To Vote or not to Vote

Baroness Murphy

In the debate on Members Leaving the House, referred to in Lord Tyler’s recent blog (Exit Routes 2) Lord Hunt of Kings Heath referred to the fact that voting by crossbenchers was, in his word, “limited”. ( While our benches protested in a mild kind of way with an “Oh!”,  Lord Hunt of Kings Heath pressed on in an obviously critical way. “I am afraid that is the case. If we take that into account, then the coalition Government have a practical majority in your Lordships’ House. Over the years this House has developed a wonderful reputation as a revising Chamber. However, with the greatest respect, if the House is not able to cause the Government to think again, how on earth can it be a revising Chamber?” Since crossbenchers split down the middle politically and it’s rarely predictable how they will vote when they do I am not sure how it would help the Opposition to have more of us vote but his criticism reflects views that are becoming more generally expressed by the political parties. It comes down to the question of what the role of the independent crossbenchers should be.
The question of whether we should vote more frequently was discussed at our own weekly crossbenchers meeting yesterday. Some were keen to do so and indeed do spend a great deal of time in the House, more so than political peers, because they, like all crossbenchers, feel it is crucial to understand what we are voting about when we do vote. The luxury of having a whip order you to vote with the party makes life very simple; you simply turn up and go through the lobby you are directed to when the bell goes. Most of us however simply can’t give a sufficient amount of time to every bill to understand every clause; some because of having other jobs and roles that take us away from the Chamber, others because they will not vote when the amendment before the House is an overtly political manoeuvre which reflects party political squabbling, as happens quite frequently. And then there’s the sitting hours problem…there’s no doubt that the earlier in the afternoon the vote is called the more peers of all political persuasions and none will be there to vote; staying late in the evening to vote on an issue which you haven’t been following very closely and may make marginal difference to a piece of legislation is not appealing.

It’s often forgotten that older crossbench peers appointed before 1999 were not asked to become working peers; it was an honour and not a demand for work. One peer mentioned that before accepting a peerage he asked No 10 specifically if he was expected to serve in the legislature and was told that the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin came in to the chamber once to give his maiden speech and never appeared again ‘and he did nothing wrong’. Nowadays there would be a lot of huffing and puffing by colleagues (no doubt The Daily Telegraph would say he was on the fiddle). Many colleagues feel the ground rules have changed without their being consulted and they continue to give of their expertise when they can but that doesn’t mean full time. I sit somewhere in the middle, I try and vote when I’m there and inform myself as best I can about the plethora of bills but I confine my major interventions to the areas I know best. I would quite often like to have  a green light flashing on top of my head saying ‘Abstaining’.

5 comments for “To Vote or not to Vote

  1. Gareth Howell
    19/11/2010 at 5:37 pm

    the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin came in to the chamber once to give his maiden speech and never appeared again ‘and he did nothing wrong’. Nowadays there would be a lot of huffing and puffing by colleagues (no doubt The Daily Telegraph would say he was on the fiddle).

    Although because he waa a newly appointed Lord he did go up to the Gods at the ROH,and blamed me, when I found him half way up the old back,red steps, severely clutching chest,
    for spoiling the last performance he would attend. He got a standing ovation when taken down, in a wheel chair, to the Conductor’s podium afterwards.

    Curiously enough it was one of the last occasions that I attended the ROH, and I would still go up to the Gods for my pleasure, whereas like his being raised to the peerage, going up to the Gods was his last ascent. He died soon afterwards; such a wonderfully accomplished man; I was always a huge fan, although never a pupil of his.

    The baroness with a green Abstention light on her head is an entirely different prospect for humorous anecdote.

    19/11/2010 at 7:16 pm

    I do know this, you shoudln’t vote all thgat Often. I say this because you ar a very rude, arrogant, self centred and self serving Religious Fundamentalist who has no quyalms wiht imposing your private :Hopes and dreams of Humankind” onto everyone else.

    Why should I want more of my Freedoms eroded whilst I am called an iidor by a self proclriamed Raionalist who would, If I did the same hign regardign legistatign my beleifsinto Law and forcing complaiunce, call me a dictator and compare me to Iranian Governance?

    Your Secular Humansim (whihc you claim is Ratuionalism) always seems to be the basis o yoru votign and you never consider anyoen elses personal liberties, feelings, or beleis, and in fact treat other peopel with contempot, condescending toward thme if calle dupon it, and insistign t=your “Nonreligiius, completley secular”, and of coruse “Rational” beleifs are needed ot ensure EEquality and tolerance, eve htough htye only create equality if everyone gives in and agrees with you personally.

    Why shoudl I want a would be Dictator who wants to force me into complaince wihr her personal beleifs and morality to vote on Legislation?

    Beore you dismiss me as endlessly angry as you did before, Im not angry. I am very calm, and I mean everyhtign I say in a literal fashion.

    I am just tired of “Rationalists” like you mockign and beratign anyone who dares challenfe you, and how you tend to want to force everyone into agreement with yoru “Nonreligious” beleifs.

    I just untend to brign this up till I am really answered.

    because I really do want to knwo why, as a Religiosu person, I shoudl leave my Religion int he hoem and Churhc, btu yiu as a “Rationalist” can set laws base dupon yoru beleifs.

    I’d also liek to know why clalign my beleifs “Gpblydygoop” isnt an insult, or why simpky beign an Athiets makes yu not religious so yoru beleifs cant be imposed onto others, or its not wrong to do so.

      23/11/2010 at 12:15 pm

      Spellcheck, for Christ’s sake man!

  3. Senex
    20/11/2010 at 5:13 pm

    BM: Don’t beat yourself up about things.

    The ‘job spec’ for a crossbench peer is to inform the political process. There does however seem to be a conflict of interest when it comes to voting. If you do vote are you still apolitical? If something fires you up then you vote but it’s not mandatory or expected; very annoying to political peers I guess.

    I get the impression from what you and BDS (17/11) are saying is that crossbench peers should involve themselves with the political process rather more than they are actually doing? The power of crossbench peers is to veto or support the executive as individuals see fit and by use of their vote. LN (19/11) reinforces this.

    However LT (4/11) finds it embarrassing that peers turn up just to avail themselves of the facilities without voting. If you are a crossbench peer then by all means turn up and inform the political process by speaking in debate – if no fire is lit within then simply leave to enjoy the rest of your away day.

    Why not! Working peer is not part of the official vocabulary of the house.

    I was struck by the brightness of the light bulb and how deft you have become in surrounding your pictures by text. One of the eco exercises we have been conducting at home and at some little expense is to replace all halogen, incandescent light bulbs and Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) with LED lighting.

    One thing you may not be aware of is that all [A] rated lamps including CFL over 4W have to state the light output in Lumens along with the colour temperature in Kelvin. The biggest problem we have faced is matching the colour of LED lighting because the EU directive is not always enforced especially by products coming from China.

    By moving from CFL variants to LED lighting the power requirements have dropped by some 66% or more often 80%. We have replaced the telephone system by an energy saving Siemens Gigaset product and here again the energy consumption has dropped by 80% virtually eliminating microwave smog.

    It’s a shame the government is not giving incentives to local councils to install ‘instant on’ LED road lighting. Instead some local councils are turning them off to save money. Not a very progressive approach to public safety or saving it seems.

    Ref: The Phase-Out of Inefficient light bulbs

    • Gareth Howell
      22/11/2010 at 8:36 am

      There must have been a moral to the story of Lord Menuhin,(rip)not being on the fiddle, although it was hard to find.

      One thing is certain that if you go (up) to the Lords,there is a good deal of discord, and you rarely come down again unless you have been given leave of absence,or done wrong in some way, but if you go up to the Gods you always come down,have never done wrong, and you’ve usually heard the best of music in the heavens.


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