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Old 03-13-2019, 11:42 PM
md2000 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 15,092
Technically, MP's can vote the way they want. (The joke is, "...but they can only do it once.")

MPs are expected to vote the party line. The government sets the policy they want, and to ensure they follow through, they expect all their members to vote that way. They even have a whip (a position, not an implement) same as the congress, to rally the members. Technically there is no legal requirement, but if the party brass are sufficiently offended by someone disagreeing with the party line, they can kick them out of caucus to sit as an independent. (Or the member may "cross the floor" and join a different party; Government and opposition sit on opposite sides of the floor unless they run out of space, hence the expression.)

In the British system, the ministers are MPs who are in the Cabinet. They will be expelled from cabinet if they don't vote as expected.

The prime minister and his/her government rule with the confidence of the House. Thus, if it appears the government can't muster enough votes expressing confidence in their programs, then a rival party may call for a vote of confidence. A government that loses such a vote must resign. This may trigger a new election, or the head of state (Queen, Governor general, or in places like Italy, the president) may instead ask the next biggest party to form a government and try to win a vote of confidence. Obviously, all these are yes/no majority wins votes.

A "Money Bill" is an automatic vote of confidence. If a bill allocating budget or other money allocation fails, it is same as losing a confidence vote.

Needless to say, voting against your ruling party in confidence or money votes is political suicide unless there's a spot for you in a different party. Voting against your party in other matters gets them pissed off at you, depending on your reasons. It's a team, you have to be a team player, far more so than in congress. For the opposition, to present a united front, quite often the same rules apply although failing to vote against the government is usually not so serious; you just piss off your party brass to the detriment of your career.

The modern system has evolved that typically the modern governments' policies are determined by the cabinet and "privy council" advisors to the Prime Minister, and presented to the party MPs with minimal input; so if you elect a majority government, you elect a dictator for the next 4 to 5 years, and MPs are expected to rubber stamp the decisions. Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau famously remarked that "backbenchers are nobodies when they get 50 yards from Parliament Hill."

If it's a minority - the ruling party does not have 50%-plus-1 - then the trick is to get one or more opposition parties and/or independents to vote your way to prop up the government in money and confidence votes. A lot of this is jockeying to make the other party look bad if they back you into a corner so it's their fault that there is an early election, etc. etc. Or you add something to a bill, or horse trade, to give the swing vote party something they want in return for their support. As you can see, this doesn't work too well if that party's MPs are unreliable in following their leader.

So it's taken for granted, absent serious problems, MPs will vote the party line.

Once in a while, an issue comes up that is so contentious and outside party politics that the parties - or the government - will declare "this is a free vote". I.e. not a confidence motion, MPs can vote their conscience without retribution. Changing the abortion law in Canada, decades ago, is a prime example. Who believed what was right had no bearing to party affiliation; people on both sides voted different ways. Brexit obviously is another. It's a HUGE (YUGE!) change in the country's situation, and different MPs have different views.

Note in the first major defeat on Brexit a month or two ago, it was followed the next day by a confidence vote (which May won.) Because it was not a "Money Bill", it was not an automatic loss of confidence - but when the government suffers a defeat, quite often they or the opposition will demand a confidence vote to see how strong the anti-government vote felling is. In that case, the MP's did not want May's plan, but they did not want her out and the resulting election, either. So this time, the government said "free vote" to avoid the possible follow-up confidence vote.

Also note - as I mentioned, voting against the party line is a bad thing. But like any movement, there's strength in numbers. When 200 back benchers vote against the government, it's kind of hard to single out any few for punishment. Get too harsh on a few, and risk that you piss off enough others that the next confidence vote, you will lose.