Free votes


I do like the idea of more free votes. I explained yesterday why allowing free votes or encouraging more independence might make it impossible to construct a budget, get through tax increases or spending cuts, and do other unpopular things. There are many other issues where free votes are possible, because the outcome is not central to a government’s task or do not knock on to other policies and concerns.

Traditionally Parliament has most free votes in so called matters of conscience. These are issues where the splits are not on party lines, and where either result can be accommodated without wrecking government policy generally.   Parliament has kept the death penalty off the Statute books by free votes. Criminal justice can continue with or without it. Parliament has free votes on matters like gay marriage and abortion, where religious and  other beliefs are often passionately held and not on party lines.

This Parliament, with a Coalition government, poses the question of whether there should be more free votes on matters like the constitution. Given the level of rebellion on the issue of a referendum on the EU, the decison to whip the vote on the Conservative side did not have a great deal of traction with the Parliamentary party. Now the party is to be whipped to vote in favour of the Referendum Bill. However, you can also argue that big questions like the nature of the voting system and whether Scotland stays or leaves the Union are ones where a serious party of government should have a unifying position which most of its MPs can accept.

I would like  more free votes, but accept there do have to be sufficient things a party of MPs can agree so it can  be a governing or opposing force with some coherence on many issues that matter. The secret of leadership is finding those things, and offering free votes where unity cannot exist in good time. In a Coalition by definition there have to be more free votes for backbenchers.


  1. Javelin
    June 10, 2013

    Free votes simply mean you don’t agree with your party. There is nothing wrong with that because its a symptom of all three parties occupying the same political ground and their policies are so similar.

    Unfortunately the LibLabCon “political condensate” have completely misread the mood of the nation. I did my weekend survey of all the tabloid and blogging comments section. I can now report 95% of the nation are very, very annoyed – even angry. This includes papers such as the Guardian etc. The mood in the comments sections against the consensual LibLabCon position has been rising steadily for the past year. It’s mainly anti globalisation, anti immigration, anti elitist, anti corporatism, anti tax dodging, anti EU. From a left-right perspective is a broad view that the LibLabCon are at their core ignoring the vast majority of the British people and just focusing on a few marginal seats.

    I feel the mood of the country is now receptive to a charming man – even more charming that Farage – who with a light feather will tip over the apple cart. Politicians are probably too engrossed in the details to change their perspective and understand this. I predict that the 2014 EU elections will shake the political hierarchy apart and a leader will emerge – beyond Farage – who will take on the current political condensate and change British politics forever. Just fair warning. Read the comments sections and not Hansards. This is the wisdom of the crowd not the anger of the mob.

  2. Mike Wilson
    June 10, 2013

    JR: ‘However, you can also argue that big questions like the nature of the voting system and whether Scotland stays or leaves the Union are ones where a serious party of government should have a unifying position which most of its MPs can accept.’

    Of course you CANNOT leave a big question like the nature of the voting system to the parties that dominate politics. A big question like the nature of the voting system should be left to THE PEOPLE. The AV vote was a farce. AV is easy to argue against. PR is not so easy to argue against. And, when you have a referendum, you should not allow the media to spend all their time interviewing just members of the main parties that DON’T WANT ANY FORM OF REAL DEMOCRACY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

    Our current political system has failed. Power is passed like ‘pass the parcel’ from Labour to Tory and back. Our current political system has built an unwieldy state we cannot afford. Our current political system cannot change the state because the ONLY thing either political party spends every waking moment thinking about, and spinning towards, is ‘the next election’.

    Left to your own devices you, the Labour and Tory parties, will NEVER allow the voting system to be changed so we are stuck with you.

    40% of us cannot be bothered to vote. And of the 60% that vote I believe that more than half of those people vote on the basis of why they don’t want rather than who they do want. Most people vote Tory to keep Labour out and vice versa.

    And the same is true regarding Scotland. I don’t care at all what the Tory party’s position is on ‘the union’. Or the Labour party’s position on ‘the union’. On matters like this I do not want to delegate my vote to an MP. I want my voice to be heard. So I want to be part of the referendum. (I’d like to have my opportunity to let the Scots know I really want them to stay British.)

  3. Nick
    June 10, 2013

    So no say for the voter. We don’t get asked. We have no say. Just MPs hand picked by select committees for safe seats, dictating, along with the unelected in the Lords.

    The only saving grace when it collapses is that you are responsible. We aren’t.

    Be careful of the mob robbed of their pensions

    1. Jerry
      June 10, 2013

      @Nick: Nice rant! Sorry but I thought we were asked in 2010 (around ever four or five years as a rule), or are you seriously suggesting that every single vote in Parliament should be subjected to a referendum, even the Swiss don’t go to that extreme (and are getting rather fed up with the number of referendums them do get)…

      1. Bob
        June 11, 2013


        I don’t recall being asked about gay weddings or increasing the DfID budget by $4 billion whilst tuition fees were increased to a similar amount.

        I do remember being offered repatriation of powers from the EU, an end to profligate public spending and the right of recall.

        I also remember at the time of signing the Lisbon Treaty, a full in or out EU referendum was suggested by the people who now govern.

        1. Jerry
          June 11, 2013

          APL: I don’t recall being asked if millionaires should have a tax cut or that under occupancy of socail housing would incur a “bedroom tax” either, I do recall being asked to vote for a party who I wished to govern the country for up to five years. Sorry APL, and others, but you seem to want democracy but only on your terms…

          1. APL
            June 13, 2013

            Jerry: “Sorry APL, and others, but you seem to want democracy but only on your terms…”

            Ugh? Did I post something in this thread?

      2. Hope
        June 11, 2013

        Jerry, most expect the parties to deliver on what they say in their manifesto and not to act in controversial areas that are not included. To do so is duping the people who vote. Unless there is a change in the weight the manifesto has then politicians will continue to do whatever they want rather than representing the people which they are their to do. Key issues like the amount of debt and going to war should be subject to referenda because recent history shows politicians cannot be trusted with too much power.

  4. Mike Stallard
    June 10, 2013

    The problem is that the Executive has too much control.
    Allowing a couple of free votes on unimportant matters isn’t going to solve the problem.
    What is needed is for the Executive to listen to back benchers like yourself and to act on their interpretations of what their constituents want.
    The decay in all parties of the local machinery makes this more and more difficult.
    Does the web provide the antidote?
    Me, I tremble when politicians begin tinkering with the constitution. Especially when the LibDems are in control of proceedings.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    June 10, 2013

    I see that your so-called eurosceptic leader is making a speech today in which the Telegraph reports he will say “the nation’s membership of the European Union should be seen as a strength, the Prime Minister will say on Monday.”

    1. Hope
      June 11, 2013

      Anyone who still trusts Cameron is a fool. The evidence is clear for all to see. He is trying to do a little back tracking because the polls, not people, inform him he is way off track. So he is now engaging in another form of spin to dupe voters.

      A year to go then the elections start in earnest and he has to overcome the European elections which will be a disaster for him, Clarke, Heseltine and Major. The QVM starts next November and the UK will have treaties created in its name without a say on it- as warned by Cameron when he was claiming he would block the Lisbon treaty, European constitution to the rest of us. A name change to make it sound different from what it really is.

  6. margaret brandreth-j
    June 10, 2013

    Obviously you have learned the secret and keep pressing with the EU situation. You have been accused of banging on about the issue , yet it is perhaps the most important political structural challenge which we have known.To keep in line with policy halts fragmentation in a group of people, as they all know what they have to say or do, yet it is extemely difficult when a situation arises where you feel you are right and often proved to be right and you had to go along with the flow.
    Some might say a free vote demonstrates that you should be joining another party. UKIP would proably say this, yet the whole idea of democracy is to be freer and probably show a little give and take and from then on moderation of extreme ideas.

  7. Deborah
    June 10, 2013

    “…things a party of MPs can agree so it can be a governing or opposing force with some coherence on many issues that matter. The secret of leadership is finding those things,”

    How about looking at Cameron and Clegg’s pre-election speeches, the party manifestos, or even the coalition agreement. Oh look… open primaries, MP recall, EU referendum, constituency boundaries…….

    The coalition leadership knows the biggest issue is our broken democracy… but they like it that way.

    1. Hope
      June 11, 2013

      Well said. They also like dismantling the national identity, culture, beliefs and fabric of state to help the smooth transition of the EU superstate.

  8. Leslie Singleton
    June 10, 2013

    Free votes are sometimes not so free given that we have given so much power away to you know where–The Death Penalty you mention being a prime example

  9. Tad Davison
    June 10, 2013

    ‘Traditionally Parliament has most free votes in so called matters of conscience.’

    It’s a pity the rest of us weren’t allowed more free votes! We wouldn’t be in the EU, our prisons wouldn’t be anywhere near as full, and we’d have a much more just and equal society!

    Perhaps then, in the interests of greater democracy, the most urgent and necessary parliamentary free vote, would be to let the British people have more free votes. How could a true democrat possibly argue with giving a greater devolved say to the British people, or have I just touched on the real crux of the matter, and that is the last thing our politicians really want?

    Reply I seem to remember it was a free vote of the UK electorate which kept us in the EEC/EU

    Tad Davison


    1. Tad Davison
      June 10, 2013

      That’s true John, but how many of those who voted to stay in the Common Market, can really say they were in full possession of all the facts? Who among those who voted ‘Yes’ actually knew how dangerous a thing the EU was going to become, with the inexorable and surreptitious drift towards a federal super-state, instead of the promised ‘free-trade area and no more’?

      I recall asking people at the time, about the Treaty of Rome, and a lot hadn’t even got a clue what I was talking about. They’d never heard of it! And when we in the ‘No’ lobby tried to point out the inherent dangers of an attachment to the EU, we were dismissed as eccentrics and ‘Little Englanders’ who failed to recognise the benefits of EU membership.

      So in the first instance, there has to be a move towards the wider public being better informed, then being given a greater say in the nation’s direction. With the advent of the internet, the former is beginning to happen, but generally, there seems to be little appetite amongst the political classes to enable the latter.


    2. Bob
      June 11, 2013

      “Reply I seem to remember it was a free vote of the UK electorate which kept us in the EEC/EU”

      No John, not EEC/EU – just EEC.

      We hadn’t even heard the term “EU” at that time, and when anyone said that the EEC would lead on to political interference from Brussels they were told that it couldn’t happen without our consent because of our veto rights.

      The whole project was built on deceit.

      Reply I read the Treaty of Rome in 1975 which clearly stated it was about ever closer union, and voted No.

      1. Bob
        June 11, 2013

        “Reply I read the Treaty of Rome in 1975 which clearly stated it was about ever closer union, and voted No. “

        Did the your government or the public broadcaster make such information public at the time?

        Thought not.

        That’s why I don’t trust the Tories or the BBC.

  10. Mark B
    June 10, 2013

    If you prepare a manifesto and run on the promises made in that manifesto, then I believe that the politicians’ who are elected should be compelled to keep to their party promises to the electorate.

    Other than that, you should be free to vote as you so please.

    Also, I do not believe that there is sufficient distance between the Executive and the Legislature. The Executive have too much persuasive or coercive power over the Legislature. Whether this be via Whips or promotional bribes.

    It was very telling that Jacob Rees-Mogg when he was on, Have I Got News For You, when he was asked about why he has not got a ministerial position, he said, “they would never let me anywhere near power.” You know him better than I do, but he comes over as a polite, reasonable and intelligent person and probably a good Constituency MP. If he, like you, will not be given power to make the necessary changes, then at least your power must come through a common collective. You have this, but nowhere near as much as I believe you should.

    I believe that we must consider separating the Executive from the Legislature, much like they do in the USA. How come an MP who has a Ministerial position and may enact a policy which may be in conflict with the needs and wishes of his or her local constituents can still keep both his or her seat and Ministerial position ? Is there not a conflict of interest, are the people therefore denied a voice in Parliament and intern, are subsequently disenfranchised ?

    Mr. Redwood MP sir, to you, who is part of the ‘political class and system’,there may not be much wrong with what we have. But to us the plebs, our so called democracy is nothing but a sham. Sooner or later, a time will come when you and others will see that we see. I only hope that we may still have time to make the necessary changes.

  11. forthurst
    June 10, 2013

    “Traditionally Parliament has most free votes in so called matters of conscience.”

    If Parliament does not represent the conscience of the nation, then, that MPs, are allowed the luxury of voting according to theirs is immaterial. Offering free votes is also convenient for a party which suspects a significant rebellion on its own benches, because a policy is anathema to many of its own party and probably their MPs’ constituents, but knows it can rely on the opposition to carry government policy through: such a policy is gay ‘marriage’.

    The real issue is the fact that this country over the last fifty years has been driven in a directions by governments with coalitions of beliefs for whom only a minority of constituents voted. Our FPP electoral system disenfranchises large swathes of the population in several ways. There were times in the past when only one issue divided the two main parties, be it the Corn Laws or, after our part in achieving the WWII victory for international Bolshevism, whether a Bolshevik state, with its centrally directed economy, or the retention of our old fashioned Capitalist system was the right way for us. Of course, once it became apparent that our new nationalised industries were far worse than our old-fashioned private industries, supporters on the left began to be divided over aspects of Labour Party policy; in the same way, supporters on the right, once convinced that the catastrophic loss of our empire could only be compensated by joining in another one across the Channel, became disenchanted with this simplistic analysis and decided we might be better served returning to the status quo ante, prior to the existence of our empire. The FPP system is clearly failing to give a democratic voice to the shades of opinion which exist in Parliament and the country over crucial matters of state: the Conservative Party is now a coalition between those who believe we should be a free self-governing nation and those that believe this is old-fashioned, those who believe we should fully engage in wars of choice in the ME and those who believe the contrary etc. There needs to be a PR system in this country (not AV) for multi-member constituencies, as on the local and European levels. This will enable members to more closely represent their constituents by party and political opinions, and the re-enfranchisement of those who now are as badly served as they would have been before 1832.

  12. Rupert Butler
    June 10, 2013

    The refinements of coercion applied by the party management to members of the parliamentary party do of course reflect the respect due to and authority of the party leader. So, as you say, free votes are more appropriate now because rebellion is a more frequent alternative facing the whips.

    Is it not time for the Mother of Parliaments to recognise that its members are grown-ups ? Why is it still true that elected members leave their constituencies as representatives and arrive in parliament as lobby fodder ?

    Is it not time for members of parliament to have secret votes, like any other voters in a democxratic system ? We would then have to call the Whips “Carrots” but you could expect both better government policies and better decisions.

  13. Denis Cooper
    June 10, 2013

    I don’t expect the EU Referendum Bill to get very far, not unless the Labour and LibDem leaderships take fright of public opinion and decide either to instruct their MPs to abstain or to allow them to have free votes.

    But putting that aside – it would be one thing for the Tory leaders to order all Tory MPs to support the Bill, but it would be another thing for the Tory leaders to order the mass of Tory MPs to block any useful amendments to the Bill that might be proposed by some Tory MPs.

  14. John Eustace
    June 10, 2013

    You appear to be struggling with the concept of democracy – if you let the people make decisions then heaven knows what might happen.
    Sir Humphrey would be proud of you.

  15. Christopher Ekstrom
    June 10, 2013

    More boring obfuscation from the Mod Party apologist. GET ON WITH THE REFERENDUM!!!

  16. matthu
    June 10, 2013

    David cameron has stated today that a key part of his international ambitions for the UK “is our place at the top table. At the UN. The Commonwealth. NATO. The WTO. The G8. The G20 and yes – the EU”.

    John, can you please confirm that the only way we can be at the top table in negotiations at the WTO would be to leave the EU?

    (Because at the moment our only representation at the WTO is via the EU Commission.)

    Maybe Mr Cameron does not realise this?

    1. uanime5
      June 11, 2013

      At the WTO the UK is represented by the UK and the EU, so leaving the EU will mean the UK has less influence at the WTO, not more.

      1. Edward2
        June 11, 2013

        Not necessarily Uni, because there are over 160 member of the WTO and all have one vote.
        Groupings of members develop over different issues.
        The 27 members of the EU have a vote as individual members of the WTO and the EU has just one vote as an economic area on its own.
        You are also assuming the EU will vote in the UK’s interest.
        So in effect all the UK needs to do is to link with just one or two other member nation in opposition to the EU and they have greater power.

  17. Jerry
    June 10, 2013

    John, something you didn’t mention but do free votes cause a greater interest/level of debate on the floor of the House compared to whipped votes, if so, could/can the business of the House cope with such an interest (number of MPs wishing to speak) and if not might an increased numbers of MPs not able to speak actually reflect worse in the public’s eye than the party whip system does. Perhaps the House needs more modernisation, such as secure electronic voting (to save much time), first before being able to have greater democracy that more free votes would bring?

    Reply Free vote issues are usually popular with speakers, but so are the big subjects on whipped matters. There are now time limits on crowded days.

    1. Mike Wilson
      June 10, 2013

      Reply to Reply: ‘… There are now time limits on crowded days’

      What on earth do you keep legislating for?

      Let’s look at the offices of state.

      The Foreign Office – surely no new laws constantly needed.

      The Home Office – it’s against the law to steal, mug, murder etc. etc. – surely we have enough laws to cover all transgressions

      Education – we have schools and a Department of Education to run things. We don’t need constant new laws.

      Defence – we have armed forces. We don’t need new laws every 5 minutes to govern how they operate.

      Health – we have 1.4 million people working for the NHS. We have a department of health to look after the NHS. So, what do we need new laws for every 5 minutes?

      Surely parliament is a self fulfilling institution. It is there to pass laws and there are 650 (yes! six hundred and fifty people) paid millions of pounds to be a member and to pass laws. I would have thought 10 new laws a year would be too many and for every law passed, one should be repealed. How on earth is any citizen supposed to keep up with new laws passed all the time?

      So, whipped votes or free votes … who cares? Why don’t you all take a holiday for a year or two so we could have a respite from your constant issue of new laws. No other institution makes up new rules every day.

      1. APL
        June 10, 2013

        Mike Wilson: “Surely parliament is a self fulfilling institution. ”

        Well spotted Mike.

        But the only thing the Pols seem to want to do is increase their number, so we have the European Parliament, Westminster, Devolved assemblies, County councils etc.

        I wonder when you take every level of government into account – including the civil service, how much of our GDP goes to pay these useless [redacted]?

      2. Tad Davison
        June 10, 2013

        ‘The Home Office – it’s against the law to steal, mug, murder etc. etc. – surely we have enough laws to cover all transgressions’

        You’re right Mike, but if only we had the deterrent sentences to go with all these laws!

        I don’t think the politicians dare trust us to have our way, so how arrogant is it, for them to say they know best! Frankly, I’m sick of their ineptitude.


      3. Jerry
        June 11, 2013

        @Mike Wilson: But sometimes these are not law creating debates but law repealing or modernising debates.

  18. nTropywins
    June 10, 2013

    so you like free votes but the big question is do you like to be whipped?

  19. APL
    June 10, 2013

    Kenneth Clarke: “The Bilderberg orginisation is a private orginisation that exists for the purpose of holding meetings once a year, it exists for absolutely no other purpose.”

    Dear Mr Redwood. Would you kindly ask Mr Clarke ( being paid and sitting in the cabinet for no role ) how much the police protection for the most recent Bilderberg conference has cost and please ask a follow up question – as the orginisation is a private orginisation, how much the orginisation contributed to the cost of providing police protection?

    1. Jerry
      June 11, 2013

      @APL: Perhaps you might ask your fellow protesters how much they contribute to the policing, after all without their -likely- presence there would be no need for any higher than normal policing…

      1. APL
        June 13, 2013

        Jerry: ” you might ask your fellow protesters ”

        Stop hallucinating, Jerry.

  20. Alte Fritz
    June 10, 2013

    It is a fair point to remind us that governments have to get business through, preferably without having to buy MPs’ votes.

    In truth, there are few less appealing sights than an MP chasing cheap popularity for a populist cause.

  21. Derek W
    June 11, 2013

    I wonder how the Mother of Parliaments would work if we had Proportional Representation and Free Votes all the time.Would the People be better represented?

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