Thursday, June 26, 2003

Grasping at straws

Sludge is grasping at straws by suggesting that Helen Clark may be guilty of contempt of Parliament if she lobbied MPs on a conscience vote. I think this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what a "conscience vote" is all about.

A conscience vote is one where a party declines to enforce the whip, and leaves its MPs to make up their own minds rather than voting as a bloc. It doesn't have any formal constitutional standing AFAIK, and is simply a matter for the parties concerned. In the case of prostitution reform, some parties (Labour, National) treated it as a conscience vote while others (United Future, the Greens) didn't.

(Cynics might also add that a conscience vote is one on an issue that a party is too cowardly to take a stand on, and wants plausible deniability for regardless of the outcome. "Moral issues" are precisely this sort of hot potato...)

The important point is this: simply because the whip is not used does not mean that the dirty business of politics takes a holiday. It does not mean that everybody flips their ambition-switches to the "off" position. It does not mean that they ignore the views of the segments of the electorate they are trying to appeal to, and it does not mean they ignore the views of their fellow MPs. Most importantly, it does not mean they don't think of their future, and how they can get that higher list placing or cabinet spot by voting with the ruling clique. Anyone who thinks it does mean those things is a fool.

This is how the game is played. Laws, like sausages, are something you don't really want to see being made, no matter how much you like them.