Watkins on conscience votes

May 3rd, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Parliament should treat the as a conscience vote and here is the reason. MPs deserve to have the best brought out in them occasionally and conscience votes do that. They even have the power to remind us why it matters who we send to Parliament.

I agree. By far the best debates I have witnessed in Parliament, have been those as conscience votes. When an MP is free to speak their mind on an issue, without having to worry about whether this is the party line, is when you get the best debate.

So conscience votes are not unique in producing ad hocery, botched law-making and poor compromises (three strikes anyone?). It’s just that in the normal course of events, governments can dress it all up as something else by throwing the weight of their spin machine behind it.

Conscience votes, on the other hand, are policy-making stripped bare.

It comes down to what the MP believes. Some will take the easy option of voting according to the wishes of their electorate. But even that tells us something about them.

It tells us they are not fans of Edmund Burke who said in 1774:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

If there is to be a vote on the purchase age for alcohol, then it should be one of MPs voting as they see best, not whipped by their parties.

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50 Responses to “Watkins on conscience votes”

  1. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    I don’t get this “conscience vote” thing at all.

    Why is it the exception???

    Shouldn’t they vote with their conscience on every occasion?

    What about the old adage “be true to yourself”??

    Isn’t this just an admission that most MP’s today are most of the time, not serving their constituents at all??

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  2. malcolm (1,952 comments) says:

    Yes.

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  3. MT_Tinman (3,137 comments) says:

    Every vote not involving supply should be a conscience vote.

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  4. Mr Nobody NZ (390 comments) says:

    I wonder what Edmund Burke would have to say about List Members and who they represent?

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  5. aardvark (417 comments) says:

    MPs shouldn’t be voting “on party lines” or “according to their conscience” at all.

    MPs should be voting in accord with the wishes of their ELECTORATE!

    This is how democracy works — you elect an MP to REPRESENT YOU in parliament.

    Surely, voting on party lines or according to an MP’s own conscience is completely contrary to the basic tenets of the representative democracy we supposedly have.

    Someone explain please!

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    Well, I guess I’ll put the contrary view: Conscience votes are undemocratic.

    If this is a conscience vote, and I don’t like the way it goes, I might want to use it as the basis of my voting decision in the next general election. If this issue is important to me, I want to be able to vote for a party that agrees with me.

    If parties don’t have policies on issues, then people can’t vote for parties they agree with, and democracy suffers.

    [DPF: You get two votes. You can vote out an MP who votes against the way you want. Also just because some parties treat it as a conscience vote doesn't mean they all do. You can vote for the Kiwi Party (for example) who probably support a 20 age as party policy]

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  7. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    i think the age should stay at 18….excise/prices should rise..(to a minimum price..)

    those $2 lolly-pop-alcohol drinks..aimed at teens..should be gone..

    ..and there should be a focus/serious-crackdown on those who still sell booze..to the already pissed…

    ..that’d be a large part of yr problems on the way to being sorted…

    ..alcohol should also be unlabelled..(aside from alcohol-genre..if not blindingly obvious..

    ..alcohol should be unadvertised…and with graphic ‘health-outcomes’..a la cigs..on that packaging..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  8. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    To much importance is put on voting for parties – we need better MPs, and better parties should be a result of that.

    I think that’s better than voting for a party whose policies you like best but half the MPs are incompetent.

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  9. Fletch (6,296 comments) says:

    Re: Burke – that is precisely why the people deserve to be as well-informed about a candidate as can be, including whether he is ‘gay’, favours abortion, and his opinion on many other issues. Most people want an MP who thinks like they do – who represents them in the truest sense of the word – who is their voice in parliament.

    Herald columnist Tapu Misa tried to use the same quotation from Burke at the time of the protest marches against the changing of the law re: Section 59 (the ‘smacking bill’), to argue that the people “got it wrong” and that an MP should vote his conscience. The trouble with her argument was that MPs weren’t given a conscience vote on the smacking bill – they were whipped into the party line by both John Key and Helen Clark. So Burke does not apply there.

    I do agree with you aardvark to a certain extent. But I think that the electorate should vote for the MP whose thinking and morals are closest to theirs and that therefore when that MP votes his conscience it should reflect the views of the greater of those who voted for him in any case.

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  10. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    ” Someone explain please!”

    It has already been explained. In the initial post from Mr. Farrar in the quote from Edmund Burke. (which also exists as a counter to Mr. Edgeler’s argument)

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  11. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    To an extent Fletch, but isn’t it at least as important that they are competent as select committee members and portfolio managers?

    And – being photogenic and word perfect in public and never having made any embarrassing mistakes are overrated attributes.

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  12. Fletch (6,296 comments) says:

    ps, regarding voting etc..

    It brings up the hypocrisy of John Key.
    In an interview with the NZ Herald back in July 2008, in an article titled “I am More Liberal than I Look” (yes, we can ask ourselves why we didn’t take as much notice then), Key gives the reason he voted against the prostitution bill was because he thought he should do the “will of the electorate”.

    But the reason he changed his mind about prostitution was because some constituents visited his Helensville electorate office and suggested that supporting the bill would send the wrong signal.

    A couple of the constituents had 16-year-old daughters. As parents, they felt that whether Key liked it or not, the bill would legitimise prostitution as a credible pathway for the girls.

    Key said he started to think that in the end, he was a representative of these people.

    He firmly believed that if he asked his electorate what they wanted, they’d want him to vote against it. “So I did. And that’s always been the view I’ve taken.”

    Funny, that doesn’t seem to be his view now, ey? He could say that out of one side of his mouth, but when it came to representing the “will of the electorate” on the smacking bill, the ETS, and other decisions, something different issues from the other side of his mouth.

    Will we EVER AGAIN have a politician who says what he means and sticks to it both before and after an election? I guess there is no such thing anymore.

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  13. davidp (3,580 comments) says:

    I vote for MPs on the basis of the policies they support. Those policies are listed in their party manifesto and all candidates for the party promote those policies so they are well publicised. If an MP is going to vote on the basis of their conscience, then I want to see individual candidate manifestos before an election that list just how their conscience intends to vote on specific issues.

    I don’t get why alcohol related issues should be a conscience vote anyway. The only reason is because historically alcohol has inspired religious wowsers to condemn drinking as immoral and even evil. But we’re beyond that now… if we are going to ban, restrict, or tax any good or service then I think that is a decision that the government should stand behind.

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  14. Chuck Bird (4,848 comments) says:

    Well, I guess I’ll put the contrary view: Conscience votes are undemocratic.

    They are even more undemocratic under MMP. Under FPP in theory MPs represented their electorate. However, if an MP was in a very safe electorate they could ignore the view of their electorate.

    Moral issues which a government does not want to take position should be decided by a referendum or at the very least the voters should easily be able to veto such legislation.

    http://www.nzcpr.com/guest188.htm

    The average person could not do the job of most MPs. However, their view on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and the anti-parental authority legislation is as valid as any MP. These issues relate mostly to life experience and should not be left to MPs half of whom do not represent a electorate.

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  15. MT_Tinman (3,137 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler, you could not be more incorrect.

    A party vote system destroys any genuine democracy by creating a limited term dictatorship where, despite changing circumstances etc., MPs are not allowed to use any judgment at all.

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  16. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Someone explain please!

    Ok.

    Imagine a world in which all votes are conscience votes. Now, MPs will certainly see some votes as being more important than others. Different MPs will think different issues are important. So, what happens? They get together and say, hey, if you give me your vote today, then I’ll give you my vote in tomorrow’s debate.

    MPs learn that, by cooperating in this fashion, they can wield more influence over the house, and get more votes to go their way.

    After a while, it starts to get more formalised, and hey presto, the political party is born.

    I don’t know if that’s actually the origin of political parties, but I’m that that’s what would happen if we somehow forced all votes to be conscience votes. The benefits of cooperation would be too great for the politicians to ignore.

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  17. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    You get two votes. You can vote out an MP who votes against the way you want.

    I can. But how will I know that the person I replace them with won’t do the same?

    I also think you haven’t addressed why the alcohol-purchasing age should be a matter of conscience. The philosophical underpinning of conscience votes is that on some issues a person’s morality is so strongly in play that they should be permitted to be guided by it, rather than public opinion, or collective decision-making processes. It is wrong for a party to force it’s MPs to vote a particular way as a matter of conscience, it is wrong that their beliefs should be subjugated to majority concerns. For example, it is unconscionable to force someone to support legalisation of abortion if that person believes abortion is murder, or, it is wrong to force someone to vote for the death penalty if they believe that all life is sacred.

    In the height of the prohibition movement, alcohol as a social and moral ill was a matter not unlike abortion (or the death penalty) – it was considered morally wrong to force someone to vote for liberalisation of alcohol laws when it might attack their moral core. For many, abortion is still like that, and prostitution is like that for some, but alcohol is like that for almost no-one.

    Why should alcohol votes now not be subject to the same democratic processes as votes on education policy or tax? Why should MPs, in respect of the alcohol-purchasing age, be allowed to act according to their “consciences”, when on most other issues of social and criminal justice policy they vote according to agreed party policy or public views?

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  18. Viking2 (11,420 comments) says:

    Contradictory terms are these. Conscience and MP.
    They are there to represent the electors. If they don’t want to or can’t or are constrained in any way then bring in electronic referendum voting on these subjects. Let the subjects (of the ?Queen), actually decide. We can then reduce the number of MP’s who are unable to define what their loyalties should actually be, i.e. to the voter.
    Not that hard. Just requires the will and the leadership to make the change.
    Interesting that businesses have to make change rapidly almost daily in some cases but the Neanderthal that is Parliament is still stuck at 1800 or thereabouts.(except for the pay of course.)

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  19. aardvark (417 comments) says:

    As I’ve said before, Recoverable Proxy should be the future of democratic politics but it won’t be — simply because it disempowers those who believe that they have a right to put their own (or their party’s) opinions ahead of the majority who elected them to act as representatives.

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  20. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Chuck Bird 11:41 am,

    Well, I guess I’ll put the contrary view: Conscience votes are undemocratic.

    They are even more undemocratic under MMP. Under FPP in theory MPs represented their electorate. However, if an MP was in a very safe electorate they could ignore the view of their electorate.

    Moral issues which a government does not want to take position should be decided by a referendum or at the very least the voters should easily be able to veto such legislation.

    http://www.nzcpr.com/guest188.htm

    The average person could not do the job of most MPs. However, their view on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and the anti-parental authority legislation is as valid as any MP. These issues relate mostly to life experience and should not be left to MPs half of whom do not represent a electorate.

    Indeed, Chuck.

    And your link, above, to Amy Brooke’s opinion piece, “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand”, is well worth a read. Why don’t we have politicians with such clear and well reasoned thinking as Amy expresses in her article?

    Excerpt:

    Essentially, this provision ensures that although parliament can pass any law, including those insufficiently debated, typically late at night, or on Christmas Eve – or through any profoundly undemocratic trade-off with a minor party manipulating the system… whatever law is passed actually can’t coming into effect for 100 days. During this time, if 50,000 citizens are concerned enough to call for a referendum, it has to be put – what is called a facultative (optional) referendum – and the country’s verdict is binding. The different, citizens-initiated referenda, where proposals come from the people themselves, are a separate and interesting issue. But it is the facultative referenda that we most urgently need to put a stop to our now perceived lack of genuine representative democracy – so very well illustrated by the scandalous ignoring of the country’s wishes in parliament’s infliction of the anti-smacking legislation.

    The inability of voters to veto ‘Bad Laws’ is, I believe, one of the MAIN problems with our current (and past) system of government. The idea of having a ‘100 day Facultative Referendum’, as Amy suggests, would address this issue.

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  21. backster (2,152 comments) says:

    I agree with Chuck and Kris…Indeed conscience votes are often both a fraud and the height of arrogance. During the last administration the Labour members consciences either complied with CLARKS or else. Invariably most members on both sides especially the List MPs voted in a manner opposed to the majority view……. I also agree That Amy BROOK’s proposal is a clear and logical process to follow, and the only hope for genuine democracy in NZ.

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  22. Fletch (6,296 comments) says:

    Kris, yes the Swiss system seems very good to me. What’s the bet that the Swiss system will not be among the choices of political system able to be voted for by the public in the MMP Referendum? It takes too much power away from politicians and they will never allow such a system here.

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  23. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Fletch 1:40 pm,

    Kris, yes the Swiss system seems very good to me. What’s the bet that the Swiss system will not be among the choices of political system able to be voted for by the public in the MMP Referendum? It takes too much power away from politicians and they will never allow such a system here.

    Indeed, Fletch.
    Without some form of enforcing our will on politicians we will forever be at their whim. Letting them frame the debate is also a major weekness of NZ politics, and no doubt this will be further shown by just what options are put to voters regarding any tweaks/changes which may be offered surrounding the MMP Referendum.

    We’ve GOT to have more say than just ‘voting them out’ every three years.

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  24. Ryan Sproull (7,101 comments) says:

    I’m with Aardvark.

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  25. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    Are you suggesting the entire Swiss system, or bits of it?

    It wouldn’t be easily implemented here – for a start, each of the 26 cantons has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts.

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  26. Jack5 (5,055 comments) says:

    Mr Nobody NZ (10.27 post) and others are correct IMHO in arguing conscience votes are incompatible with a system that includes list MPs. When list MPs are not answerable to their parties they are answerable to no-one.

    Why not exclude list MPs from conscience votes?

    Or better still exclude list MPs from Parliament. Try multi-member electorates if we want to experiment with other proportional representation systems.

    IMHO, that claim that proportional representation is more democratic is flaky. If we vote for a non-proportional system that is democratic, too.

    Proportional representation’s like picking a football team to represent the populace rather than picking the best team. A proportional team would have 10 boys and 10 girls in the 15 players and five reserves. It would have 10 average height players, five short ones and five tall ones. It would have, in NZ 12 who identify as pakeha, four who identify as Maori or Pacific Islander, and four who identify as other — Asian, Middle Eastern etc. Left handers, who tend to be good at sport because of the dexterity they get from coping with awkward systems, would be discriminated against. They would have less representation than they deserve.

    Choosing best players for a balanced team would be impossible using proportional representation.

    Yes I know, Fairfucked Media NZ,the Hooerald, and TTVNZ (Tabloid TV NZ) etc have recently decided that “football” in NZ now means soccer, but fuck them.

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  27. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    aardvark suggests:

    MPs shouldn’t be voting “on party lines” or “according to their conscience” at all.

    MPs should be voting in accord with the wishes of their ELECTORATE!

    I much prefer aardvark’s version of democracy to Burke’s. Just because someone said something a few hundred years ago doesn’t make it somehow Holy writ, DPF.

    IMO Burke was dangerously wrong – every time an elected representative ignores the opinions of the people he or she represents (and that’s the key word here) we move a step closer to a political oligarchy.

    Burke, remember, was writing at a time when most of the peasantry was uneducated and communications were rudimentary (and thus few people had enough information to make an informed decision). Things are different now, and if politicians don’t realise that then let’s get rid of them and elect people who do.

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  28. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    Mr Nobody NZ (10.27 post) and others are correct IMHO in arguing conscience votes are incompatible with a system that includes list MPs. When list MPs are not answerable to their parties they are answerable to no-one.

    As I explain above, conscience votes are about MPs (list, constituency, whatever) being accountable only to themselves, and their own consciences. Conscience votes are votes where MPs are guided not by party loyalty, nor by the feelings of the electorate, but by their consciences.

    Basically, a matter is a conscience vote if ii would be immoral to expect an MP to violate their conscience and instead vote according to party loyalty or democratic mandate (e.g. an MP who personally believes in the sanctity of human life shouldn’t be forced to vote in favour of the death penalty). On conscience votes, MPs aren’t representing the consciences of their electorates, but act according to their own consciences. Delineating between list MPs and electorate MPs on these issues makes no sense – on a conscience vote no MP is representing anyone other than themselves.

    If you think that there are issues on which MPs should be guided by their electorates, rather than party loyalty (or the MP’s own consicence), then you do not want a conscience vote.

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  29. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    Proportional representation’s like picking a football team to represent the populace rather than picking the best team. A proportional team would have 10 boys and 10 girls in the 15 players and five reserves. It would have 10 average height players, five short ones and five tall ones. It would have, in NZ 12 who identify as pakeha, four who identify as Maori or Pacific Islander, and four who identify as other — Asian, Middle Eastern etc. Left handers, who tend to be good at sport because of the dexterity they get from coping with awkward systems, would be discriminated against. They would have less representation than they deserve.

    Choosing best players for a balanced team would be impossible using proportional representation.

    So instead, we should require the football team to have exactly one person from Wellington Central, and one from Taupo, and one from Auckland Central? Even if Auckland Central has three players better than anyone else in the entire rest of the country, two should miss out so that someone no way near as good from some other region can play?

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  30. Chuck Bird (4,848 comments) says:

    If you think that there are issues on which MPs should be guided by their electorates, rather than party loyalty (or the MP’s own consicence), then you do not want a conscience vote.

    Exactly

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  31. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    Burke, remember, was writing at a time when most of the peasantry was uneducated and communications were rudimentary (and thus few people had enough information to make an informed decision). Things are different now…

    Now communications aren’t rudimentary. Anything else changed?

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  32. CharlieBrown (1,003 comments) says:

    If Nazi germany had a conscience vote on their racist policies against jews would that still make it right? Twits having conscience votes on ill-informed, populist discriminatory policies doesn’t change the fact that they are twits bowing to public pressure. A conscience vote on some issues is nothing more than turd polishing.

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  33. CharlieBrown (1,003 comments) says:

    Jack5: How is geographical representation any better than being represented by ideas and values? IMHO, we should get rid of electorate seats and go fully proportional, that way you can choose who to represent you no matter where you live.

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  34. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    we should get rid of electorate seats and go fully proportional, that way you can choose who to represent you no matter where you live.

    Mmmm, only partly true. Our proportional system has us voting for a list, not for a person.

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  35. CharlieBrown (1,003 comments) says:

    “Mmmm, only partly true. Our proportional system has us voting for a list, not for a person.”

    True, but how is voting for candidates based on where you live, knowing that only one candidate from that electorate can get elected, conceivably allowing for 49.9% of votes to not count? Voting for a party only is a much better alternative.

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  36. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    All we do is vote for party candidates every three years…. If we were serious about the views of our ELECTORATES we would vote for INDERPENDENT ELECTORATE CANDIDATES… INDEPENDENT NOT PARTY CANDIDATES.

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  37. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    Pete George:

    You have a point in that much of the present day peasantry choose not to be educated, particularly about political and economic issues. But the difference between now and Burke’s day is that it’s a choice.

    So should those of us who do take an interest, take the time to research and think, and have formed an opinion, be denied a voice in the process simply because some of our peers would rather vote people out of the Big Brother House than take the time to vote on important issues?

    The answer’s simple – a test before voting. Better yet, an ongoing test: we have to register to do the DomPost’s weekly politics quiz and anyone consuistently scoring under 7 is disenfranchised :-D

    But speaking seriously, we have the technology and we have a citizenry, some of whom are informed. Should they be denied a say whilst someone like Ashraf Choudray can do nothing, think nothing (insofar as it’s possible to tell) and yet have 1/20th of a voice in the future of our country?

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  38. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler suggests:

    If you think that there are issues on which MPs should be guided by their electorates, rather than party loyalty (or the MP’s own consicence), then you do not want a conscience vote.

    Yes we do, because that is the only circumstances in our system during which an MP is free to vote other than on party lines without fearing recrimination from party bosses come preselection and ostracism from their caucus for the rest of the term.

    Of course an MP isn’t bound to follow the wishes of their electorate when given a conscience vote, but it is the only mechanism we have that permits them to do so.

    Having said that, I agree that it’s an imperfect, unpredictable option which is neither fish nor fowl. What we need, as RKBee says, is independent MPs.

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  39. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    I’d vote for a good independent candidate, I think a smattering of them in Parliament would be good. But I suspect too many of the peasantry who choose to remain uninformed will remain whim voters and thwart this. But who knows what’s possible in the internet age.

    I know it’s a bit of a contradiction, but what about an “Independents Party? Pool resources, administration etc but pledge to retain independence and put the electorate first. I’d strongly consider getting in behind the right candidates and doing what I could to support and promote them.

    In an electorate you could have an informed peasantry membership that had voting rights on policy decisions that the candidate should honour.

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  40. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    Of course an MP isn’t bound to follow the wishes of their electorate when given a conscience vote, but it is the only mechanism we have that permits them to do so.

    If you’re expecting (or hoping) MPs will ignore their consciences, by definition it is not a conscience vote.

    Some other sort of free vote, or non-whipped vote, perhaps, but a conscience vote? No.

    There are precedents for free votes in Parliament that aren’t conscience votes. If you’ve ever the chance, read the debates for the committee stage of the 1993 MMP bill. A number of the specific clauses – e.g. the 5% threshold – were not whipped, but no-one has ever called them matters of conscience.

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  41. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    Graeme:

    We’re debating semantics really. If I were an MP and my electors gave me a clear message as to their wishes my conscience (aka integrity, desire to avoid feeling sof guilt, call it what you will) would drive me to implement their wishes. Perhaps we should remain “conscience” votes “personal whim” votes? :-D

    Pete George:

    I know it’s a bit of a contradiction, but what about an “Independents Party? Pool resources, administration etc but pledge to retain independence and put the electorate first.

    Bingo. IMO that’s exactly what we need, given that getting parties out of our political system altogether probably isn’t feasible. What do others think?

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  42. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Voting for a party only is a much better alternative.

    Better still is voting for a person. Not one that a party has proposed near where I live (electorate). Not voting for a list offered, and re-sorted by a party (list). A person. I want to vote for a person, or rather I want 5 votes to pick the top 5 people to represent my interests as they govern.

    Neuter the party strength to whip and create an environment where the people who are voted into office and the best people from the widest possible pool, and they have a best mandate to represent the people who placed them in office. We need to think outside the square, rather than assuming one of the existing systems is the best for our future.

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  43. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    If I were an MP and my electors gave me a clear message as to their wishes my conscience (aka integrity, desire to avoid feeling sof guilt, call it what you will) would drive me to implement their wishes.

    Even if that clear message was at odds with your morality? If your electors wanted you to vote in favour of the death penalty, or the criminalisation of religion, you would? You wouldn’t want there to be some issues where you could be guided by your conscience?

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  44. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    Even if that clear message was at odds with your morality?

    In reality I don’t think you can expect to have absolutes. If an MP followed the preferences of most of his/her constituents most of the time they should be allowed to make a decent case for going against that. If an MP sometimes said “I hear what you’re saying, but in this case I need to vote this way for this reason” I have to accept that.

    In an electorate of more than one an individual is not always going to get policies they agree with backed and policies they disagree with opposed. The key things are:
    – voters need to see that their views and preferences are being taken into account
    – voters need to understand that even dictators don’t get everything their own way, so neither can each individual

    Some blog posters and pub wafflers don’t seem to understand that last point.

    You wouldn’t want there to be some issues where you could be guided by your conscience?

    So yes, I think there has to be some allowance for this.

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  45. LiberalismIsASin (288 comments) says:

    Its become obvious to me that most members of parliament leave their consciences at the door, assuming they ever had one in the first place – especially when enshrining their private perversions in public law.

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  46. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    LiberalismIsASin 10:14 am,

    Its become obvious to me that most members of parliament leave their consciences at the door, assuming they ever had one in the first place – especially when enshrining their private perversions in public law.

    Sadly, in most cases I think you’re right.

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  47. Chuck Bird (4,848 comments) says:

    You wouldn’t want there to be some issues where you could be guided by your conscience?

    I would. However, I fail to understand how allowing MPs particularly list MPs voting on what they consider right can be considered democratic. I know there are some highly conscientious as well as some with lower ethical standard than those who vote them into power.

    For laws to be effective they have to have the support of the vast majority of the population. Two examples of bad legislation are the anti smacking law and the laws on prostitution. I would like to see some evidence that MPs have some superior qualities that enable them to pass laws that the majority of voters would reject if given the chance at a referendum.

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  48. Pete George (23,481 comments) says:

    I hope that MPs do have “superior qualities” to the majority of voters – I’d expect them to have far more advice and information available to make their decisions.

    Public debate around referendums hasn’t given me a lot of confidence in the knowledge of voters. (I have doubts about some MPs too).

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  49. Chuck Bird (4,848 comments) says:

    Pete, I also hope that MPs do have “superior qualities” to the majority of voters on the majority of issues they vote on. I have a number of small share holdings in companies in NZ and Oz. If I came into a lot money and could afford to be a major share holder and was in a position to choose directors I would of course choose ones with a proven track record in business or a professional. I think the reasons for that are fairly obvious.

    Most votes MPs make are along party lines except for what are considered moral issues. Conscious votes are normally on such issues as abortion, euthanasia and drinking laws. A person’s point of view on such subjects is not determined by their education, IQ or business experience. More often than not it is determined by their early upbringing, religion and life experience. That is why I strongly believe that the voter should at the least be able to veto moral legislation. Maybe there should be 60% threshold for the referendum. However, I do not see how anyone can call a system where over 85% of the voters oppose a law yet MPs can ram it through maybe as part of a backroom deal.

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  50. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    I had to leave this debate yesterday but it’s so fundamental I hope it can continue awhile (even though things so quickly drop off Kiwiblog’s front page these days!).

    Pete George has pretty much summed up exactly what I’d say in response to Graeme. The only slight difference in what I’d do in that situation would be that, first, I’d try my best to swing the majority of my electorate behind my stance. I’m not advocating that an MP be a dumb cipher, or we could do away with them altogether.

    Then I’d assess whether my vote on an issue I morally opposed would actually make a difference (if, for instance, my vote in favour of capital punishment wouldn’t actually see it pass into law then I’d be far more likely to acquiesce so as to keep faith with the electorate (yes, it’s cycnical I know. But such is the nature of humanity)).

    Third, if it would make a difference and the issue was something I couldn’t morally swallow then I’d exercise the option as outlined by Pete.

    I have to say, though, I don’t think I’d ever get elected in an electorate where the majority supported hanging, or the outlawing of religious freedom! And if I was stupid enough to stand there and did fluke election well… I’d probably deserve the moral conundra into which I’d be plunged! :-D

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