The idea that there is a “correct” or an “incorrect” way for MPs to vote in parliament is fatuous. If the party they belong to cannot make a case on paper and in debate for a particular proposition, it makes no sense at all to use threats and rewards to cajole them into voting one way or another, particularly if they have given their word to their constituents to oppose or support a particular motion when it is presented. This is the dilemma faced by people like Andrea Leadsom who promised to oppose plans to build HS2 and then, faced with the lure of promotion to the Cabinet, fled to Brussels when it came to to crucial vote. She was not alone. Another 47 Conservatives, most of whom had vigorously opposed the bill, found themselves unavoidably detained on other business when it came to the vote. Lots of Liberals, too, including Mr Clegg, were detained elsewhere that day. There was little chance the bill would be defeated because it had backing from both the Government and the opposition, so it was simply a matter of the personal risk taken by individual MPs- were they willing to risk their careers simply in order to keep their word to their constituents?
In the end, it comes down to the power of the whip and the mystical appeal of high office.
Yesterday, there was the spectacle of two elderly Foreign Secretaries walking through the corridors of disgrace towards political exile because it looks like they wanted big business kickbacks. Looks can be deceiving, but today both of them have lost the party whip and look set to leave parliament. This is a shame. Again, it reflects badly on the way we do politics in this country that we have not provided proper assistance to two elderly and clearly infirm men.
In Shaw’s case, will this be the thing he is remembered for? Being tricked by the press into promising to table questions for a Hong Kong business that never even existed. Does he not have an assistant to research these things first? – is he so “down on his uppers”? This is a man who rachetted up the bureaucratic thumbscrews in the Foreign Office, more even than any Conservative had done to date. I think, the mix-up over the d’Hondt formula and his rulings on Double Jeopardy are probably just about excusable, but really – his judgement over at least one asylum seeker beggars belief in the face of the events that followed: Here is what Noam Chomsky said in the Irish Times:
“in 2000 there was a request from an Iraqi who had somehow escaped an Iraqi torture chamber and made it to England. He was applying for political asylum.
Straw turned him down with a letter saying “we have faith in the integrity of the Iraqi judicial process and that you should have no concerns if you haven’t done anything wrong “. In 2000!”
Within Months of becoming Foreign Secretary, the 9/11 attacks happened. Opposition from Craig Murray and Walter Wolfgang, I think was perfectly justified and time will tell whether they were right. Recently, the Jerusalem Post accused him of Anti-Semitism. Till now, however, he had come across as an honourable man who, in the heat of the moment, had made perhaps inappropriate decisions. And, to his credit, he was very helpful in the process of getting justice for Necati’s case in the European Court of Human Rights. But the Hong Kong trap suggests he was not quiet as honourable as we might have thought. I, for one, am going to go back and look more closely at the campaign of Craig Murray and see what we have to learn.
NB: 17th September 2015: with some relief today’s news states that the two politicians have been cleared of any wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards. This is a relief because whatever their political colour, these are two men who count as history-makers and it would be inappropriate for them to be remembered for something so wearisome. We need to work harder to ensure that this sort of tittle-tattle does not dominate the news in the future- actually it does not one any good. There are bigger things to look at!