This week North Dorset MP Simon Hoare was one of just 13 Conservative MPs to defy three-line whip in Commons vote on Leadsom Amendment.
This week Conservative MPs were under a three-line whip – a strict instruction to attend and ‘vote according to the party’s position’ – to vote for an amendment to reform the Commons Standards System. It was a move triggered by the findings of a Parliamentary Standards investigation into Conservative MP* Owen Paterson. MPs were expecting on Wednesday afternoon to approve a six-week ban from Parliament for the North Shropshire MP, after the investigation found he had lobbied on behalf of two companies for which he was a paid consultant, paying him over
£100,000 a year. The Leadsom Amendment to the motion for Paterson’s suspension, which the government whipped its MPs to support, instead voted to set up a new committee to investigate the standards regime and the
specifics of the case: pausing the suspension of Owen Paterson and effectively overthrowing the findings of a Parliamentary Standards Investigation.
Of the 357 Conservative MPs voting, only 13 defied the party whip to vote No to the amendment; one of them was
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare. I spoke to Simon the morning after the vote to understand why he chose to breach the three- line whip and instead apparently vote with his conscience. Just before we spoke the news broke that the
government had announced a U-turn on the vote after facing the public’s fury. “The U-turn felt inevitable” said
Simon “I feel as though the government were blindsided by the public reaction. The feeling was that this was simply a ‘Westminster Bubble’ issue – no one seemed to expect the instant backlash that ensued. At the vote yesterday I have never known the Commons like it, even during the Brexit debates and votes. It’s the biggest rebellion I’ve seen. One agonised colleague showed me his social media feed directly after the vote – he had obeyed the whip in the vote, but with an exceptionally heavy heart. In return he was receiving a steady stream of vile abuse. “I cut my teeth fighting my first election on South Wales in 1997. At virtually every door I knocked on I was asked ‘how many brown envelopes have you had? How much are you earning out of this?’.
This week I was terrified that we were returning to those terrible perceptions of ‘Tory Sleaze’ which so many of us have fought for the last twenty years. “The fact is the Standards Committee is working. Rules were breached, and so they investigated, and then sanctions were enforced. With this Leadsom Amendment we were in danger of slipping into a tiger trap of our own digging, making up rules as we went along. The simple facts are that if the report had exonerated Owen then there would have been no amendment. If the report had been against an
MP from any other party, there would have been no amendment. If the sanctions had been below the trigger for a recall, there would have been no amendment. These are politics that are not to my taste.
It’s not brave
Combining the no votes with the abstainers, the government’s majority was reduced to just 18 – a further 97 Conservative MPs abstained from voting. I wondered if the abstainers simply weren’t as brave as Simon
in defying the whip – which he immediately refuted. “It’s not about bravery. Nobody goes against a three-line whip
lightly and abstention absolutely does count. To vote against your own party is the nuclear option – an abstention is the semi- nuclear, if you like. It is the same message, and a huge number of my colleagues took a stand yesterday. But no one did so with a glad heart. Simon repeated that his decision to defy the whip was not brave
and certainly not grandstanding. “Nine times out of ten I vote with the government. I would love it to be ten out of ten – I am not a rebel by instinct. My rubric is that my constituents are decent people, and they want their MP to
use his judgement, not just follow where told. I want to be able to ook in the mirror and say ‘above all I tried to do the right thing’. I owe it to the people who voted for me, and who placed their trust in me to do just that. “There is no handbook to being an MP, no ‘ten steps to getting it right’. We all carve out our own way. I will always support
the government when they are right, but when I feel they are wrong I will say so. That is the job of an independently minded backbencher.
*At time of writing Owen Paterson was an MP; he has now resigned.
By: Laura Hitchcock