Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Elected Green Representatives Should be subject to a Party Whip

When I first joined the Green party nine years ago, I was amazed to learn that elected party representatives where not subjected to some form of party whipping system. I queried this, asking if this meant they could vote for pretty much anything they wanted to, regardless of party policy and the wishes of their local members? The answer was yes. I was told that the local party had the power to deselect elected representatives, but that would be after their current period in office. And that was one reason why we should be careful who we selected in the first place.

I have never changed my mind on the undesirability of this position, for all sorts of reasons, which I will come to in a moment. But first, I should explain that I have found that amongst Green party members this ‘un-whipped politicians’ status is something that is deeply cherished, a shibboleth even, an example of the party being different. I have no doubt that this blog post will attract some criticism.

It seems to me, that if you going to be a member of a political party, and seek election under that party’s banner, then you should uphold that party’s policies and take notice of what the membership of that party think. Otherwise, you should stand as an independent.

It is also something of a fraud on the electors if you get elected as a representative of a party, and then pursue your own agenda.

Another deeply cherished notion (and I agree with this one myself) in the Green party is of internal democracy. The members make the policies, as it should be, not some remote leadership clique. But this is exactly what can happen with elected representatives. The leadership of Brighton and Hove Green council group has regularly rejected the wishes of the local membership, and indeed some of the Green councillors over the past few years, by setting their own agenda for the council and ignoring even the most explicit views of the membership.

It’s not just local members either. With Brighton being the first Green led council, whatever happens in Brighton is reflected across the country onto other local Green parties, and can have a negative electoral impact. Just so some individual councillors can have the freedom to follow their own agendas.

With the Green party increasing in popularity of late, it is highly likely that we will win more representation at elections, including at parliament, and so this issue will be in the spotlight more and more, and will surely baffle the electorate, who thought they were voting for one thing, and get an entirely different thing in practice.

When I first joined the Greens, the party didn’t have a leader, which I thought was a bit odd, but I came to be in favour of this set up. We were then told that this was a state of affairs that confused the voters and media alike, so we had to change it. And we duly did.

Well, having un-whipped party representatives falls into the same reasoning, i.e. the voters and media will be confused by it, so should this not be changed also?

I’m not arguing for councillors and MPs to be rigidly told what to do on every single issue, but where there is a clear direction from members, be it national conference or local party meetings, there should be no question of representatives taking anything but the party line.


  1. At the very least anyone who gains standing in the Party for any post should be subject to questioning on matters of Policy.
    e.g. Attitudes to Sex, Sexuality and Women are clearly stated in policy. Is it right therefore that Fundimentalist Xtians who masquerade under the banner of 'Traditional Christians' and hold views abhorrent to many Party members are giving advice on how to 'keep quiet' about such views as members of the Party

  2. Not only is it potentially confusing for the electorate and harmful for our election prospects, but I actually think it's irrational too.

    The whipping system invokes so much popular opprobrium because in contemporary politics it has become a way for the elite vanguard of the establishment parties to push through their own agenda in defiance of the views of the majority of party members and also voters. NHS privatisation is a good example.

    Rejecting the whipping system in these circumstances makes sense. It would help individual MPs reject the self-interested dictates of party leadership in order to facilitate the will of the electorate.

    But the Green Party does not find itself in the same position as the establishment parties. Its democratic system of policy-making ensures that the party line will always broadly correspond with the will of both members and voters. Under these circumstances, whipping serves to achieve the opposite of what it achieves for the establishment parties: it ensures that the democratically decided policies are upheld.

    Whipping for the establishment parties ensures that the leadership's self-interest in pursued, in spite of whether or not they are supported by members and voters.

    Why members and voters of establishment parties expect their leaders to do anything other than pursue their self-interest irrespective of what members and voters think is a completely different argument. But until this situation changes, whipping in establishment parties will remain problematic.

    We are not an establishment party. Our leadership does not pursue their self-interest irrespective of what members and voters think. Whipping in the Green Party thus serves to ensure integrity.