Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline

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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture
Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline

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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline

The groundbreaking documentary ‘Whipped: the secret world of party discipline’ is available for viewing online. This 43-minute documentary by investigative journalist Sean Holman shows how the secret system of party discipline in Victoria forces MLAs to vote the party line. The title ‘Whipped!’ makes reference to the ‘party whip’, whose job it is to make sure that all members of the party vote the same way. A number of former politicians cite specific examples in order to explain how the system really works.

While the Whipped documentary exposes the inner workings of block voting in the BC legislature, many of the same techniques are used in other provinces, in Parliament in Ottawa, and in parliaments around the world. In the case of Vancouver City Hall, the block voting techniques are used by the dominant political party in power, Vision Vancouver, which controls 8 out of 11 council votes. For a detailed analysis of voting patterns in Vancouver please see the article Independent or block voting in Council? The Failings of a Democracy.

http://www.cpac.ca/eng/programs/cpac-special/episodes/whipped-secret-wor...

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i don't know for sure but i'd like to believe that libby davies was whipped. if she was it's a tough position to be in. the video describes this very well. she must have felt similarly when she voted to bomb libya.

socialdemocrati...

We live in an age where message discipline is everything. If any party splits their vote on any issue, that becomes the story. If any party member strays from the official policy, that becomes the story. Parties that split over key issues end up losing supporters on both sides of the issue. I'm not saying it's right, but party discipline has become a matter of political survival.

I think there's a certain amount of self-censorship for the sake of unity. We all do it at some point. You have a debate, you argue about the best course of action, but you ultimately act upon the decided course of action as a group. George Orwell called it "revolutionary discipline", where no one necessarily told you to do something, but you know what you have to do in order for the group to survive.

I don't know what a viable solution is. Proportional representation is the only thing that strikes me, allowing the fault lines in the parties to present themselves to the electorate, and allowing a plurality of viewpoints in parliament.

genstrike

socialdemocraticmiddle wrote:

I think there's a certain amount of self-censorship for the sake of unity. We all do it at some point. You have a debate, you argue about the best course of action, but you ultimately act upon the decided course of action as a group. George Orwell called it "revolutionary discipline", where no one necessarily told you to do something, but you know what you have to do in order for the group to survive.

I suspect when George Orwell wrote of "revolutionary discipline," he was thinking more of self-discipline within actual revolutionary organizations such as the Marxist militia that he fought with in Spain which was engaged in a life and death struggle against fascism.  Not so much the discipline imposed upon members of a rather tame social-democratic party by backroom boys trying to make sure no one strays from the message box and interrupts their attempts to look like responsible managers of capitalism.

socialdemocrati...

Wow! Thanks for pointing out that Orwell was talking about discipline in a specific situation! Did you know that sometimes things that happen in one situation can also happen in a completely different situation? It's called a "comparison".

The main factor in self-discipline isn't your judgment of how tame or noble the group's efforts are. It's the "life or death" dynamic, and for an MP, survival is measured by getting re-elected, which depends on the party not turning into a circular firing squad. It's telling that scholars talking about this kind of self-discipline use it interchangably with "loyalty" and "unity of action". There doesn't always have to be an authoritarian figure or a "backroom boy" imposing that discipline through fear. If that's true for MPs, then it's even more true for the volunteers who identify strongly with their party, without ever being "whipped" in the "backroom".

But don't let that stop you from missing my point.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i find the secrecy unacceptable. works for the party but does nothing to inform the voter. just the opposite. i feel that i’m being hustled. what i’m told vs how they behave.

Geoff

While I agree that party discipline can be abused by party leaders to micro-manage and bully their MPs, I think we need enough party discipline to ensure that when I help to elect an NDP MP, I can be reasonably sure that that individual will support NDP positions on the issues that are important to me. 

It's a tall order, I know, but we have to find a balance between party discipline and the rights of individual representatives to supposedly "vote their conscience". I'm not comfortable with simply opposing party discipline as inherently evil.

Unionist

Geoff wrote:

While I agree that party discipline can be abused by party leaders to micro-manage and bully their MPs, I think we need enough party discipline to ensure that when I help to elect an NDP MP, I can be reasonably sure that that individual will support NDP positions on the issues that are important to me. 

It's a tall order, I know, but we have to find a balance between party discipline and the rights of individual representatives to supposedly "vote their conscience". I'm not comfortable with simply opposing party discipline as inherently evil.

I would be more sympathetic to your concern if the so-called "NDP positions" were applicable to the Leader, in a mandatory way. They are not. So "party discipline" really boils down to the dictatorship of the leader. I'm not entirely sure why the House of Commons doesn't simply consist of the party leaders. Even more money would be saved than by abolishing the Senate.

Let me know if you need examples of NDP Leaders ignoring and violating positions of the party as duly adopted at convention.

So, how is this "party discipline" which you advocate exercised, except by the Leader and the inner circle simply dictating the line which all must follow? Caucus vote? Convention vote? I think we all know the answer. And all the parties in the House, without the smallest exception, operate in exactly the same way.

I'll tell you one party that doesn't operate that way: Québec Solidaire. Amazing, eh? How can they function without a leader? They don't have a leader. And they don't "discipline" people like Bill Siksay who insist, all alone, on following party policy.

 

Geoff

Unionist wrote:

Geoff wrote:

While I agree that party discipline can be abused by party leaders to micro-manage and bully their MPs, I think we need enough party discipline to ensure that when I help to elect an NDP MP, I can be reasonably sure that that individual will support NDP positions on the issues that are important to me. 

It's a tall order, I know, but we have to find a balance between party discipline and the rights of individual representatives to supposedly "vote their conscience". I'm not comfortable with simply opposing party discipline as inherently evil.

I would be more sympathetic to your concern if the so-called "NDP positions" were applicable to the Leader, in a mandatory way. They are not. So "party discipline" really boils down to the dictatorship of the leader. I'm not entirely sure why the House of Commons doesn't simply consist of the party leaders. Even more money would be saved than by abolishing the Senate.

Let me know if you need examples of NDP Leaders ignoring and violating positions of the party as duly adopted at convention.

So, how is this "party discipline" which you advocate exercised, except by the Leader and the inner circle simply dictating the line which all must follow? Caucus vote? Convention vote? I think we all know the answer. And all the parties in the House, without the smallest exception, operate in exactly the same way.

I'll tell you one party that doesn't operate that way: Québec Solidaire. Amazing, eh? How can they function without a leader? They don't have a leader. And they don't "discipline" people like Bill Siksay who insist, all alone, on following party policy.

 

NDP leaders ignore positions taken by the party?  Say it ain't so!  Of course, you're right, and that's another issue that needs to be addressed.  Nonetheless, I'm still concerned that I might vote for an individual member who would turn around and vote against his/her party based on "conscience".  We need to find a middle ground somewhere.

As for QS, they'd get my vote were I living in Quebec.  I've read their platform, and I think there's lots we could learn from them.  No disagreement there, Unionist.