten Liberal Democrats have rebelled, a figure that includes the front bench, compared with just half of Conservative MPs.
The study was conducted by Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart from the University of Nottingham and was reported in The Times. It shows that the most rebellious Lib Dem is Andrew George who has gone against his party’s whips on a bumper 56 occasions. The former defence Minister Nick Harvey is also a persistent rebel having rebelled the most times since being sacked as a Minister.
The biggest rebellion of this session was over decarbonisation targets in the Energy Bill in June last year. On that occasion 16 Liberal Democrats opposed the government’s official position. Since the last General Election the biggest rebellion was over Tuition Fees, with 21 Lib Dems defying the party line, with five abstaining.
Historically, lack of party discipline was seen as a virtue for the ‘free thinking’ Liberal Democrats but this parliament has been different. There is a widespread view amongst Conservative MPs that they are required to vote through legislation they dislike to keep the Liberals onside but the reverse is not true.
One such example was the referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote system in Westminster elections. Large numbers of Conservative MPs voted for it despite being strongly opposed to it. However when proposals to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union were brought forward the Liberal Democrats made it clear they would stop the proposal.
The Liberal Democrats have also been notable recently for their attacks on party leader Nick Clegg. In a weak leadership challenge Lord Oakeshott leaked details of an opinion poll that suggested the Mr Clegg would lose his own seat in 2015, effectively ending his political career.
In the end Oakeshott was forced to resign from the Liberal Democrats and take a leave of absence from the House of Lords (peers cannot resign their seats).
All of these have left the public questioning the motivation of Liberal Democrats. Their actions in government might suggest that they are incapable of either staying united or taking tough decisions. Preferring instead to stand by as other MPs vote for unpopular, yet necessary policies.