So who were the rebels, and what were they up to? The list of the men and women (but mostly men) shows a striking absence of certain usual suspects: no Nadine Dorries, no Peter Bone and no Greg Mullholland for the Lib Dems. But most were bloodied rebels – all but three of the 39 Coalition dissidents had rebelled before. Half were serial rebels, having defied the whip over ten times this Parliament. Some of them are borderline unwhippable like Philip Hollobone who has disagreed with the Tory party a total of 129 times over three years and Philip Davies who has done so 85 times.(Full details here from my colleagues at Nottspolitics)
Size (of the majority) matters. Anne Marie Morris has a majority of just 523, and Nigel Mills of 536. The demographics and marginality of Sarah Teather’s Brent Central seat (majority of 1,345) would have made voting in favour of the motion very difficult. Chris White is defending a majority of 3,513 in Warwick and Leamington and hinted that his vote was influenced by his constituents’ concerns. A further 15 of the rebels are defending a majority of less than 5,000. So fear of constituents’ opinion could have trumped fear of the whips. In a way, it doesn’t matter what their individual politics are: if an MP feels very sensitive to opinion in his or her constituency, they’re more likely to rebel on issues where public opinion and government policy are far apart. As was the case in Syria, with just 22pc of the public in favour on the day of the vote.
Whilst some of Cameron’s fiercest critics within the party toed the line or stayed away it would be hard to describe many of the Tory rebels as ‘Modernisers’. I have just finished a project at the University of Nottingham identifying ‘Tory tribes’ on the political spectrum. By my reckoning, 25 of the 30 Tory rebels were either ‘Thatcherite’, ‘Traditional Right’ or ‘Libertarian’. And no one in the tribes loyal to Cameron (the ‘radicals’ and ‘modernisers’) dissented.
So: who were the rebels? Voter-sensitive MPs and right-wingers suspicious of foreign policy adventures. They’re the ones to for the whips to worry about, in the very unlikely event of that second Syria vote.