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9:47am on Monday, 27th February, 2006:



The government keeps control over its MPs through the use of whips. These are people who persuade MPs through fair means or foul to vote with the government when they might otherwise have been tempted to abstain or (horrors!) vote against. People who don't follow the instructions of the whips will find various patronages withdrawn, and they may ultimately be thrown out of the party.

It's not very democratic. MPs are elected to serve their members' interests, not the interests of their party's elite. Paradoxically, the whips use this very point to enable them to wield power: because MPs are elected to represent their constituency, they can't cast their parliamentary votes in private because then their constituents won't know whether they have truly represented them or not. You might vote for someone who says they're against some policy but who secretly supports it. Thus, MPs must vote publically in Parliament, therefore the whips can tell whether they obeyed instructions or not and mete out punishment accordingly.

Hold on, though. The electorate only gets a say during elections. Wouldn't it be fairly easy to allow each MP to vote in secret for the duration of the Parliament (so that the whips can't pressurise them into voting against their own better judgment) but to record their votes so that they're revealed come the general election? Then, the public can have its say. With some safeguards to prevent whips from getting MPs to sign statements of intent (then decrying miscreant MPs as liars when Parliament had been dissolved), this ought to work.

There's absolutely no chance of its ever happening, though. Democracy is undemocratic.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).