Following on from my post about the Rochester and Strood by-election,  I’ve had a more detailed look at which MPs raise Europe as an issue in parliament.

I’m going to try and give a data-driven answer to a few questions. In politics it is always difficult to give a definitive answer what seems like a simple question, but I hope that by looking at the data, we can get an indication of whether our representatives in parliament think Europe is a big deal or not.

In the wake of two Conservative defections to the highly euro-sceptic UKIP, who else might have leanings in that direction? Looking at just one issue (Europe) isn’t going to give us a full picture, but you never know, we might find something interesting if we look just a little bit below the surface.

Is Europe a big deal in parliament?

PQs and speeches on Europe over time

I’ve started with written parliamentary questions for this analysis, because they give a useful indication of what backbenchers care about, rather than what the government cares about. But just to be sure, I’ve also added in data from parliamentary debates (the orange line – note the different scale). As if to prove the point, there is a significant spike in debates in 2008 – the year thar parliament debated the Lisbon Treaty – which is not reflected in the volume of written questions. Although many words were spoken, written PQs continued to decline.

Written PQs about Europe peaked in 2005, and since then we can see a clear downward trend – albeit with an interesting spike just after the 2010 general election. The orange line (which for those of you who weren’t paying attention is the number of times Europe was mentioned in debates in the Commons chamber) shows a fairly similar trend overall.

Take care here because the spike in 2008 visually distorts the overall picture .

In general terms, the trend for both written PQs and debates is a gradual decline before the 2010 general election, an brief upsurge and then declining again.

It seems reasonable to think that, on the whole, Europe is becoming less important to our MPs than some parts of the media would like us to believe.

But what happens if we look at the picture by party?

How often do Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems mention Europe?

This graph shows (again contrary to what some parts of the media would have us believe) that there is a significant difference between the three main parties in parliament – a difference that is most pronounced after the 2010 general election.

Since the election, Europe has been a much bigger issue for the Conservative Party than it has for Labour or the Liberal Democrats – even if we consider the relative size of the parties. This probably won’t come as a huge surprise to most readers, but what is interesting is that even for the Tories European issues seem to be waning in importance. We need to be careful that the overall trend isn’t masking something, so we’ll go a bit deeper and have a look for MPs that might be bucking the overall trend.

Let’s take a look inside the Conservative Party …

Tories who have mentioned Europe more than 100 times since 2010

If we exclude people with committee and ministerial roles, 13 backbench Tory MPs have spoken about Europe more than 100 times since 2010. Of these, there are just 5 who raised Europe more in 2013 than they did in 2011. This suggests that even among Conservative backbenchers for whom Europe is a big issue, it is less of an issue than it used to be.

Rees-Mogg, Chope, Redwood, Davies

Mark Reckless was one of those five. If we take him out (given that he is now standing for UKIP), we’re left with four Conservative backbenchers who raise Europe a lot and are raising it more frequently as time goes on. They are Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Christopher Chope and Philip Davies.

If I were David Cameron and if I was after a data-driven assessment of who to keep a close eye on … these four would be at the top of my list.

Please bear in mind that I have looked at just one dimension of a very complex problem – I will unpick it a bit more in future posts and as we start to get data on UKIP in parliament I’ll be able to spot trends and compare to MPs in other parties.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below.