Monday, May 19, 2008

When is a Free Vote Not a Free Vote?

As we know, Gordon Brown conceded that free votes would be granted on some of the sensitive issues – hybrid embryos, saviour siblings and the role of the father in IVF treatment – contained in the Human Embryo & Fertilisation Bill.

With all votes in the House of Commons, both sides to any division provide two tellers to count MPs as they go through the Lobbies. Normally, these roles are performed by whips but not on free votes. However, on this ‘free vote’ this evening on amendments to the Bill on hybrid embryos, the tellers for the ‘Noes’ were Labour whips and a Labour whip was in the No Lobby advising on the timing of the future votes. In contrast, the tellers for the ‘Ayes’ were backbench MPs.

If it was a genuine free vote, why were Government whips acting as tellers? Some Labour MPs did, of course, support the amendments but the role of the Labour whips made it clear which way Labour MPs were expected to vote. Has Gordon Brown changed his mind again? OK, you can argue that it was Government legislation so why shouldn't whips be involved, but it does go against the grain of a genuine free vote. And furthermore...

A Conservative MP of my acquaintance has just told me that a Labour whip has just shown him the Labour whipping for tomorrow. They have been put on a Three Line Whip to attend - a Three Line free vote!

It means those who would have abstained will be herded through the 24 lobby to save Brown's face and keep the status quo. That's how scared they are of the 20 week option winning.

UPDATE 00.42: Labour Minister (and excellent blogger) Tom Harris has just posted this in the comments...
Iain, I'm sorry but you're wrong. Government whips were involved because it was government business. I decided to abstain on saviour siblings tonight. Not one whip approached me in advance to ask my intention or to strong arm me. Similarly, although I have publicly stated I will support moves to lower the abortion time limit, I have received absolutely no pressure from any whip to do otherwise. I'm afraid that on this occasion there is no evidence at all to sustain a conspiracy theory that there is control freakery at work. Quite the opposite, I can assure you.

UPDATE: 9.06: Nadine Dorries hits back...
Nice try Tom! We both know that two thirds of Labour MPs never vote on this issue. A three line whip to 'attend' the chamber means that the same two thirds will wander in, ask the whips which way to go and be sent into the 24 week lobby. This is about Gordon Brown looking at potential wipe out in Crewe and Nantwich making sure he isn't humiliated twice in one week.

He stuck his neck out for 24, why? He didn't need to, why do it? Having done so, if MPs don't vote for 24 it will demonstrate that he has no leadership. I hope that the two thirds who don't normally vote will have the moral courage to do the right thing today.

27 comments:

the madness of king gordon said...

If it turns out that Brown used an issue as sensitive as this for his own purposes, he might as well hand in the keys now.

David Boothroyd said...

It is quite routine for the Government to provide the tellers, especially where the legislation is introduced by the Government, and does not in any sense convey an instruction to vote a particular way.

The Conservative Party has in the past used Parliamentary maneuvring on issues which should have been free votes to embarrass a Labour government. It did so on 5 March 1965 when the Conservatives used an opposition supply day to move a motion transferring Sydney Silverman's Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, instead of a Standing Committee. The Bill itself was subject to a free vote but the committal was whipped, and the Conservatives won.

Boyce said...

Wow - this is up there with Clegg's three-line order to abstain. How do Lab MPs put up with this kind of thing from Brown?

Judge Elvis said...

Nothing more than we've come to expect from this odious and twisted Government...

Tom Harris MP said...

Iain, I'm sorry but you're wrong. Government whips were involved because it was government business. I decided to abstain on saviour siblings tonight. Not one whip approached me in advance to ask my intention or to strong arm me. Similarly, although I have publicly stated I will support moves to lower the abortion time limit, I have received absolutely no pressure from any whip to do otherwise. I'm afraid that on this occasion there is no evidence at all to sustain a conspiracy theory that there is control freakery at work. Quite the opposite, I can assure you.

SACKERSON said...

What I saw on the news of Lembit Opik's contribution to the debate was a disgrace. So far, as another speaker said, no evidence that this research has led or will lead to any cures. In my opinion, much more likely to lead to further identification of genetic weaknesses in foetuses and increased demand for abortion. Welcome back, eugenics.

Nadine Dorries said...

Nice try Tom!

We both know that two thirds of Labour MPs never vote on this issue.

A three line whip to 'attend' the chamber means that the same two thirds will wander in, ask the whips which way to go and be sent into the 24 week lobby.

This is about Gordon Brown looking at potential wipe out in Crewe and Nantwich making sure he isn't humiliated twice in one week.

He stuck his neck out for 24, why? He didn't need to, why do it? Having done so, if MPs don't vote for 24 it will demonstrate that he has no leadership.

I hope that the two thirds who don't normaly vote will have the moral courage to do the right thing today.

Anonymous said...

Boyce said...
"Wow - this is up there with Clegg's three-line order to abstain. How do Lab MPs put up with this kind of thing from Brown?"

Is this the same Boyce as here?

August 31, 2007 4:46 PM , Laurence Boyce said...
"Anyway, all I really want to say is that if Boris Johnson becomes Mayor of London, I shall kiss Donal Blaney's arse."

He still hasn't responded to people's reminder of his promise.

Andrew said...

Did you see Despatches? Norinne Dorris's fundamentalist friends are ever so slightly erm scary. Islam is a false religion. She didn't get onto the subject of poofs but I suspect we won't fare so well either.

Chris Paul said...

"Two thirds of Labour MPs never vote on the issue" - that Dorries mate of yours is dreaming again Iain. This is as hokey as her science. In a complete fantasy world.

Nadine is someone who would ideally ban all abortions and is on record suggesting nine weeks as a compromise. She has pushed out untruths continually about her childhood, her family, and spectacularly on the science.

There has been no improvement in survival of live births at 23 weeks. It is about 18%. With a variety of levels of damage and life expectancy from humungous and low to moderate and fairly good.

Wanted live births at 22, 23, 24, 25 weeks generally benefit from the mother having steroid treatment in the last days or hours.

This is designed to give the foetus some chance of the brain and lung development needed for any viability. Nadine and her crew are trying to separate the limit from the true viability. Once they have done this they can press on to silly low limits.

There is a tiny proportion of all abortions beyond 20 weeks because everyone involved tries to avoid this. 1%, perhaps 2%. Nadine talks about halving the number of abortions through this proposed law change. Ridiculous.

On the other hand abortion is available beyond 24 weeks on grounds of medical need. At any stage in fact.

The current limit and practices are scientifically sound. Nadine Dorries is a dangerous fantasist.

Jonathan said...

Nadine Dorries-

"I hope that the two thirds who don't normaly vote will have the moral courage to do the right thing today"

I didn't realise that you were so in favour of "moral courage": your performance over the last few weeks certainly suggests otherwise. By way of example, your ridiculous promotion of the "hand of hope" urban legend as fact does your cause no credit at all.

Incidentally, why is it that you are supporting an amendment to cut the upper limit to 16 weeks, if you are so convinced that 20 is the way to go? You have 20 reasons, after all.

James said...

If Gordon Brown being defeated having stuck his neck out on 24 weeks would demonstrate that he has no leadership, what would it say for David Cameron if the 20 weeks amendment was defeated after he supported it?
I know he's the leader of a minority party, but he has, like Brown, simply given voice to a personal opinion in a free vote. Nothing more than that.

I would take it as a good sign for democracy that MPs are required to attend a vote that is seen as so important. I think smearing all MPs as mindless lobby fodder who will vote as they think someone might like in an issue of conscience and wouldn't have the presence of mind to abstain is very low.

I personally hope that two thirds of labour MPs (if indeed it is two thirds - assertion yet again presented as fact) vote the way that they feel is right. Not the way that a party leader wants them to and not the way that a campaigner wants them to.

By the way, the debate on the other thread about your opinions is pretty inspiring...

Anonymous said...

Chris,

You admit that 18% of babies born at 23 weeks survive. How can you possible then go on to support 24 weeks as permissable for abortions? This clearly moves over into infanticide.

It seems obvious and sensible to me to ensure that no baby who could survive is aborted. Perhaps by saying that no abortions can take place in the two weeks leading up to the earliest point at which a baby could survive. That takes us to somewhere around 21-22 weeks.

Can you explain why you think it is ok to abort babies who could survive outside?

ezra said...

The majority of the house supports the status quo. The risk is that Dorries' amendment could win if there is a poor turnout.

As such, a three line wip to ATTEND emphasises the risk to civil liberties posed by the Conservative amendments and emphasises that progressive/liberal/libertarian MPs (from all parties) must attend to stop nanny Dorries telling people what to do with their bodies.

And if this is a "sensitive" issue as you imply, surely you want a high turnout of MPs to validate and legitimate the vote?

Oh and Iain, if you don't like the measures proposed in the Human Embryo & Fertilisation Bill, feel free not to make use of any developments which come about from this new research.

But please don't impose your outdated morals (founded on a comical misunderstanding of science) on the rest of us, we shouldn't all have to live our lives according to the Dale and Dorries moral code.

David Boothroyd said...

Can I just say that I really don't understand how anyone, even if they agree with her, can give Nadine Dorries any credibility on this or any other matter? To find a similar case of a political cause being launched irresponsibly and with such a casual disregard for fact one would need to go back to Pemberton Billing and his Vigilante Society.

Guy H said...

It is not that they are scared of the amendment. They don't care about that. The Party machine cares about power and has cast aside every parliamentary decency to cling on (witness use of the speaker to intervene in the government cause in lawsuits).

What they are trying to do here in their desperation to shore up their own vote and weaken the Conservative position, is to reframe abortion as a partisan issue, with the Tories cast in the role of the American religious right. See yesterday morning's Guardian front page.

Boyce said...

Anon 8:03 - I'm afraid not.

Reactionary Snob said...

Iain,

I realise Nadine Dorries is a friend of yours but it is becoming apparent that, whatever she says, publicly she will not listen to science.

The leading neonatologists in the country overwhelmingly back 24 weeks... yes, some babies (although very few) do survive if born at 22-23 weeks but they very often never leave the hospital and the numbers are so negligible at this stage in our technological and medical advancement that they should be on the parameters of the issue.

Dorries has been shown, by very good bloggers indeed, to be manipulative and, occasionally, as a liar. That's never a good thing as an MP and certainly not when the lies she is telling could influence hundreds of people in society.

RS

Little Black Sambo said...

I can't see the moral relevance of the ability, or not, of the child to survive outside the womb. The child is not MEANT to survive outside the womb till it comes to term. And children who are born alive are in turn not MEANT to survive without parental care.

Wallenstein said...

The tragedy is that there are good, evidence-based arguments on both sides of this debate... however, Nadine's insistence on peddling lies and distortions means most right-thinking, sensible observers reject her arguments out-of-hand.

I agree wholeheartedly that nonsense such as the "Hand of Hope" posts on her blog have seriously damaged the credibility of the rest of her arguments, however valid they might be.

tom p said...

At May 20, 2008 12:09 AM , the madness of king gordon said...
"If it turns out that Brown used an issue as sensitive as this for his own purposes, he might as well hand in the keys now."

As opposed to Cameron, who of course has made no pronouncement on this sensitive moral subject, as befits his status as the leader of the opposition.
What's that you say, Google? Cameron's been all over this like a rash trying to turn it into a party political issue?http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=cameron+abortion
Oh.
So, 'the madness of king gordon', do you think Cameron should resign?
(ps sorry if this link messes up the page width, but I don't know how to use the HTML tags here)

Anonymous said...

Chris, Ezra and Reactionary Snob;

Your arguments, like all arguments suggesting this is a simple issue, are either deeply naive or deeply disingenuous. I consider myself a Libertarian atheist and still have some strong reservations about abortion; this is not an issue of religious morality or personal freedom. The whole pro-life/ pro-choice distinction is phoney. There is (I hope) nobody alive who is not pro-life and very very few people who are not in favour of women’s right to choose what to do with their own body. However Women are, quite obviously, not free to choose to kill others for their own convenience, and hence the only issue is at what point do we define something as a life. Science is of no help here, most scientists come to the debate with their own pre-existing biases on the subject, but this is a philosophical question and scientists usually make notoriously poor philosophers. The distinction of the foetus being viable outside the womb is arbitrary (and would also suggest lowering the limit given that 18% survive at 23 weeks) and implies that one should not be considered to be a living being unless one can survive without assistance; the implication being that it is perfectly legitimate to remove treatment from any sick patient because, unless they can survive on their own, they shouldn’t be considered as a living being. I do not have an answer to the question as to what we should consider to be a living being, hence my discomfort, but there seems to be few, if any, appropriate answers being put forward in this debate. This is largely because most seem to make the simplistic assumption that we should bow at the altar of science and listen with deference to all it says on any subject, which trivialises a very complicated issue. So instead of calling Nadine a “a dangerous fantasist” perhaps you should question your unthinking deference to the views of scientific “experts”.

Anonymous said...

I refer Hon. members to Devil's Kitchen's take on it all.

Seriously Iain, even if you are mates with her, why do you use Nad as the back-up for these pernicious and disingenuous views? She can't string a coherent rational argument together - lying and putting up emotive pictures of medical operations don't form any real basis for restricting a woman's right to abortion - and when she supposedly has (for 20 weeks, 20's just right apparently), she goes against it herself and argues for 16, er, 9, er, whatever, just lower as the next step to 0.

It's not convincing. To which one must say - good.

Confused of S. Yorks said...

Nadine, given your comment "This is about Gordon Brown looking at potential wipe out in Crewe and Nantwich making sure he isn't humiliated twice in one week.

He stuck his neck out for 24, why? He didn't need to, why do it? Having done so, if MPs don't vote for 24 it will demonstrate that he has no leadership."

Cameron went for 22 weeks. Given the defeats, would you agree that by the logic you used, he now has no leadership?

Dr John Crippen said...

Iain

It's time you stood up to be counted on this one. I know you are mates with Nadine but do we assume from that that you are therefore not pro-choice?

I know you have said in my comments that Nadine is is "not against abortion per se. Don't know what that means.

So, where do you stand?


John


John

Anonymous said...

Boyce said...
"Anon 8:03 - I'm afraid not."

Glad to hear it. Lawrence Boyce is a prize twit.

Anonymous said...

Does the result of the Abortion vote mean that we can expect a long period of silence from Nadine Dorries.

Her ill-considered pronouncements on this issue have brought the Conservative Party into disrepute.