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Abolish the Party Whip

Comment 2nd July 2010

Abolish the post and concept of the party whip, and replace it with the concept that political parties may inform members of their official position, but that it should be as unthinkable to instruct an MP how to vote as it would be to instruct someone how to vote in an election.

The replacement of division with a secret ballot (eg by black and white balls) may be useful, though a public vote would serve the MP's accountability to their constituents.

A variation on this latter might be to retain division as a public declaration of intent, but for the actual vote to be by secret ballot, perhaps in  the division rooms.

Why does this matter?

Members of Parliament are supposed to represent the interests and opinions of their constituents, and should vote in accordance with these principles, and their conscience.

With the growth of the Party Whip system in the last century, this has been replaced with a system whereby on any important issue, and many unimportant, their vote is dictated by central office, on pain of censure or punishment.

The "free vote" which should be the basis of the functioning of Parliament has become so rare as to be news-worthy, particularly on any contentious issue.

This has replaced , in many cases, the will of the people with the will of the goverment, and led to abuses such as the Digital Economy Act: Instead of well thought out legislation, with convincing arguments for its necessity, the Government can simply ignore democracy, and ram through unconstitutional laws.

This needs to change. If Parliament is to regain its place as the Mother of Democracy, then it must be making law, not deciding the fine detail of how it will carry out the Government's orders.

The divine right of kings (or Prime Ministers) died with King Charles. The Government should lead by reasoned argument, not by fiat. It should administer the will of Parliament, not use Parliament to administer its will.

A simple start to this would be to declare that parties may advise, may reason, may even beg, but may not instruct. MPs must be members of Parliament first, and of parties second.

Every vote should be free.

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