Parliament has become more divided and hostile, research shows

2020-10-08 13:44:00 +0100

Research from Compassion in Politics suggests that parliament has become more divided and increasingly hostile since the turn of the millennium.

By analysing every single vote cast since Labour’s re-election under Tony Blair in 2001 the organisation was able to show that Labour and Conservative MPs are now far less likely to agree with one another than they were 19 years ago.

The research also showed that, during the last four years, there has been a significant rise in the use of certain ‘hostile’ words that Compassion in Politics argue point towards an increasingly aggressive tone of debate.

Between 2001 and 2005 under Tony Blair’s second administration, Labour MPs and Conservative MPs agreed with one another in roughly two out of five votes (42%). Since then the figure has fallen: despite a brief increase in levels of agreement from 2005 to 2009, levels of agreement between the two parties fell to 36% in 2009-2013, 31% in 2013-2016, and to just 10% since 2016 [1].

The organisation points out that although the dramatic fall since 2016 is likely to have been caused by Brexit, there was evidently a general decline in agreement between Labour and Conservatives prior to that.

Compassion in Politics also looked at how frequently three key words were used in parliamentary debates between 2015 and 2019 - enemies, traitor, and surrender. They found a 50% increase in the use of these words, rising from 625 references in 2015 to 946 in 2019. The organisation argues that these words represent a highly personalised and tribal style of debate that has become commonplace since the Brexit vote in 2016 [2].

Gabriel Moore, lead researcher on the project, said:

“What we found was that over a twenty year period, Labour and Conservative MPs clearly and consistently moved further away from one another. From a period in 2001-2005 when they could find agreement nearly half of the time they voted, we are now in a position where they almost completely and persistently disagree. The sharp fall in agreement that occurred after 2016 was clearly caused by Brexit but I would argue that the trends emerging pre-2016 are indicative of a more totemic, long-term change that has been happening in British politics and could yet continue.”

Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said:

“Constructive disagreement is an important part of our democracy but this research has undercovered something darker and more sinister. It seems to confirm the impression many of us have had about politics for some time: that it has become an increasingly toxic, bitter, and destructive system which regards nastiness, point-scoring, and personal vendettas over constructive debate. Instead of encouraging members to find common ground its combative method of debating fosters differences and point scoring.

“Now, with so many vital decisions to be made about our future as a nation, it is time to end the parliamentary pantomime and bring some harmony and civility into politics. We are calling for a new code of conduct for MPs, for compassion training, and the strengthening of parliamentary standards so that bad behaviour is prevented, cooperation encouraged, and respect restored.”

Debbie Abrahams, Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Compassionate Politics, said:

“In my nine years in parliament I have witnessed the civility and courtesy in debates fall, mutual respect decline, and cooperation collapse. Women in particular seem to be on the receiving end of put-downs, jibes, and jokes and we know that behaviour is being mirrored by the abuse that female MPs - and especially female BAME MPs - receive on social media and in the press. This has become particularly bad since 2016.

“But I also know that there are many colleagues of mine, in all parties, who passionately believe in changing our politics for the better, in seeing the last few years as the nadir from which we rise rather than a path along which we must continue to tread. The APPG for Compassionate Politics will be working across parliament in the coming year for the adoption of new standards of debate and parliamentary practice and for new ways of reaching out beyond Westminster to improve relations between MPs and those they represent.”


[1] Data tables: 


Percentage of times Lab and Cons MPs voted together

27/6/2001 - 26/03/2005


27/03/2005 - 26/03/2009


27/03/2009 - 26/03/2013


27/03/2013 - 04/09/2016


05/09/2016 - 07/06/2020



[2] Data tables: 































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