Too Spineless to Rebel? New Labour's Women MPs
a1 and SARAH
a1 School of Politics, University of Nottingham
a2 School of Health and Social Sciences, Middlesex University
The 1997 British general election saw a record 120 women returned to the House of Commons, 101 of them Labour. Yet if the most striking feature of the 1997 intake into the House of Commons was the number of newly elected women, then the most striking feature of the backbench rebellions in that parliament was the lack of these women amongst the ranks of the rebels. They were less than half as likely to rebel against the party whip as the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party; even those who did, did so around half as often. Attempts to explain this difference fall into two broad groups: (i) those that attempt to explain the difference away, as resulting from other characteristics of the women, and (ii) those that attempt to explain it – indeed, celebrate it – as evidence of a different, women's, style of political behaviour. Attempts at (i) are largely unconvincing: most of the supposed explanations for the difference do not stand up to empirical verification. Although difficult to prove, a belief in (ii) is dominant amongst the new women themselves.
a This article draws upon data gathered as part of a project into MPs' voting funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Mark Stuart did most of the hard work, examining almost 1,300 division lists. The authors are also grateful to all the MPs who agreed to participate.