In recent years, MPs from the main political parties have become increasingly rebellious, defying their Whips on a regular basis. While this trend has been thoroughly analysed, the reasons behind it and the consequences of it have not received comparable attention. This pamphlet assesses the causes and constitutional implications of this dramatic development in the workings of UK political institutions.
The author concludes that the growth in rebellion, more usefully described as the rise of MP independence, coincides with the ‘professionalisation’ of the job of being an MP and, in particular, the increasing amount of time MPs devote to constituency work. In the tug-of-war between the national party and the local constituency for an MP’s attention, it is the constituency that is gaining greater pulling power. The pull of the constituency has important implications for constitutional principles such as Collective Responsibility, that lies at the heart of accountable government in the UK. Furthermore, the weakening party system makes it difficult to reconcile the dual functions of a vote cast at a general election. Is its purpose more to choose an MP, or a party of government? Finally, the paper proposes a number of reforms that respond to the challenges raised by the rise of MP independence.
This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.