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If you have consensus, you don’t need a whip


In the Lords debate over the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill back on the 11th of April 2000, Lord Lester of Herne Hill said that his party (the Liberal Democrats) would be supporting the Government.

Later in the debate, the Conservative Earl Ferrers said this:

The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said that all the members of his party would back the Government, despite getting himself into a slight intellectual tangle as a result of a question from my noble friend Lord Monson. That means that the Liberal Democrats will not have a free vote.

It doesn’t mean any such thing. Lord Lester may in fact be saying that he has polled his fellow Liberal peers and found them in agreement with the law, and they have committed to voting for it. If everyone in a political party agrees to something, that doesn’t mean they are not getting a free vote. That only happens if the vote is being whipped.

Remember: part of the reason people are in political parties is because they agree on some set of fundamentals. There is a reason why people choose to be in, say, the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives. It isn’t too shocking of an idea to suggest that this may be why there is a certain uniformity in opinion from all the peers in that party.

A subsequent correction was made by the Liberal Democrat Earl Russell:

My Lords, perhaps I may set this matter to rest. My noble friend correctly stated the policy of our party. He did not say that this party intended to whip for that policy.

There’s plenty of nutty thinking in the rest of the debate, but I’ll have to save that for a future post.


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