So, the Police have been called in to examine the claims by a senior Tory MP that MPs are being systematically blackmailed to ensure that they support the Government in votes in the House of Commons. Let’s be clear this is not new. Both Labour and Tory Parties whip heavily but they do it in very different ways. The debate also gets to the heart of the discussion about resources are fairly allocated and in which areas get funded to ‘level up’ or just to undertake their normal work.
I am a member of a Party that doesn’t whip in the way that the other two major Parties do. I have served for 39 years on one of the biggest councils in and the Country and one, moreover, which we have controlled for good stretches of time. I have probably voted against the group 6 or 7 times in that period. Most of these were in my first stretch on the council when I was in my ‘rebellious youth’ stage. Now I have reached my ‘cranky old git’ stage I am constrained from voting against the group because I lead it!
When I did vote against the group, I followed our rules which are that we must explain why I did so in advance so that our spokespeople were not taken by surprise. Of course, if I had gone too far there would have been consequences. If I had said things that were racist or sexist I would have been provided with training and support. If they were grossly so I would have been removed rapidly from the Party.
In some ways whipping has a legitimacy. Although we talk about the fact that people elect individuals and that we don’t have a Presidential system that talk is a nonsense. A really good MP might be worth 20% of the vote that they get in an election. Most of their vote is for the Party. It is Presidential in fact if not in legality. Governing Parties need to be able to deliver their pledges without having to negotiate them every time with their members. In my view it is fair to say to an MP, “If you don’t support the Government your chances of advancement through the ranks are very slim”.
What is not acceptable is the linking of voting to specific investment or disinvestment in the constituency of the threatened MP. Governments need to support things that will provide either direct benefit to an area to meet a need or indirect benefit to an area by way of opportunity. An example would be the way the Liverpool Council supported the calls for action by Halton Council 10+ years ago for a second bridge over the Mersey. It wasn’t in Liverpool but would certainly benefit Liverpool.
It’s quite clear what criteria that the Government has used in in allocating funds in it’s so called ‘levelling up’ strategy. You had to be in a red wall seat i.e., one that had gone from Labour to the Tories and where they want to hold the seat. That does not mean that some of them, perhaps all of them, were not good projects. But they weren’t necessarily the best projects to provide the maximum benefits or opportunities within the regions they were allocated to.
If we say that the allocations ought to be on a fair basis we need to grapple with the meaning of fair. What seems fair to me isn’t necessarily what is fair to everyone. I think it fair to distribute wealth more evenly. A rich person thinks it’s fair to keep more for themselves. What is absolutely clear is that the Tories have been allocating money on the basis of absolute unfairness. Money for their mates through crooked contracts, money for their constituencies based on the colour of the rosette of the MP.
Many people don’t like the EU (though less than there used to be). One thing that you can always say about the EU was that they always had objective criteria for allocating cash where it is needed. They used objective criteria about opportunity, poverty, lack of education and all the other things which can define need. They then allocated cash to local councils or sub regional bodies to enable them to develop programmes to deal with those problems. That is how it should be.
All this is important because it affects the way that scarce resources are distributed. In 2020 the Liverpool City Council and the Liverpool City Region put in bids for the national capital funds established to get the Country moving again post-Covid. Of the £2.1 billion of bids for our sub region we got next to nothing. The Tories have nothing to lose here so why would they put cash in?
So, what is happening in Parliament now is symptomatic of a wider move to a kleptocratic state. The Tories think that public money should be used to maximise their advantage and not necessarily the advantage of the Country at large. In that context and others, we are lowering our standards of democratic activity to the level of pork barrel politics which has been part of the American system for ever.
Here you can see Representatives and Senators holding the Executive to ransom to get especial advantage for their area. Of course, all of us who are elected should be doing that to some extent but not to that extent. My job as a councillor representing one of the wealthiest wards in Liverpool is to ensure that my constituents get full value for money for the hefty taxes that they pay. We do this by ensuring that the basic services are provided and are working efficiently. We know that Liverpool 8 has more needs than our area of Liverpool 18. Neither I nor my constituents resent those areas getting more for extra projects than our area.
It may seem that I am going off topic here but I believe that the only way that the system can be improved is by changing the electoral system to a proportional one. This would reduce extremism and the absolute power of the Party to control the work of its elected representatives.
I doubt that the police investigation will lead anywhere. It’s morality that has been breached here rather than legality. There’s only one way to punish the Tories for their venality and that’s by the ballot box. I look forward to an early General Election when the Lib Dems and Labour will advance. As they seem to say these days, “bring it on!”