Politics: Whips conspired to score direct hit on democracy

The Week In Westminster

THE GOVERNMENT'S whips behaved disgracefully during the debate on the Iraq conflict. The result was, of course, a foregone conclusion and, in any case, a lost vote would not have mattered since the debate was held on the technical motion "to adjourn".

But by failing to supply tellers when the Deputy Speaker put the question, the division was cancelled. As a result, on an issue with profound moral, ethical and national dimensions, the Labour dissenters were prevented from registering their protest.

This seemed even more astounding given Tony Blair's intervention, in which he reminded George Galloway, one of his leading critics, that the MP for Glasgow Kelvin was fortunate to be able to speak against the Government in a way denied to opponents of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The viciousness with which Labour treated Mr Galloway, Tony Benn and others was demeaning to Parliament. Any MP should surely be allowed to speak and vote as he or she pleases on such an issue, however unpopular their arguments. And there can be little question that Tory business managers conspired with Labour whips in this ploy.

The worst Labour lap dog was the surprising figure of Dale Campbell Savours, who once enjoyed a reputation as a parliamentary terrier. Now reduced to abusing Tam Dalyell, he claimed that it was outrageous for MPs even to argue about the issues. Mr Dalyell, Mr Galloway and Mr Benn may be fully paid-up members of the awkward squad but their records of defending freedom and democracy are better than most of those in Westminster.

I ATTENDED the right-wing No Turning Back Group annual Christmas dinner in honour of its president, Baroness Thatcher, on the evening of the final Lords debate on the European Elections Bill. Voting, however, came before old cronies for the former prime minister.

Hardly had she swallowed a mouthful of turkey than she swept off into the night to attend the Lords for a division, desperate to give a final kick to proportional representation before the Bill automatically becomes law under the Parliament Act.

Cheated of the opportunity of hearing replays of their heroine's past glories, the Tory MPs went back to the Commons for the 10pm vote. Three former members, defeated at the election but invited for old time's sake, stayed behind to enjoy a brandy, only to find themselves joined by the returning Lady Thatcher, who forced them to endure an hour-long monologue, encompassing Europe, the Falklands War and, of course, the Pinochet case.

Her greatest ire was reserved for Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. Clearly, she retains strong memories of the trouble he caused her when she was education secretary ("Milk Snatcher Thatcher") and he was the president of the National Union of Students nearly 30 years ago. Sadly, there was not a word out of turn about William Hague.

MARTIN BELL, the Independent MP for Tatton, is concerned about the threat to democracy posed by the Registration of Political Parties Act, which has just reached the statute book.

Mr. Bell has received a letter from the Registrar inviting him to register as a political party. Under the Act he is not allowed to register as "independent" and asks what he is expected to do. "What else should I be? The Tatton Park Party, the Flat Earth Party or the Knutsford Heath Party? It doesn't make sense," he says.

Mr Bell's principal concern was for independent-minded members of established parties. From now on it will be against the law to stand as independent Labour, independent Conservative or independent Liberal Democrat. The provision prohibits the right of an individual who has fallen out with his party to stand as an independent member of that party, which would, for example, stop Ken Coates from standing for the European parliament next year as an independent Labour candidate. The Act also applies to local government.

Mr Bell believes space must be given to free spirits, independent-minded people and people outside the system. "They do not threaten the system but reinforce it by adding legitimacy to the members of established parties who get elected," he says.

The Government, unsurprisingly, disagrees. According to George Howarth, the Home Office minister, "the conjunction of the words `independent' and `party' is probably a tautology". And there was no hint of irony in his voice.

THE SO-CALLED "free vote" on modernisation turned out to be a farce with Labour whips patrolling the entrance to the division lobbies. All Labour MPs, except the former chief whip Derek Foster, voted to begin morning sittings on Thursdays while Conservatives voted against the proposal. There will rarely be votes on Thursdays and with Prime Minister's Question Time now on Wednesdays there is little reason for MPs to stay in Westminster beyond Wednesday evening.

During the debate there was also growing concern over a proposal to consider the introduction of a "main committee". All MPs would be members of this committee which would sit in parallel and at the same time as the chamber to consider non-controversial legislation and select committee reports.

The proposal is modelled on the Australian parliament. Although there was no formal recommendation before the House it is the intention to return to the proposal. Given that the chamber is already empty most of the time, a "main committee" will provide yet another way of neutralising the mother of parliaments.

AS I finish this column, William Hague's gruesome Christmas card featuring a lonely shepherd leading seven sheep across a snowy wilderness under a black threatening sky arrives in the same post as Michael Portillo's colourful, 17-inch scene of a Sienese general riding victoriously towards his palazzo. A portent of things to come next year, one can't help wondering.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?