Cross-voting by Members of Parliament against their party whips is more prevalent than has been generally realised;1 given the size as well as the frequency of dissenting votes (particularly the former), the analogy—frequently made—with sheep is disproved, although the assertion that the division lists, at least on whipped votes, ‘normally reflect complete intra-party solidarity’ (my emphasis)2 may be held to be valid for this period: the number of divisions involving cross-votes against the whips by, for example, Government backbenchers, represented less than 12 per cent of the total number of divisions in any one Parliament.3
Government backbenchers, as generally believed, are more likely to vote against their own party in the division lobby when the Government has a large parliamentary majority, and is thus able to sustain cross-votes without its majority being endangered.4
By the same token, Members have been more willing to vote against their own party in large numbers if their opponent party has abstained from voting.
Labour Members tend to cross-vote, not necessarily in more divisions than Conservative Members, but usually in greater numbers.
An analysis of the composition of dissenting lobbies also supports the thesis that the Labour party is a party of ‘factions’, the Conservative party one of ‘tendencies’.5
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