Indicative Voting in the Parliamentary Brexit debate
(1) Right, I’ve said it!
As this April Diary entry goes to the Labour Affairs printer, could life be more fraught for the
Corbyn foot soldier?
Support the gathering demand for a “People’s Vote,” and risk the alienation of Labour Leave
members and supporters, or stay with the party line as agreed at Annual Conference and trust in the Corbyn leadership to make the right calls at the appropriate stages in the Brexit process?
Avoid thoughts, words and actions that might exacerbate the anti-Semitism stand-off, even to the point of abandoning Chris Williamson, a stalwart Corbyn supporter? Whatever happened to old Labour’s “An injury to one is the concern of all,” I ask myself in guiltier moments, or, indeed, where is the natural justice precept,“the presumption of innocence” in all this? Meanwhile, Williamson’s critics weigh in, as they did with those suspended before him, not only with prejudicial statements, but, macho style, calling for his expulsion before any investigation has begun. And this coming from Labour Party colleagues of his, some high-placed and thus required to keep their counsel and, at the least, not to pre-empt due process. Fraught is an understatement.
(2) Indicative Voting in the Parliamentary Brexit debate
Indicative voting, not commonly so -called, is common practice in consensual decision-making in team-working and other collaborative endeavours. Also, it is used by good chairpersons to “test the water” and ascertain where people’s heads are at in the process of guiding a meeting to a quick, efficient and optimally agreed decision.
For an explication of indicative voting in the Parliamentary context go to
“theinstituteforgovernment.org.uk” for a short guide to a decision-making process we may be seeing more of in the British parliament, as parties fragment and minority government parties are required to work with other parties. The perception of a “broken” British political system, primarily due to the Brexit crisis, is giving rise to increasing discussion of “Proportional Representation” as an alternative, and, thus, more democratic and efficient ways of doing the business in a changed political system.
The “indicative voting” process being attempted in the House of Commons does not lie easily with a de facto two party system based on “First Past the Post” elections rooted in anglo-Saxon
adversarialism. The first round of voting resulted in eight Brexit options, selected, from a total of 16, by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, all being voted against, creating a frenzy in the media.
Even the Guardian got sucked in: “And parliament was still left wondering quite what it had taken back control of as it had contrived to vote against everything. Bollocks to everything,” screamed John Crace. Of course, it is to miss the point of the purpose of indicative voting in consensual decision-making. As Labour’s Margaret Beckett pointed out, “this is not to identify a single proposition at this stage, but to get a sense of where compromise may lie.”
Time will tell: there is the possibility of the House returning to this exercise next week. However, if that happens, I can’t see much good coming from it. A fundamental pre-requisite of consensual decision-making is keeping faith with the process. I wouldn’t put money on that given the low-trust atmosphere prevailing in Westminster – within political parties even more than between them. Rafael Behr cites evidence that “Remain and Leave are now more compelling drivers of political identity than party allegiances.” Moreover, he quotes no less an authority than Britain’s leading psephologist, Professor John Curtice, that Brexit had not only reshaped the electorate, but had stirred up “passion of which voters had long since seemed incapable.” Reading that, I’m reminded of the number of people who told me, while on the canvass in Stoke on Trent, they’d never, ever voted except in the Brexit referendum.
Behr continues: “It is possible that raw anger with the government’s incompetence and Tory
callousness are sufficient to drive a Labour surge in an election. The party’s strategists seem to be relying on that dynamic and Corbyn has a way of rediscovering form on the campaign trail.” Then he brings that line of speculation to a shuddering halt by opining that the 2017 General Election result might have been a one-off. More precisely: “(that it was) .. the last hurrah for English pendulum politics. That a backlash against one of two parties no longer translates into an upswing for its rival.” (Guardian, 26/03/2019)
I don’t believe we’ve reached the “last hurrah” for pendulum politics just yet. But an election
programme as radical as the 2017’s widely acknowledged game-changing Manifesto will need a comfortable majority to stand any chance of being implemented. We have our work cut out.