By Jonathan Isaby
The disdain which the previous Labour Governments exhibited for Parliament was well known and last week Sir George Young wrote on ConHome about how the new Coalition Government is renewing the health of Parliament.
Tony Blair's disregard for the institution of Parliament in particular was no better exhibited than by his derisory record in attending votes in the House of Commons – he was regularly written up as having the worst voting record of any Prime Minister in modern history.
So how is David Cameron comparing with his most recent Labour predecessors?
Between his election as Prime Minister in May 1997 and Christmas 1997, Tony Blair – enjoying that record Commons majority of 179 – participated in just 7 out of 124 divisions. Four of those were on one day on the thorny issue of social security benefits. His record for that period was therefore 5.6%.
Gordon Brown became Prime MInister at the end of June 2007 and between then and Christmas 2007, he participated in 5 out of 92 divisions, a percentage score of 5.4%.
Meanwhile, as of today, there have been 134 Commons divisions since the Coalition Government took office after the general election and David Cameron has taken part in 13 of them. This accords for a percentage hit rate of 9.7%.
Rather like Blair's turning out for the early controversial benefits votes, no fewer than 9 of the 13 votes Cameron has registered relate to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which introduces the AV referendum and reduces the size of the Commons.
I have not yet been able to track down precise statistics on the voting records of Thatcher and Major, but they were almost certainly better than Cameron's to date. The Times article I linked to above suggests Thatcher and Major attended over 20% of votes during their premierships, whereas this Guardian article reckons the number was "around a third".
Clearly Prime Ministers have much in their in-trays, there are unavoidable trips abroad which necessitate absence, and the pace of work is more intense in this 24/7 media age. However, I would like to hear that David Cameron is darkening the doors of the division lobbies on a more regular basis.
Those minutes in the division lobbies have always been useful opportunities to connect with backbenchers – something Cameron has been criticised for not doing as well as predecessors. Moreover, trooping with colleagues through the lobbies is surely the best way of showing that "we're all in this together".
Update: By means of a comparison, here are the voting records for several other senior all Cabinet Ministers since the general election:
- Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary – 119 out of 134 (88.8%)
- Eric Pickles, Local Government Secretary – 117 out of 134 (87.3%)
- Cheryl Gillan, Wales Secretary – 115 out of 134 (85.8%)
- Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary – 114 out of 134 (85.1%)
- Michael Moore, Scotland Secretary – 107 out of 134 (79.9%)
- Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary – 103 out of 134 (76.9%)
- Theresa May, Home Secretary – 101 out of 134 (75.4%)
- Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary – 100 out of 134 (74.6%)
- Michael Gove, Education Secretary – 99 out of 134 (73.9%)
- Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary – 93 out of 134 (69.4%)
- Kenneth Clarke, Justice Secretary – 88 out of 134 (65.7%)
- Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to Treasury – 86 out of 134 (64.2%)
- Vince Cable, Business Secretary – 85 out of 134 (63.4%)
- Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary – 78 out of 134 (58.2%)
- Owen Paterson, Northern Ireland Secretary – 76 out of 134 (56.7%)
- Liam Fox, Defence Secretary – 69 out of 134 (51.5%)
- Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary – 57 out of 134 (42.5%)
- Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister – 42 out of 134 (31.3%)
- William Hague, Foreign Secretary – 41 out of 134 (30.6%)
- George Osborne, Chancellor – 41 out of 134 (30.6%)
- David Cameron, Prime Minister – 13 out of 134 (9.7%)