Out of idle curiosity as much as anything I have been taking a look at how individual Lib Dem MPs are likely to vote on tuition fees next Thursday. A full list follows at the end of this post. The best source on this is the blog of Tim Starkey, a Lib Dem councillor who is co-ordinating the rebels.
Starkey wrote yesterday:
Be in no doubt - the lobbying efforts are working. Over the next week it is vital that students, parents and all those who care about widening access to university education write to their MPs and let their feelings be known. As I’ve said before, don’t just target Lib Dems. There are 4 Tories on the government benches who signed the pledge too ( Bob Blackman - Harrow East, Stephen Mosley - City of Chester, Lee Scott - Ilford South, Ben Wallace - Wye and Preston).
If one takes Michael Crick's narrowest definition of '26 plain backbenchers', more than half of Lib Dem backbenchers have already said they will vote against the Government. It is still almost half if one includes spokesmen and 'party whips' who are not members of the Government. This in itself would be a major blow to the legitimacy of the tuition fees hike.
As things stand, it would need something of the order of 42 Lib Dems to vote against the Government to defeat it, roughly the entire Lib Dem backbench, plus PPS's. That number could be lower if Lib Dem Ministers or Conservatives vote against the bill.
The most likely scenario at this stage is the one outlined by Peter Oborne:
After six months in office, far sooner than anyone could have expected, the Coalition is in crisis – and the crisis will reach a climax next Thursday, when Parliament votes on tuition fees.
While it remains highly likely that the Coalition will get its business through, victory will come at the cost of permanent ill-feeling. Many Lib Dems feel unable to go back on their very public pre-election pledge to abolish tuition fees. Last night there was talk of a ministerial resignation, with Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone favourite to quit.
Yet there are signs that the Government sees a real danger of an outright defeat. It is this that has put paid to the prospect that the Lib Dems would collectively abstain, as the FT reported yesterday:
The desire for consensus also has to be married with the realities of getting the vote through parliament. The party has been warned by the whips that giving backbenchers too much leeway could make the vote perilously tight, particularly if there was a loss of confidence among a handful of Tory MPs.
“If a lot of Lib Dems vote against, some will have to vote for to ensure it goes through,” the senior Lib Dem said.
Another sign may be the date of the vote itself, as the Times Higher Education Supplement reports:
Some observers believe that by holding the vote on a Thursday, when many Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies, the government may reduce its chances of a defeat.
Given this consideration, it may be worth constiruents lobbying the DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Alliance and Lady Sylvia Hermon (perhaps via WritetoThem).
A substantial number of Lib Dem MPs have yet to declare their hand. They maybe planning to quietly support the government, but they include some MPs who have already rebelled in the current parliament. Below is a list of Lib Dem MPs with the best indication I have been able to find of how they are likely to vote. Where no other source is mentioned, I have relied on Tim Starkey.
1 Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
8 Mark Williams (Ceredigion)
9 Roger Williams - (Brecon and Radnorshir)
13 Simon Wright (Norwich South)
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) "Mr Horwood said he would not support the bill but was weighing up the consequences of voting 'no'." (1 Dec) However, as Gareth Epps notes below, Horwood may miss the vote as he is attending the Cancún Climate summit.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) "“I will not support a rise in tuition fees. I will decide whether I am going to vote against or abstain on the final vote, depending on what is in the motion." (3 Dec)
Tessa Munt (Wells) - "I know that I couldn't vote for the Browne recommendations; what remains to be seen is the detail of what is actually proposed by the Government and to listen to the debate." (29 Nov)
Mike Crockhart (Edinburgh West) - "He definitely won't be voting in favour. But he is not going to decide whether to abstain or whether to vote against (which would involve resigning as a parliamentary aide to Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary) until he has had further conversations with his colleagues later this week." (6 Dec)
Note that its possible that some of those considering abstention may only do so if there is a party-wide deal.
No stated position
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell & Newquay)
Alan Beith (Berwick on Tweed)
Andrew George (St Ives)
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)
Adrian Sanders (Torbay)
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
Likely Government supporters
The payroll vote
Norman Baker (Lewes) see Waverers
Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane)
Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)
Lynne Featherstone - see Waverers
David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) - As Gareth Epps notes below, Huhne may miss the vote as he is attending the Cancún climate summit. However, the Independent reports: "He is due to return from the climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico, for Thursday's vote but one Liberal Democrat source admitted: "He is maintaining radio silence."" (6 Dec)
Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk)
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)
Sarah Teather (Brent Central)
Mark Hunter (Cheadle)
Parliamentary Private Secretaries
Jenny Willott - see Waverers
Mike Crockart - see Waverers
Gordon Birtwistle - see Waverers
Potential Tory rebels