A free Parliament or split parties?

 

I welcome the Conservative decision to have more free votes. Far from creating a split party, this encourages better debate and more thought by individual MPs. The Conservatives offered a free vote on the Raab Amendment to the Immigration Bill and will be offering another on the issue of smoking in cars carrying children.

I see the mythmakers are back saying that a  divided party cannot be elected to government. This is complete nonsense. Margaret Thatcher led a very split party. She was constantly subject to attacks from the group of MPs who disagreed strongly with her economic and social policies. Called the wets, they briefed against her, ran rebellions against her in Parliament, and encouraged Michael Heseltine as an alternative leader or challenger. She won three election victories in a  row despite this strong internal opposition.

Tony Blair led a  very disunited Labour party. A group of left wing Labour MPs were never reconciled to his leadership, regularly rebelled against it and made clear their general displeasure. More importantly, that government was riven with a huge split right at the top. The Brown and Blair factions fought each other over many issues, and regularly briefed the press against each other. This did not stop them winning three elections in a row.

It is true there were splits against John Major from the Eurosceptics, and against Gordon Brown from a  range of ambitious people who wanted to bring his leadership to an end, and these 2 leaders did lose heavily in subsequent General Elections. Most sensible commentators should surely recognise that John Major was  defeated  by the recession and crisis brought on by his decision to enter and stay in the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Gordon Brown was brought down primarily by presiding over the debt , borrowing and banking crisis of 2008.

Spare us the nonsense that independent thought by MPs leads to election loss. I do not expect the polls for the Conservatives to move downwards because Mr Raab dared to move an amendment. The polls under John Major did not move much with acts of rebellion, and when they did it was not always down. They slumped on exit from the ERM and on the economic problems that caused.

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35 Comments

  1. Arschloch
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    “Election loss” mostly happens when a government appears to the electorate that it has not got a clue of what its about and what it should do. It usually manifests itself with vapid initiatives such as the Citizens Charter and the “Big Society”.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      “Vapid initiatives such as the Citizens Charter and the Big Society”- indeed.

      A PR drivel & vacuous soundbite man to the core.

      • Bazman
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Like Delingpole then who’s stories turn to dust when researched. Just appeals to bigotry and stupidity. Much like UKIPs lack of policies appeal to the same people.

  2. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I hate saying this, because success in a TV age (still a TV age!) is actually personal.

    Mrs Thatcher, like it or lump it, was a personal leader with enormous charisma. She was utterly telegenic and gave us the feeling that we were facing the crisis of the 1970/80s together. Tony Blair was bursting with charisma as a person. His speeches are actually still good today. His telegenic appearance was fantastic. Everything seemed to be going well too until 2008.

    Conversely, Mr Brown had zero charisma and, I regret, neither had the very decent Mr Major. Both were not telegenic; both had no persona.

    I wonder what charisma the Quad actually has? I wonder how inspired MPs feel at its leadership? I wonder how telegenic its members actually are? That, surely, is the key.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      “very decent Mr Major”?

      If he were remotely decent he would have appologised for the ERM disaster he created and all the lives, jobs, homes and businesses he thus destroyed. He might too have leaned something from his entirely predictable mistakes. He still just wants to bury the party and country for a second time.

      • bigneil
        Posted February 2, 2014 at 1:18 am | Permalink

        As soon as Mr Major’s name was mentioned an image of the “spitting image” puppet came to mind ( yes – I am old enough to remember it) with him shown as totally grey and always eating peas. Sorry, but what tempted Edwina?

    • Anonymous
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Why is Mr Major ‘very decent’ ? He had an extra marital affair. You don’t get much more indecent than that.

      Of the Raab amendment:

      A perfectly common sense and much needed amendment – call it populist if you will but no, for some lofty reason we can’t have it and our own ‘Conservative’ PM helped cause us not to have it.

      The Sun tells us that the back benchers should back off or they are going to cost Mr Cameron the next election. The truth is the complete opposite. Mr Cameron would be heading for landslide victory were he to listen to his backbenchers more. The backbenchers are more in tune with the people than he thinks.

      Charisma comes from within and is born of fervent belief and vision. Mr Cameron clearly doesn’t have either. He is yet another EU puppet.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        With Edwina Curry too, brave and foolhardy yes, but hardly “very decent?

      • Bob
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        @Anonymous

        Why is Mr Major ‘very decent’ ? He had an extra marital affair. You don’t get much more indecent than that.

        Well at least it was with a member of the opposite sex!

        That’s obviously what he meant when he made his back to basics speech.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        The “lofty reason” is indeed “lofty”; it is because almost all of those leading the main parties in our Parliament no longer believe in its sovereignty, its constitutional status as the supreme legal authority for our country; instead they believe that our national Parliament is just a subordinate assembly to be governed by various superior, supranational systems of law; if they didn’t believe that they would not have briefed the mass media that two of the amendments placed before MPs were “illegal”.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      “very decent Mr Major”!

      If it is not hurting (17%+ mortgage rates) it is not working.
      I promise you “subsidiarity” just as a meaningless sop.
      If we come out of the EMU interest rates will have to go up!

      very decent?

      “I think the biggest mistake I made was this wretched ability to see both sides of an argument.”
      John Major

      He could have added and always to choose the wrong side.

  3. Lifelogic
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    “Most sensible commentators should surely recognise that John Major was defeated by the recession and crisis brought on by his decision to enter and stay in the Exchange Rate Mechanism.” Indeed this and later his failure (even now) to appoligise or learn anything from having inflicted this idiotic and the huge pointless damagec – the destroyed businesses and jobs, repossessed houses, negative growth and very indeed many destroyed lives, dreams and suicides.

    Even now the wet/Libdem wing of the Tory party see nothing wrong and would, it seems, merely repeat the experiment on a bigger scale. We just went in at the wrong rate/time they might idiotically say while wittering on about the benefits of renewable energy at 4 times the cost.

    A divided party is clearly far better than one happily marching in unison towards the cliff, led by a leader with a defective compass who cannot even get a referendum bill through the Lords. A leader who does not want a greater Switzerland but cannot even say why and clearly has his heart and soul in totally the wrong place. One whose actions are so very often in total contradiction to his vacuous words.

    Marching in unison behind an ever bigger state, very high taxes, rule from the top down, bonkers EU, insane green subsidies, white elephants like HS2, an expensive religion in energy policy and electric cars, an expensive and very inefficient legal system with the wrong balance of risk and daft over regulation of almost everything you can think of. This under Mr Cameron is surely not a good plan.

    It is perhaps why the betting odds show the chance of a Tory overall victory is about 20%. Even this looks rather optimistic, but Miliband has helped by being a bid geeky and looking rather useless and Balls has helped with his 50% tax promise and general unpleasantness. We shall see what happen after the Tories come a poor third in May, with perhaps less than a quarter of the electorate voting for them.

  4. Richard1
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I hope you are right. To me this looks a bit of a mess. Isn’t it rather unusual for ministers to abstain from an amendment to a government bill? They should have sorted this out beforehand,and if they couldnt get Mr Raab’s idea past the LibDems then made clear it was the LibDems and not the Conservative ministers blocking it. Its good we have independent MPs, and good that the public should know it is Conservative MPs who stand for policies such as allowing a vote on Europe and booting out foreign rapists and murderers etc. But I do hope also that Conservative MPs will focus on fighting the battles we need to win the war. After all if there isn’t a majority Conservative govt after the next election all these ‘rebellions’ are entirely academic. The Eurofederalist big govt steamroller will see to that.

    Reply The Lib Dems made their opposition very clear by going on to vote against the Raab amendment.

    • DaveK
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Reply to Reply:

      That being the case why have I not seen headlines and articles saying “The Left want Rapists and Murderers to stay here”. The Conservative party seem to be useless at PR, for example following Mr Balls tax proposal, where was the banner “More Green Taxes from Labour” (envy that is). The opposition are quick to jump on and rename any of your policies, why not respond in kind? Or are you still trying not to be nasty?

      How about combatting emotion with facts that the public can digest. If an opposition member wails about £100k giveaways to millionaires combat that with how few people that actually is. Whether it is smoking in cars or climate change these people just go on the emotional front, facts are meaningless to the as they know they have captured the so called moral high ground.

      As an aside I believe that is probably why you are treated as you are by the left media, facts and logic are for Spock, emotion was Kirk. It’s only us BBT types who prefer Spock. Keep up the good work, oh and how did you get on in the cricket?

      • Bob
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        @DaveK

        The Conservative party seem to be useless at PR

        You’re quite right Dave, the Tories seem to play with kid gloves when it comes to Lib/Lab and the Greens.

        They seem to reserve their venom for ukip nowadays, which begs the question: which side of the political spectrum do they really play for?

      • uanime5
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        It’s difficult to maintain the moral high ground while trying to remove the human rights of people you don’t like simply because you don’t like them.

        • Bob
          Posted February 2, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          @uanime5
          Which human right do you think is more important, the right not to be murdered in cold blood or the right to stay in the country adopted by your siblings after you have committed the murder?

          Hardly equal, are they?

          • uanime5
            Posted February 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Which human right do you think is more important, the right not to be murdered in cold blood or the right to stay in the country adopted by your siblings after you have committed the murder?

            Using a false analogy just undermines your argument. As most criminals are UK born most criminals they can’t be deported, yet for some reason all the problems associated with foreign born criminals never seem to apply to these people.

    • forthurst
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      “Reply The Lib Dems made their opposition very clear by going on to vote against the Raab amendment.”

      …and Conservative ministers made very clear their lack of support for the bill by not voting for it.

      Lord Sumption whose presence on the Supreme court would appear to be entirely down to ability, has already given his take on the European court of Human Rights in a speech at the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

      “Sumption highlighted one example of the court’s “creative” role in reinterpreting the convention to take into account contemporary circumstances, namely its interpretation of Article 8 of the convention – the right to private and family life.

      A right originally “devised as a protection against the surveillance state by totalitarian governments” now extends, Sumption said, “to cover the legal status of illegitimate children, immigration and deportation, extradition, aspects of criminal sentencing, abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, child abduction, the law of landlord and tenant, and a great deal else besides”.

      He added: “None of these extensions are warranted by the express language of the convention, nor in most cases are they necessary implications.”” – Senior judge: European court of human rights undermining democratic process – The guardian

      http://www.theguardian.com/law/2013/nov/28/european-court-of-human-rights

      Is it not time that Cameron started to derive his beliefs from a distinguished English Judge rather than from American tv drama?

    • Bob
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      @Anonymous

      Why is Mr Major ‘very decent’ ? He had an extra marital affair. You don’t get much more indecent than that.

      Well at least it was with a member of the opposite sex!

      That’s obviously what he meant when he made his back to basics speech.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      “Isn’t it rather unusual for ministers to abstain from an amendment to a government bill?”

      It’s not just unusual, I think it is unprecedented, for ministers to tell MPs and brief the mass media that a proposed amendment would be “illegal”, but having taken that revolutionary step it is then totally inconsistent not to vote against it.

      Reply The Home Secretary said a part of it might be subject to challenge or “incompatible with European human rights”. However, the government agreed with the objective of the measure. The government does sometimes abstain or offer free votes on government measures, as with the forthcoming vote on smoking in cars.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Are you saying, JR, that when ministers and other senior Tories briefed the media they did not use the word “illegal” for both the Mills and the Raab amendments?

        Well, I know that journalists do make things up, but on January 13th when Benedict Brogan wrote about the Mills amendment here:

        http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100254119/the-tories-are-torturing-dave-over-europe/

        “… 80-ish Tories want the Government to accept an amendment that is illegal.”

        there must have been some reason why he used that word “illegal”, and the obvious reason is that he was repeating what he had been told by Tory party sources.

        And similarly on January 30th when Isabel Hardman wrote about the decision of the Labour party to oppose the Raab amendment:

        http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/01/breaking-labour-to-vote-against-raab-amendment/

        ” … the party has decided that as the government itself has said it is illegal … it cannot do anything other than vote it down.”

        “To summarise, the opposition is voting down something because they’ve been told it’s illegal by a government that’s not voting it down.”

        I don’t think she plucked that word “illegal” out of the air.

  5. Mark B
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    How can you be FREE, when you rely on the permission of another to do that which you are expected to do ? ie hold the Executive to account. How can you be FREE, when you are told that, what you have voted on, is in fact ‘illegal’ under EU law ? It is the EU that binds you, yet you refuse to acknowledge this. And by ‘you’, I mean Parliamentarians’.

    As for those people that you speak, ie Lady Thatcher, Major, Blair, and Brown, you forget those people that where in opposition to them, and the issues that the opposition had.

    For example : The ‘Longest Suicide Note in History’ and Micheal Foot.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_longest_suicide_note_in_history

    If the opposition is seen to be far worse than the Government of the day, naturally people will either refrain from voting for both or, stick to whoever is in charge, seeing them as the least worse of two evils.

    People voted for Sir John Major because they simply did not trust Lord Kinnock and the Labour Party. Memories of the Winter of Discontent, were still quite strong and affected peoples voting intentions, plus a good campaign over Labour and their tax plans. People were still doing well but, after Maastricht, things changed. You simply could not be seen to be trusted and various members of your party were, shall we say, doing ‘rather nicely’ whilst in Government and, it is sad to say, some continue to so so even today.

    Same thing with the Conservative Party post 1997. Successive opposition leaders lacked both the policies and the wit to unravel Labour. They went along with the Gulf War 2.0 which badly knocked confidence in the Government and in Blair, but also tainted the Conservative Party. Only the Lib Dems came out with any reputation intact. This was as good as an opportunity Brown was going to get to get the job he coveted and, Blair and he allegedly agreed upon.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blair%E2%80%93Brown_deal

    Government’s are in a position to make their own luck, unlike the opposition, who must convince the electorate to take a chance and vote for them instead, hence all the promises from the two Red Ed’s. Cameron only need to keep one promise he made whilst in opposition, namely, a vote on Lisbon. A promise that was in the Labour Party Manifesto and was renege upon.

    I politics, much as in life, trust is a very valuable commodity. I would argue the most valuable commodity on earth. You cannot buy or sell it. Mine it from the earth or hold it in your hand. It has no material value or physical form, but it is as real as you or I and, once lost, can be hard to recover.

    Your party Mr. Redwood MP, has lost my trust and confidence. It will take an awful lot to win it back as both the Conservative and Labour Parties have been shown but, refuse to learn.

  6. Old Albion
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    You will not get ‘free votes’ on anything worthwhile or important. Because you are part of the two (three) party adversarial political system, that puts party before sensible decisions supported by the majority of the public.

    • Richard1
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      There is no evidence that governments in Europe cobbled together under proportional representation systems pursue policies supported by a higher proportion of the public. If we had PR here there would for example be no chance of an EU referendum or of welfare reform, despite the overwhelming desire of the public for both, because the Labour and LibDem parties oppose these policies.

      • Old Albion
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Who said anything about PR ?

      • uanime5
        Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        There is no evidence that governments in Europe cobbled together under proportional representation systems pursue policies supported by a higher proportion of the public.

        Given that PR results in far fewer wasted votes and makes it much easier for the public to punish parties that govern badly it’s that PR does make politicians more responsive to the wishes of the public.

  7. Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    “Gordon Brown was brought down primarily by presiding over the debt , borrowing and banking crisis of 2008.”

    Yes he was – but it should also be said that it was a debt crisis of the private sector not the public sector.

    The banks overlent to private individuals and companies.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      “debt crisis of the private sector”

      Well yes and no, it was poor regulation, the deposit protection scheme and governments wanting them to lend on low grade mortgages for political reasons in the US that made so much of the problem.

      If the BoE guarantee bank deposits the government needs to ensure that the risk is reasonable. They failed to do this.

      If bank can dress up and sell worthless paper as being valuable to fools someone need to make sure they cannot. Otherwise they clearly will do.

  8. acorn
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    And while Westminster was playing its games of political noughts and crosses, UK plc was rusting away, with its share price dropping in every market, all due to lack of professional management. Naturally the political class and its corporate sponsors made sure they still got their share and more.

  9. alan jutson
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I agree John, Free Votes should give us better democratic decisions, and at least allow Mp’s to vote for their constituants interests, or at least vote the way they indicated in their personal manifesto.

    Shame when one Party allows free votes that the others can simply ignor such and whip up their members for political reasons.

  10. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Yes ,whilst MP’ pussy foot around trying to create an image of united thinking , no one will trust them.

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    JR: “The Conservatives offered a free vote on the Raab Amendment to the Immigration Bill”
    You keep saying this was a free vote when Cameron instructed government ministers to abstain – that isn’t my definition of a “free vote”. Nevertheless, as you say it was a “free vote”, only 87 Conservatives supported this amendment so clearly they did not represent the view of your party on this issue as “freely” expressed. Let’s face it the majority of your party is prepared to follow Cameron whatever he says or does.

    Reply It was a free vote for all non payroll, with a whipped abstention for Ministers. Some of us used our freedom to vote for it, other abstained. They abstained like Ministers because like Ministers they agreed with the intention behind the amendment but were worried about its effectiveness.

  12. Posted February 1, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Enoch Powell’s advice to vote Labour in 1074 for the EU referendum may have moved votes, particularly in the midlands.

    A number of UKIP members have subsequently stood against UKIP without winning but to UKIP’s disadvantage

    The Liberals stood on opposing sides after WW1 & never recovered.

    The SDP were essentially a split in the Labour party.

    The lesson is that such splits only matter when they stand as an electoral choice (Teddy Rooseveldt split the Republicans and put in Wilson & the Democrats).

    Sometimes they should – Ken Livingston first stood for London under a moderate leader and pulled a coup the day after.

    In every election both parties in America divide by the primary system, decide who & what policies they want and unite afterwards. It seems to work & is certainly infinitely more honest than Mr Livingston.

    The conclusion seems to be that the Tories should get on with the argument over policy now, remove Cameron, & go into the election with coherent principles.

  13. Antisthenes
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I believe democracy would be better served if the executive was separate from parliament and there were no party whips and all votes in the chamber were free. Also that politicians should be allowed to try to influence but not to make decisions as that should be the preserve of their constituents. I know that you have some sympathy with that idea as you frequently sound out your constituents before deciding your course of action in parliament.

    As for for a party being divided on some issues that to me is a healthy state in some ways as it proves that freedom of speech is alive and well and that government is not about toeing the party line if in the opinions of some that line is not in the best interests of the citizens. However accepting your argument that it does not do electoral damage I would suggest there is the possibility it will as the left will exploit it rigorously. So I suggest that it will be better to at this point with the 2015 election not that far off that the Conservative party bury it’s differences and present a united front. The way to do this is to take the internal differences to the privacy of the Conservative manifesto planning room and come up with a manifesto that takes into account all views. As far as I can see the rebels have achieved most of what they were demanding and will have very little difficulty in having those demands included into the manifesto.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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