Last night Kettering Borough Council debated the following motion from Independent (ex-Conservative) Councillor Michael Brown. He was concerned that Conservative Councillors have to sign a Constitution that compels their members to vote whichever way their Leadership decides.
The motion proposed and debate was:
“In the interests of democratic transparency, this Council will seek to amend the Council Constitution to ensure that Political Parties declare, before a vote is taken in the Council Chamber, whether or not their Councillors are bound by their Groups’ Constitution, to vote with the party-line, or whether they have a choice to vote differently."
Never having been a member of the Conservative Group I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, it effectively means that every single decision they vote on is whipped, and presumably Councillors could be disciplined if they voted any other way.
I was happy to support the motion and explained I was doing so to publically state how the Labour Group operates. We do not have a Constitution that forces members to vote one way or another. I have personally never known a Whip be put on any vote on any Council I have served on, ever! We obviously do discuss things between us and on the odd occasion if there is any disagreement between us we talk about it and see if we can reach a compromise.
As Leader, if I ever told my colleagues what to do without giving them the opportunity to explain their view and to vote accordingly with that view if they needed to, I don’t think I would last as Leader very long.
I accept that there may be an occasion where a Whip would be needed, although I can’t imagine it and as I wrote earlier, I’ve never known it happen. But even if that were the case, perhaps on a Manifesto commitment, I have no problem with the Council’s rules making us declare that. That’s what a lot of other Councils do (including the County Council) and apparently simply follows the best practice advice from the Local Government Association (a cross-party organisation of all Councillors across the country) so why not?
The vote was lost 20-10 - there were 20 Conservative Councillors present.
The video at the top of this page is the part of the Council Meeting relating to this motion.