Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rebels

More Labour MPs rebelled against the government in the past year than in any previous year under this government or any other.

Some think this is bad, some think it is good, but what I want to know is this. If we are meant to be so good at spin, how come people still say that they won't vote Labour because backbench Labour MPs are all sheep who just follow the government unthinkingly without using their judgement, when this is demonstrably about as wrong as it is possible to be?

Even if you agree with every time that John McDonnell (no #1 rebel) has voted against the government, if he becomes Leader it is quite hard to see how he could complain if Labour MPs who disagree with him rebelled against any of his government's bills. Even the most independently minded and individually popular Labour MP gets the bulk of their votes because they are standing as the candidate of the Labour Party, even if there are a small but significant number of people who decide their vote on an individual's hard work locally or championing of particular causes or independence of mind.

That said, Luke's analogy with a council Labour group is not quite right. Any Labour Group which was run with only a small group around the leadership and their unelected friends deciding policy, putting forward poorly drafted proposals without consultation and then seeking to withdraw the whip from any councillor who didn't support the line without seeking any amendments (as has happened on the bulk of occasions when there have been significant numbers of rebels) would not last long. For decision-making to be collective requires not just that every elected member plays follow the leader, but that they are involved in making the policies and have the opportunity to make amendments and suggestions before being required to vote on policies. This system still requires that people sometimes vote for policies which they have privately argued against - that is an essential part of collective action, but it would have avoided some of the biggest rebellions against the government, such as over top-up fees.

Collective decision-making also needs to apply when the leadership has lost the argument and policies which it doesn't like are adopted as party policy. It is unreasonable to castigate lefties for rebelling against the government if the leadership reserve the right to ignore any decisions that they don't agree with, and equally it is just as unreasonable for lefties to praise Campaign Group MPs for rebelling against the whip and then demand that the leadership introduce policies agreed by Conference.

There is a diversity of views in the Labour Party and amongst Labour MPs. There is no one point of view which claim a monopoly of wisdom over the past nine years, and whoever the next leader is, it is unhealthy to have one faction decide which policies get put forward, and people who disagree with that faction vote with the Tories and the Lib Dems to defeat it. John McDonnell should vote for the Legislative Reform and Regulatory Bill, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown should introduce legislation to let councils invest in improving council housing on the same terms as housing associations.

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