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Old 03-13-2019, 10:00 PM
zombywoof is offline
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No-deal Brexit "free vote"


As I understand it, the vote earlier today in the British Parliament regarding a no-deal Brexit was a "free vote" - the MPs did not have to vote according to their parties' leadership? Are they not usually free to do so? I heard something about them being fired or forced to resign if they do not?

(A couple of bonus questions - please define "shadow" minister and "back bencher")

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty ignorant about how this all works from over here in the US - thanks for any clarification!

Last edited by zombywoof; 03-13-2019 at 10:02 PM.
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Old 03-13-2019, 10:43 PM
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Originally Posted by zombywoof View Post
As I understand it, the vote earlier today in the British Parliament regarding a no-deal Brexit was a "free vote" - the MPs did not have to vote according to their parties' leadership? Are they not usually free to do so? I heard something about them being fired or forced to resign if they do not?
Normally MPs are expected to vote according to the policy of the party they belong to, subject to various levels sanctions (from the party) if they do not. A declared "free vote" is one in which the party will not apply any sanctions no matter how their members vote.

Quote:
(A couple of bonus questions - please define "shadow" minister and "back bencher")
A back bencher is an MP that does not have a position in the government (e.g. they are not "secretary of state for something"). They were still elected, and belong to the government party, and represent their constituents, but they don't have an official "job to do" in the government other than that.

A shadow minister is an MP from the opposition party whose job it is to critique the corresponding "real" minister from the government party.
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Old 03-13-2019, 10:50 PM
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In the Westminster system, such as the UK and also Australia and New Zealand, MPs usually are required to vote the party line. It's a requirement of them remaining a member of the party caucus. If they don't vote that way, sometimes known as crossing the floor i.e. to vote with the opposition, they will be disciplined and may be expelled from the party.

There are MPs within the parliamentary systems known as whips. It's their job to see that MPs know how to vote on each bill.

If there is a free or sometimes called conscience vote, then MPs may vote as they see fit.

A shadow minister is the member of the opposition that has responsibility for critiquing a particular portfolio, shadowing the Government minister who is responsible for a particular ministry.

A back-bencher is just one of the troops. No responsibility for particular matters, but expected to back up the party line in Parliament.
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Old 03-13-2019, 10:59 PM
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Party discipline is strong in the UK parliament - it is usual for parties to direct their members how to vote on every issue; a "free vote" is very much the exception. However the party direction (the "whip") may be expressed more or less strongly. A one-line whip indicates the party's policy; members are not required either to attend or to vote as whipped, but they may not vote against the whip and can expect to be disciplined if they do. A two-line whip indicates that the member is expected to attend and to vote in support of the party line, unless he negotiates prior permission to be absent, for which he will generally need a colourable reason. And a three-line whip indicates that attendance and voting with the party is a compelling obligation, breach of which can be expected to lead to serious disciplinary sanctions.

The sanctions are sanctions imposed by the party; they can't remove you as an MP. But they can involve dismissal from any party or government office you may hold (about 100 MPs are "on the payroll"; they have government offices of one level or another, and another 30 or so hold party offices); temporary or permanent exclusion from the parliamentary party; refusal of renominination to stand as a party candidate at the next election; and generally finding that your representations to government offices on behalf of your constituents are about as well-received as a case of amoebic dysentery.

Backbencher: an MP who does not hold any government office, or any party office (in any party, whether government or opposition).

Shadow minister: an MP from the opposition party who has been nominated as that party's spokesperson in relation to a particular government portfolio. So, for example, the current UK Foreign Secretary is Jeremy Hunt of the Conservative Party; the Shadow Foreign Secretary is Emily Thornberry of the Labour Party.
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Old 03-14-2019, 12:42 AM
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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.
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Old 03-14-2019, 02:00 AM
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Just a footnote: the whips' job is not just a one-way process. They are there to maintain a line of communication between back- and front-benchers, so as to warn front-benchers of how opinion may be developing on an issue, or of manoeuvres to launch a campaign on something or other. Likewise, individual senior ministers have, as the most junior member of their ministerial team, a "Parliamentary Private Secretary", who is an MP who keeps in touch with back-bench opinion on how their particular ministerial team are doing. A PPS gets no extra pay for this, but it's the first step to a ministerial career; they are naturally expected to vote with the government or to resign as a PPS if not; that wouldn't be the earthquake of a revolt by more senior ministers, but it can be a sign of trouble brewing.

At this particular moment, of course, the divisions and inherent instability of the situation are such that the wheels are falling off all round, and the conventional expectations have lost a lot of their force.

Last edited by PatrickLondon; 03-14-2019 at 02:01 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 02:37 AM
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Originally Posted by zombywoof View Post
As I understand it, the vote earlier today in the British Parliament regarding a no-deal Brexit was a "free vote"
It was going to be a free vote, but May reinstated the whip (against her own motion!) after it was amended to say "no no-deal ever, not just March 29". One minister resigned after voting for the motion. Several other ministers abstained but weren't sanctioned, so I assume it was a one-line whip.

Last edited by MrDibble; 03-14-2019 at 02:37 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 03:11 AM
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It was going to be a free vote, but May reinstated the whip (against her own motion!) after it was amended to say "no no-deal ever, not just March 29". One minister resigned after voting for the motion. Several other ministers abstained but weren't sanctioned, so I assume it was a one-line whip.
SFAIK the lineage wasn't specified, since the whip was imposed orally, in the moments before the vote, rather than in writing. (In a written whip, the instruction "your attendance is required" is literally underlined once, twice or three times, and that's how the member knows whether this is a one-line, two-line or three-line whip.)

The non-sanctioning of abstainers does point to its being treated as a one-line whip. but that's a decision made with hindsight. The truth is that if there is a sufficent revolt against the whip it becomes difficult to apply sanctions to all the rebels. Even if this is deemed to have been a one-line whip, there should be sanctions against the 17 Tories who voted against the government. But this government cannot afford to sanction 17 of its own MPs; even with DUP support, it has a working majority of just 6 votes.
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Old 03-14-2019, 04:26 AM
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Its probably worth mentioning that actual voting, as in counting names and numbers, is not the norm. Most votes in the Australian parliament at least are taken on the voices. If you have insomnia and hate yourself you can watch a late sitting of parliament on TV, where there are 2-3 stalwarts on either side of the floor of one of the houses, churning through the more mechanical aspects of governance. The vote to amend subsection XXVIII [ii]d to read something slightly different will result in a vague muffled 'aye', which is sufficient.

When a proper division [a vote where names and numbers are recorded] is taken, then it gets serious. Bells ring throughout parliament and everyone sprints, as the doors are locked after a few minutes. Where there is a minority government as we currently have then every bum on a seat matters.

Voting against your party's position is the nuclear option, the softer options are abstention or simply not turning up which you can get away with in some circumstances. If you are unwell for example the opposing party will allow a 'pair', so drop one of their own so that the voting differential is maintained.

Threatening to cross the floor can also be used to show your constituents you are a straight-talking, fair-dinkum maverick and nobody's puppet, and is a favourite threat of people like crazed red-neck philanderer Barnaby Joyce [former Deputy Prime Minister.]
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Old 03-14-2019, 06:09 AM
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'Whips' get their title from foxhunting, where the 'whip' is the person whose job it is (using an actual whip) to keep the hounds in line. The people who aspire to this job probably cut their teeth as 'School Bully', as they will use every trick in the book to get an MP through the correct lobby. it's not unheard of for a sick MP to be carried in on a stretcher. Of course, when the government has a comfortable majority, they have an easy job, but when the government's majority is slim or non-existent, they have to fight for every vote. Free votes can be used as a way of managing internal party politics – particularly when there are strongly held and competing views amongst the party leadership. In such cases, allowing a free vote can prevent an embarrassing government defeat or party rebellion. They also allow the government to decide that the result of the vote is not binding.

The strange thing is that we still maintain the fiction that each MP is elected as an individual to make their own decisions, and not just as voting fodder for the party.
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Old 03-14-2019, 09:39 AM
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[Moderating]

While this is a question with a factual answer, it's a question specifically about elections, and it could quite naturally spill over into non-factual matters. So it'll probably fit better in Elections. Moving.

[Not moderating]

About the shadow ministers, it's also my understanding that, if control of parliament shifts to the other party, the shadow ministers will typically be the ones replacing the old ministers to form the new cabinet. Correct?

And do individual members ever negotiate freedom? It sometimes happens in the US that a legislator who just barely won their district (which might lean towards the opposite party) will vote counter to the party line on some issues, because if they don't, their district is likely to replace them with someone from the other party. This is especially common when the margin is large enough, one way or the other, that that individual's vote wouldn't matter.
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Old 03-14-2019, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
[Moderating]

While this is a question with a factual answer, it's a question specifically about elections, and it could quite naturally spill over into non-factual matters. So it'll probably fit better in Elections. Moving.

[Not moderating]

About the shadow ministers, it's also my understanding that, if control of parliament shifts to the other party, the shadow ministers will typically be the ones replacing the old ministers to form the new cabinet. Correct?

And do individual members ever negotiate freedom? It sometimes happens in the US that a legislator who just barely won their district (which might lean towards the opposite party) will vote counter to the party line on some issues, because if they don't, their district is likely to replace them with someone from the other party. This is especially common when the margin is large enough, one way or the other, that that individual's vote wouldn't matter.


It’s pretty rare for a member of the UK Parliament to get that sort of freedom. The Democrats allow Joe Manchin to cast votes for Kavanaugh once it’s a done deal since Manchin is far better than any Republican would be and the Democrats have no other way to get a valuable Senate seat from West Virginia. Members of the UK parliament represent a much smaller area, there are 650 MPs which is larger than the USA House of Representatives and the Senate combined. But, it does happen. The current leader of the Labour Party often voted against his own leader when he was a backbencher.
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Old 03-14-2019, 11:51 AM
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The shadow cabinet is usually an indication which way the leader is inclined to appoint minsters if he/she becomes PM - but cabinets get shuffled all the time, and it's entirely up to the leader. Often the replacement of government happens after an election where some people will lose, new faces may win, and different opportunities present themselves. So knowing enough about the minister's portfolio and issues may be a plus, but it's not a guarantee.

IIRC (or at least in Canada) an MP may as a point of order(?) request a roll-call vote if they disagree with the speaker's assessment of the yells of yay or nay. Of course, since 99% of the time everyone votes party line, the majority will win, so it's a waste of time. If some members are in the washroom or out to lunch or answering mail in their office, the call for a vote usually results in call bells ringing (IIRC 45 minutes warning) so it's not like the opposition can ambush the government and catch them short. Calling for votes can be an annoying delaying tactic. Alternatively, on a contentious issue, it can be a way to get specific MP votes on the record to use against them in the next election.

At one time, a specific quorum was required for a vote in Canada, and the Conservatives engaged in "bell-ringing" to make a point - all the party left the chamber, not enough for a quorum, so the bells rang days on end. (Some bells burned out) Pretty much the same as a filibuster, which also the rules do not allow onw. Another time, IIRC, the opposition reneged on an informal pairing and defeated the government in a snap vote, but the government rounded up all the misplaced MP's for the subsequent confidence motion which they won. Or, if a government thinks they will lose a vote, they may delay it if rules allow, so as to twist arms harder.
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Old 03-14-2019, 01:26 PM
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New referendum amended defeated as Labour abstain.
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Old 03-14-2019, 05:22 PM
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It’s pretty rare for a member of the UK Parliament to get that sort of freedom. The Democrats allow Joe Manchin to cast votes for Kavanaugh once it’s a done deal since Manchin is far better than any Republican would be and the Democrats have no other way to get a valuable Senate seat from West Virginia. Members of the UK parliament represent a much smaller area, there are 650 MPs which is larger than the USA House of Representatives and the Senate combined. But, it does happen. The current leader of the Labour Party often voted against his own leader when he was a backbencher.
Also, unlike in the UK, the Democratic leadership doesn't have the option of refusing to nominate Manchin for reelection; that's up to the primary voters of West Virginia, not the DNC.

I would imagine that, since UK MPs do vote the party line so consistently, it would be much rarer than it is here to have a politician like Manchin who frequently defies the Party leadership; someone who did so wouldn't be renominated as a member of that Party, and someone who did vote the party line wouldn't be re-elected if that party line was unpopular in their constituency.

I really just came in here because I felt I had to post in a thread started by zombywoof. Reety-alrighty!

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Old 03-14-2019, 06:12 PM
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The shadow cabinet is usually an indication which way the leader is inclined to appoint minsters if he/she becomes PM - but cabinets get shuffled all the time, and it's entirely up to the leader.
One of the many memorable bits of Yes Minister involved the civil service convincing the PM not to appoint a shadow cabinet member to be the actual minister, because "he'd spent too long thinking about those issues and was rather keen to reform things."
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:06 PM
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I was under the impression that the shadow cabinet was named so that the transfer of power when the election results come in can be as nearly instantaneous as possible. In the US we have several months between elections and the beginning of terms because we need time for the administration to get people into position after they know they've won. I thought the point of the shadow cabinet was at least in part to remove this lame duck period.
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:59 PM
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I was under the impression that the shadow cabinet was named so that the transfer of power when the election results come in can be as nearly instantaneous as possible. In the US we have several months between elections and the beginning of terms because we need time for the administration to get people into position after they know they've won. I thought the point of the shadow cabinet was at least in part to remove this lame duck period.
That would be a small part of the rationale. The main reason for having a shadow cabinet is that, in the Westminster system, Ministers (the executive) are permanently accountable to parliament, having to answer questions, speaking and voting in support of the legislation relevant to their portfolio, etc, etc. And they can be held to account to greater effect if there's a (somewhat) senior opposition politician whose particular responsiblity it is to "shadow" the minister, to be aware of and briefed on the policy issues that the minister is facing, to be involved in developing and promoting his own party's policy in relation to the same field, etc, etc.

If you hold a senior shadow portfolio - Treaury, Foreign Affairs - you're a pretty strong likelihood to be appointed to that ministry if there's a change of government, so you can hit the ground running. But this is less true for most of the other cabinet posts. For instance, the last time government changed from one party to another, in 2010, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne) and the new Foreign Secretary (William Hague) had held those posts in the shadow cabinet immediately before the election, but the new Home Secretary (Teresa May) had been shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions just before the election, while the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Iain Duncan Smith) hadn't been in the shadow cabinet at all.

This is partly because there's much more to being a cabinet minister than knowing something about your particular department. The UK cabinet is much more of a collective body than the US cabinet. It meets weekly for very substantive meetings at which government policy is determined, and various cabinet committees meet several times a week. All members are expected to be abreast of, and supportive of, government policy in all areas. Because cabinet functions collectively in this way, its necessary that it should be representative of different factions with in the party, different regions in the country, etc, etc. so individual ministers are appointed both with an eye to their fitness for a particular portfolio and with an eye to how their inclusion will affect the makeup and functioning of cabinet overall. Detailed familiarity with the portfolio is an optional extra; the minister will be surrounded by highly-aware and highly-experienced permanent civil servants who can supply all the knowledge and expertise he or she needs. That's the theory, anyway. This system does favour, not ministers who are technical experts in their portfolio area, but ministers who have the aptitude to master new information quickly, and the leadership capacity to make their mark on the departments who which they are assigned, rather than to be led by the technocrats already in the department.

Last edited by UDS; 03-14-2019 at 09:01 PM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 10:55 PM
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No-deal Brexit "free vote"


Quote:
Originally Posted by glowacks View Post
I was under the impression that the shadow cabinet was named so that the transfer of power when the election results come in can be as nearly instantaneous as possible. In the US we have several months between elections and the beginning of terms because we need time for the administration to get people into position after they know they've won. I thought the point of the shadow cabinet was at least in part to remove this lame duck period.


It helps, but it just takes one or two prominent members of the shadow cabinet to be defeated in the general and the incoming PM has to juggle right away.

As posted above, the Cabinet has to represent the diversity in the party and regional interests in the country. You lose someone from a key faction of the party, and someone else from an area of strong party support, and you have to find a couple of others to fill those spots.

The new MPs who fill those slots may not have any of the technical experience of the two defeated MPs, so even if they're appointed into Cabinet, no guarantee they'll get the same posts that the defeated MPs might have got.

For instance, one aspect of the current scandal in Canada is that the precipitating event was that the President of the Treasury Board, a key position, resigned. That one resignation triggered a Cabinet shuffle: three existing ministers were shuffled to new portfolios, and two backbench MPs were appointed to Cabinet. (In the process, the Minister of Justice was moved to a new position, Veterans Affairs, which triggered the scandal coming to light, for complicated reasons.)
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