How far does your MP tread the party line?

For a while now, TheyWorkForYou has shown how your MP voted on key topics.

What it hasn’t done, until this week, is give a crucial piece of context. That is, how do your MP’s votes differ from those of their colleagues in the same party?

We all know that, on many issues, the whip ensures that MPs vote according to the party line rather than their own convictions. So in theory, by examining the votes which diverge from the majority party vote, we might get the clearest picture of what an MP truly cares about.

And now, we’ve added a small piece of code to the site, which allows us to do just that. At the top of your MP’s page, you’ll now see text along these lines:

stephen phillips voting in parliament

If your MP never disagrees with their party, you’ll just see the top line followed by a random selection of votes.

The importance of wording

The screenshot above shows another small change we’ve made to TheyWorkForYou: just a matter of wording, this time.

When we first started displaying how MPs had voted, we used terms such as “voted strongly for”, “voted moderately against”, etc. This was to allow us to represent a range of positions along a spectrum for each topic.

For every topic, such as EU Integration, or smoking bans, several different votes are analysed. The ‘show votes’ button, as seen above, takes you to a page where these are listed.

However, we received a steady stream of emails, tweets and Facebook messages asking how an MP can vote ‘strongly’ or ‘moderately’ for something. To a fly-by reader, it seemed nonsensical, because of course they were thinking of that fact that MPs vote for or against a single motion.

To counteract this, we’ve used words which we hope encapsulate the concept of a series of votes over time – words like ‘consistently’, ‘occasionally’ and ‘never’.

Choosing these words proved to be harder than we’d anticipated, and, after a long heated discussion between colleagues, resulted in a straw poll asking anyone we could find to arrange pieces of paper in a line to indicate how they perceived their strength.

We finally came up with an answer that the majority agreed on—and we haven’t had any mail on the subject since then. Let’s cautiously call that a win for careful wording.

Image: Harry Potts (CC)


  1. One other caveat you might also want to add is that for newly elected members, there won’t be enough data to give a clear picture of what they vote for or against or how likely they are to rebel against their party whip. Even the most rebellious of rebels usually vote with their party more often than against, so it can take a few years of votes to build up a representative picture. And you can’t say that someone “consistently” or “never” votes for something until they’ve had a chance to vote on the topic several times.

  2. We know it’s not ideal for MPs with not very many votes on a topic and we’re looking at ways to fix this.