How big should the executive be, in a system in which its members sit with the legislature in a parliament? A fifteenth of the members of the governing party in an elected chamber, perhaps? A tenth? A fifth? Whatever proportion one picks, half is surely far too large. But that is roughly the size of the Government’s payroll vote in the Commons – as I calculate today in the Daily Telegraph. True, the payroll vote and the executive are not exactly the same thing. But since the one upholds the other, this is a distinction without a difference as far as votes are concerned. And, admittedly, I have counted Conservative MPs only, since the Party provides the Prime Minister, who is the source of patronage. But the Liberal Democrat number and proportion is unlikely to make much difference to the overall result.
By my count, there are 304 Tory MPs, of which about 80 are Ministers and 45 PPS’s (some Cabinet Ministers, such as Jeremy Hunt, now have two of the latter). One can add to that total the six MPs who are Deputy Chairmen or Vice-Chairmen of the Party, and who will usually be expected to support the Government in the lobbies. It will be claimed that this was ever thus: Margaret Thatcher and John Major, for example, made such appointments. However, they didn’t have Policy Board members who aren’t members of the government but are, none the less, required to vote with it (as Jesse Norman found out after dissenting from the official view over Syria: he was then removed from the board).
Nor did they appoint trade envoys and special ambassadors – a practice that gathered speed under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Add all of that up, and you’re in the region of 50 per cent of all Conservative MPs, as I say. I suspect that Downing Street would argue that a Minister and a trade envoy, say, aren’t the same thing, and therefore shouldn’t be lumped together. But that is precisely my point: wittingly or unwittingly, government is blurring the difference between members of the executive and legislature, and turning the payroll vote into a grey area (so to speak). Why? Because Downing Street is making a quiet fightback against the rising rebelliousness of the Commons – but the executive and government are too big already.