Thursday saw the publication of the first e-petitions, which offer the public an opportunity to steer and influence parliamentary debate. Notably, any published petition that reaches 100,000 signatures, a far from impossible target in this age of social media, immediately qualifies for a full debate in the House of Commons.
But, before such a debate takes place, the petition will go forward to a cross-party Commons backbench business committee, who will subsequently mull over the petition before deciding whether it’s worthy of wider debate. If they decide it’s not, then the petition will be scrapped.
However, if they decide it is, then an issue gets thrust into the limelight for all to discuss. Due to this, these e-petitions present an ideal opportunity to promote bottom-up constitutional reform and propel an issue into the public consciousness. In the process, perhaps highlighting the archaic nature of British politics while simultaneously being the catalyst for combating the democratic deficit that often blights many elements of our political system.
When I talk of constitutional reform, there is one matter in particular that continuously shapes my anger – step forward the parliamentary whip system. First of all, I don’t blame anyone for having not heard of this, it’s an accepted and unchallenged part of Britain’s political furniture, but this whip system is deeply flawed. Think Formula 1 team orders with more punishment should an MP decide to rebel against his/her political party. But, don’t just take my word for it, for an unbiased summary of the whip system, check the Parliament UK website itself.
With everyone now up to speed, the problem with this system is that it undermines the electorate. We elect politicians with a mandate to represent us, however the whip system provides a huge roadblock to this duty being completed. Allow me to specifically draw your attention to one part of Parliament UK’s definition, Three-line whips “Defying a three-line whip is very serious, and has occasionally resulted in the whip being withdrawn from an MP or Lord. This means that the Member is effectively expelled from their party (but keeps their seat) and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored.”
Obviously, it doesn’t take too much effort to work out that, three line whips are issued on bills of particular importance, which are the ones most likely to have an identifiable impact on your everyday life. So riddle me this, how is it right for our political parties to not only dictate how our MPs vote on vital issues but punish them for holding a different view to their party line?
Bearing this in mind one should consider that, a ‘good’ MP, who religiously follows their party whip, is much more likely to progress up the career ladder and fill a ministerial role than a ‘bad’ MP, who votes freely and with an open-mind. To guarantee obedience, MPs are offered ‘sticks and carrots’ (Ministerial roles etc…not literal sticks and carrots), which leads us to the situation where MPs are forced to vote blindly with little thought for representing their constituents’ opinion, preferring to favour their own career prospects. After all, a rebellious MP faces isolation, expulsion and if lucky a life on the backbench.
This is why, I have found myself submitting my own e-petition, mundanely this is not calling for Jeremy Clarkson to become PM, nor is it some ludicrous plot to remove ‘Great’ Britain from the EU (Some people need to wake up to the times, this isn’t 1945!), this petition is to abolish this whip system once and for all and finally get our MPs to truly represent us. Transparency would increase, the democratic deficit would be reduced and we would be rid of old fashioned unfeasible governance.
The petition is now officially published and available to sign online – Sign it here. Although, I am under no illusion that the abolition of the parliamentary whip system is eye-catching or awe inspiring, and for this reason it’s unlikely to ever capture any sort of public imagination. Sadly, people just don’t care enough about the miniature. But, 100,000 signatures or 7, I feel this is an issue that deserves to be flagged up and contemplated in an informed debate in a public setting.
If I have failed to convince you throughout this piece, then luckily this website TheyWorkForYou will do the job for me. I implore you click the link, enter your postcode, find your local MP (if you do not already know who they are) and unless you happen to be in Dianne Abbot’s constituency, or a few select others, I guarantee your MP will unwaveringly toe the party line, regardless of the issue. Tell me that is democracy to be proud of.