Rebel votes and the whips


It is popular here to decry the whips and to claim that no MP should ever vote according to the whips’ wishes. Let me explain why I do not agree.

People in the UK usually vote for candidates representing the major parties in General Elections. I am not looking for a further debate on which parties are now the main parties!   Most independent candidates receive very few votes, and only rarely in a special circumstance is an independent elected to Parliament.

People understand that Independent MPs may not be able to achieve much. If they wish to propose something, no other MP may be willing to second it, let alone 325 find another MPs to support it to get it through. Many people wish to influence which party governs, and understand that there needs to be some party discipline to conduct a government. An independent candidiate is also unable to say how they will vote on most of the issues coming up before the Parliament, as they will not be making the proposals and will have to respond to what the main parties decide to table as government or Opposition motions. The main Opposition party has 20 days of time in Parliament they can fill each year. The government controls the rest of the time.  An independent has no such luxury.

More importantly, to be able to run a convincing government, Ministers need to be able to take decisions with reasonable certainty that the majority party will support them. Good Ministers consult widely with their MP colleagues before committing themselves, to avoid unpleasant surprises. The whips are two way communicators. Their role is not merely to tell MPs what the government would like them to do, but also to tell government Ministers what backbench MPs are prepared to do. A wise Minister does not rely on the whip to get through anything he wishes to do, but does expect the whips to help and to exert some influence, especially when the Minister has to do something which is right but not necessarily popular.

Any good party based MP will mainly vote for his party’s whip. He or she will do so because quite often the votes will be supporting things that formed their common platform at the election, or reflect their common principles and wishes as a party group. Sometimes an MP will do so on the law of averages. They may not have chosen the policy themselves, but accept all parties are coalitions where there has to be some give and take. An MP may vote for policy A which he is not keen on, to help secure a majority within the party  for Policy B which he does like.

A good MP will also rebel against  the whip where he has good reason to do so. Good reason can include a strong constituency interest that is damaged by the g0vernment or Opposition Policy. It can also include a wish to stick to Manifesto or election pledges if the MP thinks the leadership has wrongly departed from them, or to oppose matters which have come up since the election where the MP thinks the leadership has not been true to the principles of the party. An MP should certainly vote against the party whip where he or she has promised to do so by differentiating his personal manifesto on an important matter at the time of the election. I, for example, promised my electors to vote for an EU referendum in this Parliament, so I have done so  against a 3 line whip.

This Parliament has been a much more rebellious one than usual. The main reason is many Conservatives, elected on a Conservative Manifesto, have often not felt willing or able to vote for Coalition policies that are different from the Conservative policies candidates campaigned for and MPs believe in.There has also been an understanding on matters like the budget that Ministers have to be allowed some leeway, and you do have to vote through a budget for good order, even if it is not always the one you would have liked. A Parliament full of independents who all wanted to increase spending on their pet projects and never wanted to vote through a tax increase would not permit good government. It might be a way to speed us to national bankruptcy.





  1. lifelogic
    June 9, 2013

    What sort of Cast Iron, referendum promising, PM would force a 3 line whip on MPs against an EU referendum (and in conjunction with the referendum promising Libdems too)? Clearly one not to be trusted by the electorate one inch, on anything he ever utters.

    People will indeed, generally vote for an established party brand. It is therefore a great shame that appalling John Major and now David Cameron have done so much to trash the Conservative brand at every opportunity. Making it stand for an anti democratic, pro EU superstate, an ever bigger state sector, ever higher taxes, ever more daft regulation, fake green, expensive quack energy and say one thing do the exact opposite.

    It was a brand that could not even win against the hapless Brown, even before much of this dreadful trashing. A brand that believes in little but the self interest of Career politicians.

    The whips indeed have a two way role, but if the leadership is fundamentally so abysmal and dishonest, as with Major and Cameron you have serious a problem.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      June 9, 2013

      lifelogic–It’s a bit rough on Major bracketing him with Cameron–OK he wasn’t much cop but did do some things right and is not in the same league in terms of awfulness as that (individual-Leslie-saving the ed the trouble) Cameron

      1. livelogic
        June 10, 2013

        I suppose Cameron lacks the excuse of vacuity. But Major could, at least now (belatedly) apologise for entirely pointless damage done by his ERM and Maastricht. He did after all bury the Tories for 3 1/2 terms (so far).

        1. Leslie Singleton
          June 10, 2013

          life or perhaps live? logic–He was wrong on important issues. granted, but I don’t remember the slipperiness or the gratuitous meddling in the Constitution and the pollution of what is still to many a Sacrament

  2. colliemum
    June 9, 2013

    The paragraph on Independents in Parliament shows clearly – and sadly – how pernicious the party system really is. Clearly if Independents are more or less shunned by MPs of established parties, what chance is there for any change in policies which have done so much damage to our country?

    The latest example is yet again the latest ‘energy’ bill, and I refer readers to the report by Christopher Booker in today’s Telegraph, to draw their own conclusions.

    John – your post illustrates nicely why people are right to be deeply dissatisfied with the current system where the party establishments rule, and where not just Independents but also Back Benchers have simply no influence on what is being decided.
    Worse, with this cosy set-up neither opposition nor obviously the government party are doing their job of scrutinising properly both the government and civil service.
    I wonder if you and other MPs are aware of how this system of whipping and patronage present in all Parliamentary parties is sliding closer and closer towards something more resembling certain totalitarian parties.

    1. Jerry
      June 9, 2013

      @colliemum: “The paragraph on Independents in Parliament shows clearly – and sadly – how pernicious the party system really is. Clearly if Independents are more or less shunned by MPs of established parties, what chance is there for any change in policies which have done so much damage to our country?

      You mean like away from the damaging socialist policies of the post war period 1945-1979, at which point many independent MPs must have been elected (according to your logic), or was the change due to the party system that not only allowed a certain Mr Thatcher to become PM but also enabled the SDP to become such a significant -if sort lived- force in UK politics, the two of which forced Labour to modernise and drop their more damaging policies.

      John’s article actually shows why UK politics works and many systems (such as in Europe) do not, the UK even managed to form a coalition within the week were in a less party orientated system (or were PR is used) it might have taken months to thrash out. What some do not like is that in our (UK) system a minority has great difficulty holding the rest of the country to ‘ransom’, knowing full well that they have no popular support but6 hold a single critical vote.

    2. Denis Cooper
      June 9, 2013

      At least it indirectly suggests that by managing to win a Commons seat a smaller party may not actually gain much more influence over events than it would have had through its ability to prevent another larger party winning that seat.

      If you think about all the rubbish policies that the Green Party has successfully imposed on us, you might wonder how they’ve achieved that when they only got their first MP elected in 2010.

      1. APL
        June 11, 2013

        Denis Cooper: “you might wonder how they [Green party] achieved that”

        Simples! The greens have people like Zak Goldsmith and his chum David Cameron infiltrated into the other parties.

        1. Jerry
          June 11, 2013

          @APL: If you believe that you probably also believe in those Bilderberger plots!…

    3. Martyn G
      June 9, 2013

      It is not difficult, from the Booker article, to conclude that a handful of MP last week nodded through an energy bill which none appeared to have read, let alone question the economically suicidal reason for planning to demand that everyone in the country must reduce their energy consumption by around 25%. I suspect that since it is already pretty clear that as coal-fired power stations are destroyed there will not be enough generators to power the nation, in one way it makes sense, because as the lights will inevitably go off in the not too distant future it will force the achievement of their targeted reduction of energy and we can all feel good about saving the planet by using candles to light and heat our houses.
      Has anyone seen any governmental statements as to how the million new houses they want to have built are going to be provided with electricity, water, gas and so on – bearing in mind the current obvious absence of a coherent energy plan for the future?

      Reply: All 3 main parties were on a 3 line whip to vote for the Bill. Some of us declined to do so.

      1. Martyn G
        June 10, 2013

        Reply to Reply: I didn’t know about the whip, John, so thank you for the explanation and it is good to hear that you voted against it. That explains the apparent lack of interest by the majority of MP at the debating stage, but inspires many with small or no confidence in UK governance.

  3. me
    June 9, 2013

    MPs spend too much time blocking the will of the electorate, time for more referenda.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      June 9, 2013

      me–Agree absolutely that we can easily and should have more referenda in this clever high tech age–Present company excepted of course, I rate my opinion higher than any MP’s. The reasons why we used to have to operate via representatives simply no longer apply. It is the simple points that never get answered, such as Switzerland doing very well TVM. And BTW I think reducing the number of MP’s would be a step in the opposite ie wrong direction

  4. Andrew
    June 9, 2013

    A good argument, and it’s good to hear about the two-way representation of the whips, but I think what many people long for is to vote for people of principle who, while knowing how to wisely seek the implementation of their principles, and while knowing how to cooperate with others, stick to those principles.

    It often seems like governments feel pressure to compromise principle, perhaps now because of coalition, but sometimes for short term gain, or popularity, or because of negotiations with some extra-governmental body (business, perhaps the EU or the US), or even just because of the enticement of power. It is quite inspiring to see MPs hold on to principle in such situations.

    It would be beyond inspiring to see a government hold on to principle while under pressure. However, that seems a very difficult thing to do, and perhaps something more difficult for the Conservatives than for Labour (although Labour hit the wall of reality harder). Perhaps this is because Labour tends to see more power concentrated in the State, and the Conservatives aim to see less – and in power that can create an inevitable tension. And indeed for many it can appear that not wanting the government to do more implies that those in government don’t care about things they’re not willing to take power over.

  5. Gary
    June 9, 2013

    This system is reprehensible. This is how we can get a group with support of less than 30% of the population gets 100% of the power. That is called an elective dictatorship

    Reply As we have seen in a series of rebel votes it is far from a dictatorship, but is the method by which we can form a government which offers some coherence and stability.

  6. Mike Stallard
    June 9, 2013

    I believe it was Mr Blair who downgraded the Whips from Downing Street and the Front Bench and substituted a Spin Department. This, I also believe (and do not know) is still the case. The PM is surrounded by unelected people and the Quad, as I understand it, dictates policy to the Cabinet, often without much discussion.
    The backbenchers were nearly controlled from Downing Street right at the beginning of this Ministry when the 1922 Committee was almost suborned.
    All this adds up to laws being passed without proper discussion or finding out what the backbenchers (our MPs) really feel. Add in the buying of support from MPs with lots of minor Ministerial positions and you have an executive which utterly dominates the Commons. It is coming on to absolutism. (Gay marriage anyone? War in Iraq/Afghanistan?)
    Add in (yes) the stream of stuff pouring out of Brussels and being nodded through on Statutory Instrument and – bingo! – our votes are very much devalued.
    That, Mr Redwood, is what we are talking about here.

    Reply Gay marriage was a free vote for Conservatives!

    1. matthu
      June 9, 2013

      Bishops were advised not to vote in the Lords.

      Not that their vote would have necessarily affected the outcome. but the assumption that they could be leant upon not to vote is pretty pernicious.

      1. Wireworm
        June 11, 2013

        The CoE authorities didn’t want a Sun headline ‘Bishops kill gay marriage bill’. One can understand why.

  7. APL
    June 9, 2013

    JR: “Most independent candidates receive very few votes ”

    Come on John, in my old constituency it was a well known fact you could put up a sheep with a red rosette and it would be elected, in fact the Labour party went so far as to prove it.

    But if independents get few votes, lets look at the declining share of the ‘official’* candidates. In the recent local elections, turnout % was in the 30’s. Giving in one instance a mandate to the winning party of 15% of those eligible to vote.

    JR: “An independent has no such luxury.”

    This is all rather self serving, just what I’d expect from a staunch party man. More independents = more control over parliamentary time, each issue should stand or fall on the support it can garner on its merits in Parliament.

    *Official – just who anointed the established parties as the legitimate receptacle for our votes?

    Reply The electorate has decided in all recent elections to give most votes to the two main traditional parties. Parliamentary time is controlled by the majority, who grant the Opposition or official minority 20 days. Unless Independents held a majority of seats AND voted as a bloc they would have problems gaining Parliamentary time

    1. Electro-Kevin
      June 9, 2013

      Reply to reply: Many of those votes come from those who do so because of family tradition and who pay little attention to politics.

      At the next General Election might we have the EU flag shown prominently where a party’s leader is pro EU ? More prominently than our own Union flag ?

      This would at least prevent anyone from supporting an EU mandate unwittingly.

      1. Jerry
        June 9, 2013

        @EK: I would be very careful of suggesting that europhile parties have to display the EU flag, because they might then demand that europhobe parties have to display the Union flag and thus be likened to the more right wing “nationalist” parties (of disrepute)…

        Let’s just allow the published Manifestos do the talking!

        1. Denis Cooper
          June 11, 2013

          Who would do that, Jerry?

          Who would claim that if you display our national flag then you must be some kind of extreme nationalist of ill repute?

          Would it be you saying that?

          1. Jerry
            June 12, 2013

            @Denis Cooper: Displaying the EU flag doesn’t make you a EU Federalist either, but that is the impression many europhobes would like the public to have of those who wish to keep out existing (or perhaps changed) membership. By EK’s logic the Tory party would also have to display the EU flag on its election publications etc. but only the most Europhobe (if not xenophobe) would call the Tory party pro-EU.

    2. APL
      June 9, 2013

      JR: “The electorate has decided in all recent elections to give most votes to the two main traditional parties.”

      A declining fraction of the electorate. Address the fact that often a ‘mandate’ is claimed by a party that have been elected on a minority of those eligible to vote.

      A very sizable fraction of those eligible see no reason to vote for either of your tweedle-dum or tweedle-dee parties.

    3. Denis Cooper
      June 9, 2013

      I don’t think you can be right about the Labour party getting a sheep elected.

      How could a sheep possibly take the required Oath of Allegiance, let alone cross its fingers behind its back while doing it?

  8. Jerry
    June 9, 2013

    A good MP will also rebel against the whip where he has good reason to do so.

    Indeed but a poor MP will vote (whipped or not) according to their ministerial/parliamentary career prospects and it is that which riles the voters most.

  9. APL
    June 9, 2013

    JR: “It might be a way to speed us to national bankruptcy.”

    Really JR, this is pathetic, we are bankrupt, it was the policies of successive governments that brought us to this condition – I think we need a change in the way we are governed.

    What do you think about Tim Yeo? (etc ed)

    Reply I think we need to await the Report of Commissioner on Standards who is I believe now investigating this matter.

    1. APL
      June 9, 2013

      JR: “I think we need to await the Report of Commissioner on Standards ..”

      Good idea, lets see if we can get this kicked into the long grass as soon as possible. Meanwhile this fellow is overseeing our energy policy.

      Reply: Not at all, the aim is for an independent person to get to the bottom of the allegations and situation. Even an MP is innocent unless and until proven guilty.

      1. livelogic
        June 10, 2013

        Regardless of whether what he is doing is legal or not, declared or not. He should leave parliament as he is hopelessly compromised by his consultancies and/or his green religion.

  10. matthu
    June 9, 2013

    Thanks for that explanation, John. It does help to clear up many misconceptions.

    Perhaps you will relate it to the recent Energy Bill (not Tim Yeo’s amendment, but Greg Barker’s amendment).

    Booker in The Telegraph is reporting that

    By 2020, [the amendment] said, Britain must reduce its electricity use by “103 terawatt hours”, rising by 2030 to “154 terawatt hours”. This could have been understood only by someone aware that we currently use each year some 378 “terawatt hours”. So what was being proposed was that this must be cut down in six years by 27 per cent – more than a quarter – rising 10 years later to a cut of more than 40 per cent, or two fifths.

    Why would the amendment have been “slipped in” by the government towards the end of a seven hour debate. Would this be normal practice for the government?

    Was this amendment voted on and approved?

    If so, was it a completely free vote, and how did you vote?

    Does the CP seriously support reducing our electricity use by 40% by 2030?


    Reply I do not think there was such a Barker amendment.

    1. zorro
      June 9, 2013

      That would effectively lead to massive deindustrialisation in the UK (no matter how energy efficient)…….I wonder if that is the goal?……I doubt that Cast Elastic will tell us…….He won’t tell us who he went to see for some tiffin in Watford even…..


      1. uanime5
        June 9, 2013

        Actually by using more energy efficient devices and wasting less energy it’s possible to meet this goal without deindustrialisation.

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    June 9, 2013

    JR: “It is popular here to decry the whips and to claim that no MP should ever vote according to the whips’ wishes.”
    I think that is something of an exaggeration. I don’t remember anyone ever saying that an MP should never vote according to the whips’ wishes but many of us have commented that MPs should be more than mere lobby fodder for the whips. Perhaps the most important role of an MP is to hold the executive to account. This must mean a certain independence of thought and not meekly submitting to the demands of party loyalty and certainly not feebly supporting measures for which there is no electoral mandate.

  12. Mick Anderson
    June 9, 2013

    Fair points, although I have a few caveats.

    Firstly, the Party Machine is much more wealthy than any independant candidate. For example, they have TV political broadcasts and a small army of people out posting standardised literature. Small parties and independant candidates are simply squeezed out by the economy of scale.

    Secondly, I’m not sure that people are necessarily voting for a Party. Consider how many people don’t chose to vote for any of those offered (or chose not to vote, depending on your perspective). We don’t have a “none of the above” option in this country, so for those many constituencies that have only candidates from the largest three Parties, there is no way for a voter to say that they don’t want one of them.

    Finally, there’s the “payroll” vote. There are now so many Ministers (of whom it is demanded that they toe the Party line) that there are not enough senior back-benchers left to properly steam-roller the worst decisions of the Executive.

    The MP with his name against the area in which I live (near London) tells me that he is too important to commute, so has no recent first-hand knowledge of the constituency. He is also a Minister, and (as far as I have been able to tell) always votes with Mr Cameron. This is a safe seat (as are so many) so we are effectively disenfranchised. Democracy? That’s what Mr Cameron wants for foreign countries….

    Reply You can always write on the ballot none of the above. Doing so, of course, means you have no impact on who is elected, so it is a negative and self defeating approach. Of course all Ministers vote with the PM all the time – they have to, as they are collectively responsible for all government measures. If they wish to vote against they first resign, as I did in 1995.

    1. Mark B
      June 9, 2013

      @Mr. Redwood MP

      If they write on the ballot paper, “none of the above”, as you suggest, does this count as either ‘a protest’ or a ‘spoiled ballot paper’ ?

      If it is the latter, which I think it is, then it really is a waste of time doing that. Better to have an ‘official’ box so a person wishing to register their disapproval on what is on offer may do so, and be recorded as such.

      Reply It is a spoiled ballot paper, but the total number of spoiled ballot papers is a close arpproximation to None of the above.

  13. lifelogic
    June 9, 2013

    Just how many report on Nelson Mandala’s health do we need every few minutes from the absurd BBC. He is a very old man (94) at that age people do often get ill and even die. Do the BBC not have anything else, rather more important to report upon? I can think of thousands.

    1. zorro
      June 9, 2013

      Evidently not, apart from the Queen visiting them last week……Who is Nelson Mandela anyway?


      1. lifelogic
        June 9, 2013

        £2ooM on anther new BBC building, full of over paid, lefty, Guardian think, pro EU, quack green, PC, arts graduates one assumes. Perhaps the Duke decided it was a good time to book his op in so, as to miss it all?

        1. APL
          June 10, 2013

          lifelogic: “full of over paid, lefty, Guardian think, pro EU, quack green, PC,”

          But an excellent clandestine way to cross subsidize, with public funds the Newsprint arm of the Labour movement in the United Kingdom.

          The Civil service have been paying so called ‘pilgrims’ to not work on Civil service duties but rather Union business – on full pay. Another little cross subsidy to the left from public funds.

  14. Deborah
    June 9, 2013

    ” Parliament full of independents who all wanted to increase spending on their pet projects and never wanted to vote through a tax increase would not permit good government.”

    On the other hand, a parliament full of independents working together for the good of the country and their constituents would be a dramatic improvement on the current system where MPs act tribally in the interests of their own career ambitions.

    Successful businesses and organisations throughout the country are run by competent people with strong values working together for the common good, without any need for political parties. To suggest that parliament has to be different is a defensive conceit.

  15. matthu
    June 9, 2013

    Earlier I asked you, John, to comment on what I thought had been a Greg Barker amendment to the Energy Bill relating to reducing electricity demand.

    It turns out that I (and Booker in The telegraph) may have been mistaken and that it was actually a Caroline Lucas amendment which was subsequently withdrawn.

    Sorry for having misled you.

  16. Hope
    June 9, 2013

    It would be good if the public could trust the manifesto of each party so they are sure the party represents their wishes. The current parties cannot be trusted. They create new issues when they do not have a mandate for doing so ie gay marriage and a host of EU laws and regulation.

    Second, Bookers article today on the Energy Bill passing through parliament last week with a vote of 396 to eight demonstrates the lack of worth and value from MPs- under the system you advocate. It is claimed they did not even know what they were voting for because of the opaque language used by the minister concerned. Electricity cut 27 per cent by law? How will industry cope and be competitive in the world- something which JR has passed comment on many times before, why did MPs not prevent this bill? It is detrimental to our national interest but acceptable to some EU emission target. Instead of producing cheap energy the government is now forcing the public to reduce its consumption by law because wind farms cannot produce the electric we require.

    Clegg and Cameron’s government is now proposing that whips effectively have the right to recall MPs, not the public as promised. So we have the situation where if you are disliked by Cameron you can be got rid of or prevented from having the party whip like Nadine Dorries, but if you commit expense fiddles (name left out as inaccurate reference-ed) you be be promoted to the cabinet. This must be prevented by public intervention as Carswell describes.

    Time for parties to have fixed manifestos in law which they must abide by. People can no longer trust MPs nor accept the widespread corruption in parliament. Another allegation in the papers today. Teresa May is right about the toxic Tory brand but wrong about the era, those concerned with the sleazy Major government should not be advisors or part of the current Tory party today.

    1. uanime5
      June 9, 2013

      You don’t need to cut energy if you can generate more energy using methods that have low CO2 emissions.

      1. Mark
        June 10, 2013

        Read the Bill. It requires electricity consumption be cut, regardless of the method of generation, or population trends, or if the weather turns out to be colder.

        Mr Redwood did not vote against the bill (which I asked him to do on this blog), but at least he didn’t vote in favour of it, and spoke against it.

  17. A.Sedgwick
    June 9, 2013

    The question is – why does a good MP need to be told, coerced, bullied, threatened by a Whip to maintain good Party Government? If the Whips Office was abolished are you suggesting Party discipline would collapse?

    The concept of Whips has too much of the politburo about it.

    What is needed is MPs keeping the Executive more in control rather that the unnecessary cost of a Whips Office keeping the foot soldiers quiet about e.g. broken promises and unmanifestoed bills rammed through Parliament

    Reply Someone needs to tell MPs what the government’s line is on each item, and needs to keep the score so Ministers know if they can do certain things or not.

  18. Andyvan
    June 9, 2013

    “It might be a way to speed us to national bankruptcy.”

    Considering we have the highest debt levels in the EU, apart from the Club Med countries, and nearly the highest in the world I think the government is doing an excellent job on that front without any help. If they couldn’t fund their squandering of resources by money printing the whole edifice would have already collapsed. Quite honestly I doubt anybody would recognize good government if we saw it as it would be the first time it was seen here for very many years.

    1. Jerry
      June 9, 2013

      @AndyVan: Funny that, I though it was sub-prime loans to those who couldn’t bother to save (or better still, do without) that cased the credit crunch, not governments who simply had to pick up the mess and try and stop a 1920s style crash and depression when the self same people would then be kicked out of their homes or have all their possessions repossessed…

      1. APL
        June 10, 2013

        Jerry: “I though it was sub-prime loans to those who couldn’t bother to save (or better still, do without) that cased the credit crunch .. ”

        I believe it was, in the US for example, not only did banks lend 100% mortgages in anticipation the price of a property would only ever go up, they also offered ‘equity release loans’, these were often used by the borrower to go on holiday or buy an SUV.

        I have no problem with banks lending money, but this type of reckless lending, essentially with no security – led to the banks being over exposed and ultimately bankrupt.

        In steps the State, the list of National banks that have been rescued over the last five years. In the UK;
        HBOS, RBS, NR etc.
        Belgium: Fortis Bank.
        Germany: Commerzbank.
        Spain: Bankia – recently assigned a negative asset value.
        France – well, (lots of problems ed)

        And as the governments have taken on the liabilities of the private banking failures – that itself has further undermined the already precarious finances of the sovereigns.

  19. Acorn
    June 9, 2013

    A somewhat esoteric view from an insider me thinks JR. It doesn’t look that democratic from outside the political closet that is Westminster. For instance, why am I only allowed to vote for one conservative (other parties are available) candidate, chosen by a private sector monopoly, trade marked as the “conservative party”? Where is my choice? Conservatives are big on choice and competition aren’t they?

    I might know several other conservatives whom I think will make a better conservative candidate than the monopoly offering. There could be two guys, core conservatives, one in favour of gay marriage and one not. As recently demonstrated at Westminster. To me that demonstrates that I may be in the wrong conservative party; not that I am. The Boston (Lincs) Tea Party division of the Conservative Party, promised us 200 primary elections next time (this is the bit of the conservative party that will jump to UKIP, when the time is right; see The Freedom Association blogroll).

    Now, if we had non-partisan open primary elections, things might just change enough to get people interested again. Crikey, we might even find a politician who understands modern money theory and how austerity is killing our economy.

    “The founders of the American Republic rejected Parliamentary style democratic government in favor of the uniquely American construct precisely for the purpose of avoiding the emergence of strong ideologically based political parties. Political parties, they believed, promoted factionalism and undermined the ability to foster broader community values. The evolution of the so-called “two party” system, while not what they had in mind, at least forced political factions into the kind of broad coalitions necessary to be competitive.” (IVN: Millions of Voters Leaving Political Parties, the Silent Revolution).

  20. Mark B
    June 9, 2013

    You have inadvertently highlighted the reasons why our so called system of democracy (sic) needs changing.

    Thank you.

  21. Javelin
    June 9, 2013

    The current use of the whips seems necessary because the parties are moving to the centre ground and the policies seem indistinguishable from Labour and the LibDems. A lot of policies seem to be chosen on either a first come first serve basis or on some minor feature.

    To most (and I mean the majority) of people there is a “political condensate” in Westminster between LibLabCon. And like the Bose-Einstein condensate it is because there is zero energy in the system. Politics seems to have reached a low minima in energy. The LibLabCon party doesn’t seem to want to promote hard work or Britishness or anything to help hard working people. Whips seem the only energy in Westminster.

    1. stred
      June 10, 2013

      Javelin. Re. Your comment about Bose Einstein condensate, the MPs may have their position recorded but the actions of the cabinet is less clear and has a similarity to the laws of quantum mechanics too. The more one can determine their position, the less it is possible to find which directon and how fast they are going. The more one can find out about the time of their action, the less can be found out about the energy with which it is associated.

  22. Normandee
    June 9, 2013

    “Their role is not merely to tell MPs what the government would like them to do, but also to tell government Ministers what backbench MPs are prepared to do”
    There is not much evidence that this system has been of any help to the large numbers of MP’s with similar views to you, in fact before Eastleigh there is precious little evidence (unless you count vague waffle about impossible referendums based on renegotiations that will not happen), that it had any effect. Even voting against a 3 line whip changed nothing.
    In fact the same statement doesn’t ring true against lots and lots of anecdotal stories over many many years of threats and bullying from whips to force through the executives will. The mere fact that the 3 line whip was used on the previous European vote says all you need to know about the whip system, unable to guarantee a victory Cameron used force to get his way.
    As usual despite your opposition to Europe you are still very much a “party man” despite the “party” in coalition bearing as much resemblance to a tory party as a fish to a frog

    Reply The 3 major rebellions so far all changed events. We voted for a referendum, and now have been offered one. We voted against Lords reform, and it has been abandoned. We voted for a cut EU budget, and got one.

    1. Mark B
      June 10, 2013

      Mr. Redwood MP:

      1) No, you had a three-line Whip imposed on you preventing us from having a referendum. The reason your leader has now decided to give a referendum sometime in 2017 is due to the fact that you really do stand to get an almighty drubbing in forthcoming elections.

      2) Lords reform, I’ll give you that.

      3) As for the EU budget. It was, and has never been in the gift of our Parliament to decide on the EU budget. Yes it was cut, for the other member states. The UK’s half of the budget was increased !!

      I do not expect you to torpedo a system that you and your fellows benefit from. But please do not expect us to be so gullible as to believe such a system works for us. If it did, we would never have half the problems we face now.

  23. Mike Wilson
    June 9, 2013

    If people generally vote for ‘candidates that represent the major parties’ – why on earth do we need 650 members of parliament?

    Your argument that having 650 independent members of parliament would mean you would never get agreement on anything is, obviously, valid.

    But the system we have now DOES NOT PRODUCE GOOD GOVERNMENT. We have had corruption and stupidity on an epic scale for a long, long time.

    How stupid do you have to be to build a state that needs borrowing of £120 thousand, million pounds a year just to pay the wages? I would suggest that no parliament composed of 650 independent MPs would ever vote through a budget that required borrowing on this scale – borrowing which will be repaid by our children and grandchildren (all their working lives – this is a World War 2 sized national debt).

    Why do we have constant legislation? We started out with 10 commandments and now have so many statutes that ‘ignorance of the law’ must be a reasonable excuse. Who could possibly be familiar with every bit of legislation ever passed? Why the need for constant laws?

    Our current system is also highly undemocratic. The Labour party can form a government with a massive majority if the get 40% of the votes of the 60% of the electorate that bother to vote. So, just 24% of the electorate produces a massive majority and, allegedly, a mandate.

    You only have to look around at the mess we are in at the moment – the debt, the lack of ideas and vision, the lack of strategy, the youth unemployment, the housing market like an albatross around the neck of the economy, the unwanted immigration and change to the character of our localities, the £12 billion of borrowed money you give in overseas aid – the list goes on and on and on – and any sane person would have to agree that our political system is pretty much useless.

    So, defending whipping so that you all vote on something so that you get ‘something done’ seems, to me, to be neither here nor there. Because, what you get done has little to do what people want you to get done and has everything to do with self-importance and, to a greater rather than lesser extent, incompetence.

    You’re going to waste 32 thousand million pounds building a railway line no-one wants or needs. By the time it is built it will be irrelevant with the advances in technology changing our working practices. You ought to be working on an energy policy. But, no, that would be too tricky. Laying a railway line is nice and straightforward eh?

  24. Denis Cooper
    June 9, 2013

    JR, you have some good points about the need for whips, but do you believe that it is acceptable for them to employ methods which would often lead to criminal or civil proceedings if anybody else used them, in the normal modern world outside the bubble of the Palace of Westminster?

    For example, bullying, blackmail, harassment, deception, insulting and abusive behaviour, and even threats of and actual physical violence?

    Of course not.

    And in the purely hypothetical case that significant prima facie evidence emerged that an MP, maybe a whip or maybe not, had committed a criminal offence – let us say just as a for instance, misconduct in public office, a common law offence which if proved in a court could lead to a lengthy prison sentence – do you think that the Speaker, being the officer elected by MPs to preside over their House and among other things defend its dignity and reputation, should immediately call in the police to conduct one of those criminal investigations at which they are fairly well practised, waiving any parliamentary privilege as a purported protection for the criminal suspect?

  25. Robert Taggart
    June 9, 2013

    Agreed, Johnny, but…
    Regarding your last two sentences in particular – does that mean all Liebore MP’s are actually Independents ?!

  26. muddyman
    June 9, 2013

    The Party machine is the Death of Democracy. No MP holding views such as yours is truly representing the interests of their electorate.

  27. uanime5
    June 9, 2013

    While there’s nothing wrong with the whips telling MPs which way to vote on regarding a bill the problems occur when MPs are punished for not obeying the whips, such as lack of career prospects. Perhaps ballots with the names of the MP should be replaced with ballots that contain the name of the party. That way a party leader will know what percentage of their party supports something but not which MPs support it.

  28. Jon
    June 9, 2013

    An independent is a one person outfit, the running of government is not a one person outfit. They can’t hope to have the resources to form policy in all areas. That said the protest parties or votes do tell the main parties what they are not addressing so they have a purpose. If left unaddressed then the protest vote grows.

    We were treated today by Sunday Politics showing the actual spend of government and the projections going forward which showed very little cut on spending. We should be grateful for that. I suppose atleast they are not massive increases in spending which would happen with the opposition. Its not what we wanted, we wanted big cuts but if kept to it illustrates a change to the norm of automatic big increases in public spending every year.

  29. Jon
    June 9, 2013

    An independent is a one person outfit, the running of government is not a one person outfit. They can’t hope to have the resources to form policy in all areas. That said the protest parties or votes do tell the main parties what they are not addressing so they have a purpose. If left unaddressed then the protest vote grows.

    We were treated today by Sunday Politics showing the actual spend of government and the projections going forward which showed very little cut on spending. We should be grateful for that. I suppose atleast they are not massive increases in spending which would happen with the opposition.

  30. Iain Gill
    June 9, 2013

    The political class are letting the country down massively. They are outclassed by their equivalents in some of our competitor nations. The way this country is run is getting less and less like any pretence at democracy.

  31. Roy Grainger
    June 10, 2013

    John – Perhaps in a future article you can give us your views on Parliamentary committees which seem in recent years to have mutated into quasi-judicial bodies full of puffed-up pompous attention seekers (Tim Yeo, Margaret Hodge, Tom Watson) summoning people before them in order to insult them on TV.

  32. Ben Kelly
    June 10, 2013

    Governments were happy to spend the proceeds of this behaviour and more, running deficits when keynesian doctrine suggests a surplus should have been the aim.

    To lay blame for the continued defict and total debt on banks is simplistic at best and a deficit on your usual analysis

    1. Ben Kelly
      June 10, 2013

      Apologies this should have replied to @jerry 1142

      1. Jerry
        June 10, 2013

        @Ben Kelly: I was not laying blame on the banks, I was laying blame on those who blame the banks (or for that mater, governments)!

        I think it very simplistic that some people seem to think that the audit trail starts with the banks and ends with governments…

  33. waramess
    June 10, 2013

    ‘Avin another Larf Mr Redwood?

    The thought that government would be unable to govern without a whipping system is akin to thinking that by leaving the EU we would exclude ourselves from exporting to them.

    Apart from creating new legislation there is very little Parliament needs to do that might depend on whipping.

    They were able to govern last week and last month and last year on laws that then existed so they should be able to continue governing with these laws until such time as they reach a proper consensus with a majority of MP’s on changes they believe to be necessary.

    There really can be no excuse for whipping other than a lazy government that is minded to subvert democracy and impose its agenda on reluctant and dependent MP’s.

  34. Lindsay McDougall
    June 12, 2013

    I like the idea of accountability, so can accept Whipping. Let us look ahead a little. Suppose that the vast majority of the Conservatives want the Party’s EU negotiations to be based on certain ‘red lines’, recovery of powers that were non-negotiable. How would the Conservatives ensure (a) that the 2015 manifesto spelled it out and (b) that Conservative MPs supported the manifesto? Getting every Conservative candidate to swear on oath or in a legally binding affirmation would be one way.

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