Chuka Umunna has hit out at the Labour leadership’s plan to let its MPs vote according to their conscience and political beliefs on certain issues.
The former leadership contender and former shadow business secretary argued that voters would not know what Labour stood for if its MPs were not told to vote a certain way by the party hierarchy.
MPs are ordinarily “whipped” by their party – a Westminster term meaning they are told what to do in parliamentary votes.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appears to be far more open than previous leaders to letting MPs decide how to vote according to what they believe it right, however.
The party’s deputy leader Tom Watson this morning told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that his party’s MPs were “likely” to get a free vote on Trident, while other reports suggest they will not be whipped in a potential vote on attacking Syria.
But at a party conference fringe event organized by the think-tank Demos Mr Umunna hit out at Mr Corbyn’s new approach.
Though Mr Umunna said he was not specifically opposed to planned free votes on Trident or Syria, he said the practice could not continue for other votes.
“It’s not plausible for us to have a position not to have a position on the defence of the realm,” he told the meeting.
“Ultimately we are going to have settled positions on things if people are to know what it is they are voting for.
“I just don’t think it’s sustainable for us to free vote everything and frankly it’s not sustainable for different people in our leadership to be saying different things.”
Philip Cowley, a professor parliamentary government at Nottingham University, said the advent of free votes under Mr Corbyn was a significant break from the norm.
“This is a pretty fundamental change in politics in this country,” he tweeted.
Mr Umunna also criticised the new tendency for Labour frontbenchers to speak their minds instead of repeating the party line on an issue.
“I do think in the medium term you can’t have different people saying different things. I think that’s going to be quite difficult, I’ll be honest about it,” he explained.
On a number of issues including Europe and the welfare benefits cap frontbenchers have appeared to disagree with the leadership.
Mr Corbyn has publicly said he leadership style would be more open than previous leaders and warned commentators not to mistake policy debate for division within the party.
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