Why voting records are a crap indicator of anything


by Sunny
14th October, 2010 at 9:45 am    

All manner of people constantly cite voting records to justify their outrage. In some cases this is relevant, in many other cases it’s not.

Yesterday, not a single Libdem MP voted for PR. You might look at their voting record and think – why would they vote against PR, it’s absurd! The amendment was put forward by Caroline Lucas, who wanted PR on the referendum question. But Nick Clegg had made a deal with Cameron so the only question on the ballot would be for AV. And so you have the bizarre scenario of Libdems voting against the one thing they’ve always been steadfastly for.

Another example. I went to a public meeting yesterday where Caroline Lucas gave a short speech. She said the Westminster amendments and voting system was archaic and confusing (not to her, but outsiders). She pointed out that sometimes people would table amendments to a specific bill. But there was no guarantee it would be debated or voted on – that was entirely under the discretion of the person in charge of dealing with amendments. They could let through completely irrelevant amendments while ignoring important ones, they didn’t even have to give a reason.

Furthermore, she said, you could have several things attached to each other. So a vote on spending more on renewable energy could be coupled with another amendment for investing more in nuclear energy. And so you couldn’t vote for one while voting against the other – you had to vote on them together. And if you didn’t vote, then it looked like you couldn’t be bothered to turn up to Parliament to vote.

The point I’m making here is that people who use voting records as an indicator of what that person thinks, or will do in the future really annoy me. It is embarrassing to watch people make that argument.


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19 Comments below   |  

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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Why voting records are a crap indicator of anything http://bit.ly/anaLj4


  2. Joshua Fenton-Glynn

    Useful piece by @sunny_hundal on MP voting records http://bit.ly/anaLj4 add to that votes on lost causes not worth giving up carrer for




  1. James — on 14th October, 2010 at 9:48 am  

    The latter point I get, Sunny, some votes are complicated. The first one is seriously not – at the absolute least they signed up to an agreement which required them to vote against their only long-held principle.

  2. Thomas Byrne — on 14th October, 2010 at 10:02 am  

    So what’s the reason Ed Miliband voted for so many terrible bills despite not having anything complicated in front of him? (As a backbench MP and all.)

  3. Cauldron — on 14th October, 2010 at 10:18 am  

    In fairness to British politics, misleading scrutiny of individual voting records seems to happen much more in the US than the UK. Probably because the stronger whipping system in the UK cuts out a fair chunk of the special interest group corruption so prevalent in the US.

  4. Tom — on 14th October, 2010 at 10:59 am  

    “And if you didn’t vote, then it looked like you couldn’t be bothered to turn up to Parliament to vote.”

    You can always follow the late David Taylor’s example for ‘active abstentions’, and vote in both lobbies to cancel yourself out.

  5. RickB — on 14th October, 2010 at 3:08 pm  

    As a sole indicator it is deceptive but used in conjunction with what they have said, written and enacted it is part of a body of evidence as to their positions. Otherwise we are in the invidious position of having naught but what a politician says or writes in the present and allowing them carte blanche to not be held accountable for their voting activities, so they can keep telling journos and bloggers privately how much they believe this or that but such views aren’t represented in public records, it allows them off an enormous hook of accountability (and constituents really aren’t that impressed with a whips argument either). Caroline Lucas is so right about it being archaic but nevertheless voting records read with nuance and detail do have some weight in assessing an MP’s record however much Westminster villagers may wish to discourage being held responsible. Tactically it might have a use, we can hold it as leverage to say- now you have to make up for your terrible past! I think you’re being too kind to our parliament critters, embarrassment not withstanding!

  6. ukliberty — on 14th October, 2010 at 3:22 pm  

    Sunny,

    The point I’m making here is that people who use voting records as an indicator of what that person thinks, or will do in the future really annoy me. It is embarrassing to watch people make that argument.

    A voting record like this tells us the person was insufficiently opposed to Labour’s counter-terrorism legislation to vote against it. Likewise this voting record tells us the person was insufficiently opposed to Labour’s ID cards to vote against them. And so on.

    Of course a person may undergo a Damascene conversion. Nevertheless, we ought to keep our eyes on them.

  7. ukliberty — on 14th October, 2010 at 3:23 pm  

    RickB,

    As a sole indicator it is deceptive but used in conjunction with what they have said, written and enacted it is part of a body of evidence as to their positions.

    Very well put.

  8. Leon — on 14th October, 2010 at 4:07 pm  

    Put simply, people that get hung up on the voting record don’t understand a key feature of the party political system: whips.

    Know this and records make a great deal of sense…

  9. ukliberty — on 14th October, 2010 at 4:25 pm  

    It’s a bit too simple though Leon, given that there are politicians who defy their whips to vote for what they think is right. That is why I suggest “a voting record like this tells us the person was insufficiently opposed to Labour’s counter-terrorism legislation to vote against it”, rather than “the person wanted to get rid of our civil liberties or didn’t give a toss for them.”

  10. Peter — on 14th October, 2010 at 4:55 pm  

    To be fair, I think you can tell quite a lot by voting records of back-benchers. Though your point does hold for people who have been ministers, it’s quite easy to judge where MPs are when they’re not ministers.

    For instance, Labour MPs who voted against the war, against ID Cards, against top-up fees etc are clearly of the left. Those on the back benches who voted for all those things are clearly not.

  11. Lianne — on 14th October, 2010 at 5:24 pm  

    As someone has already said, I’m not particularly surprised by the first point about not voting for PR – after all it was agreed at the coalition-forming, no?

    But yes, the entirely arbitrary nature of business coming to the fore (catching the Speaker’s eye?), having to sprint from wherever you are to the voting lobby, not being able to abstain, and the lumping together of amendments are all plainly ridiculous.

  12. Leon — on 14th October, 2010 at 5:48 pm  

    It’s a bit too simple though Leon, given that there are politicians who defy their whips to vote for what they think is right

    Not as simple as you think, aside from the usual suspects the majority of MP’s will generally vote with the Whips instruction.

    Understand the power of the Whips and you understand the voting record. Not totally, but enough to understand what’s going on and why Sunny has a high degree of justification with his view on voting records. Where I depart from Sunny is his comment about it being embarrassing to talk about it in that manner. I don’t think that’s a good tone to take tbh…

  13. ukliberty — on 14th October, 2010 at 6:20 pm  

    Leon, I didn’t claim it is simple, so I don’t know why you say I think it’s simple.

  14. Jemmy Hope — on 14th October, 2010 at 7:54 pm  

    Has any parliamentary candidate ever declared “I will do what my party whips instruct me to do even if it is against my constituents wishes or interests”? (I know the answer).
    Why do sane, intelligent people continue to participate in this sham?

  15. earwicga — on 14th October, 2010 at 8:10 pm  

    Career prospects?

  16. Cauldron — on 15th October, 2010 at 6:09 am  

    #14 – because a strong whip system produces better governance and less corruption than a system where individual legislators have no counterbalancing force to ward off lobbyists and other special interest groups.

    I actually think the UK has a pretty good (least worst) parliamentary system. In the UK, FPTP voting creates clear accountability between MP and electorate, while the whipping system ensures that no one constituency can hold the whole country to ransom.

    In the US, the whips are very weak and as a result we see egregious examples of earmarks, bridges to nowhere etc.

    I don’t think direct democracy is a better answer either – it works okay in Switzerland, but it produces dysfunction in California.

  17. Stuart Jeffery — on 16th October, 2010 at 1:46 pm  

    Sunny, this sounds like rationalising from someone trying to distance himself from the shameful voting record of his new party! If you have a better way of holding MPs to account mid-term and understanding what they get up to in parliament, do tell.

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