The BBC states that MPs who oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be allowed a free vote and will not face sanction as long as the law is passed by Parliament. An act of conscience becomes an exercise in power.The prime minister is prepared to allow MPs who oppose a controversial embryo bill to vote against pieces of the legislation, the BBC has learned.
A senior government official said the sanction would be permitted only if it did not threaten the passage of the bill to develop human-animal embryos.
The official said Gordon Brown accepts that some members of his government object on grounds of conscience.
This is a compromise that smacks of Brown's calculation: you may vote as you wish, but you will have to take the possibility of defeat into account. That is when you will face sanctions. Like many other vanished parliamentary conventions, this government will overturn liberal principles in pursuit of advantage.
This is an abysmal idea. And here's Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, wanking on about MPs' consciences.
Catholics in politics have got to act according to their Catholic convictions, so have other Christians, so have other politicians.
So, instead of obeying their party Whip they should follow their religious Whip instead? Well, thank you for that, Cardinal. Now, why don't you bugger off back to protecting priests involved in child abuse and let the big boys get on with the important matters?
First off, I dislike the party Whip system: abolish it and you would abolish a good number of the problems in our Parliament. It is an odd thing: we concentrate on MPs' abuse of expenses, and dig into the gifts that they get from rich businessmen, but utterly fail to notice the most blatant bribery of our representatives by political parties.
Here's the deal: the political party helps the MP to get elected—paying vast amounts in expenses, and so on—and in return for which the MP votes the way that the party wants. Tell me again: how is this not bribery of the most blatant kind?
Second, whilst I am in favour of free votes on everything, I am not in favour of MPs—Catholic or otherwise—voting with their consciences. Why?
It's simple: MPs are elected to Parliament not to represent their own views, but those of their constituents.
If they are unaware of their constituents' views on a matter, might I suggest that the MP uses some of those fabulous expenses to print up 10,000 explanatory flyers (this will cost no more than £500, including design) and set up a stall in the city centre on a Saturday afternoon to canvas opinion?
In fact, if this became a regular thing, it would do wonders for democracy; you might even get people going to the city centre of a Saturday specifically to see if there was an issue that they could give their opinion on. I would.
MPs should vote as their constituents would want on every issue before them: that is, after all, what a representative democracy means, isn't it?
* Incidentally, does anyone remember an 80s TV series (possibly on Channel 4) called Chimaera? I seem to remember it being excellent, though I was very young. It concerned two young children who found a strange creature, whom they named "Mr Scarecrow", living in their barn. As it turned out, the government was breeding half-human, half-ape chimaeras as a kind of servant üntermensch. I seem to remember finding the whole series terrifying.
UPDATE: a review of Chimera.