The Tories have already created outrage and a great deal of suspicion by their decision to ‘whip’ Wednesday’s vote against Labour’s call for documents and communications about May’s racist ‘hostile environment’ policies that have inflicted so much damage and distress – including deportation, homelessness, denial of medical treatment – on our ‘Windrush generation’ citizens.
Since May lost her parliamentary majority at last year’s General Election, the Tories have usually whipped their MPs not to vote on Labour’s Opposition Day motions, in order to cling to a fiction that the government hasn’t lost because it didn’t vote.
But on Wednesday, the Tories suddenly announced that they were imposing a ‘three-line whip’ – the strictest parliamentary discipline – on MPs to defeat the Windrush transparency motion, in a clear demonstration of how desperate May was to keep information hidden.
Since then, people have rightly been asking how damning that information must be.
But it has now also emerged that the Tories broke an old parliamentary practice, such was their determination to avoid disclosure.
‘Pairing’ is an old convention designed to maintain the democratic balance of the House of Commons if an MP is unable to attend a vote – typically through illness or some unavoidable commitment.
If an MP is unable to attend, s/he can arrange a pair – and an opposition MP abstains to balance the absence.
On Wednesday, the Tories had agreed a large number of pairs, to free MPs to campaign in their home constituency for today’s local elections – but broke them all when the vote was taken. Labour MP Lucy Powell referred to the breach on Twitter:
Labour insiders have confirmed that this was indeed the case.
Pairing is not normally arranged on a three-line whipped vote – but the Tories broke another protocol to impose the whip on the day of the vote instead of well in advance. As far as the SKWAWKBOX has been able to ascertain, this is unprecedented.
A senior Labour inside told the SKWAWKBOX:
The Tories changed the whip at the last minute. People were paired so they could get out campaigning on the doorstep, so there were travel issues and a lot of people couldn’t get back in time.
The Tories have behaved absolutely disgracefully to make sure they won that vote.
Such an action carries significant cost for Tory ministers and MPs.
If the Tories cannot be trusted to honour pairing, every Tory MP is going to have to be present for every significant vote, no matter what – because Labour MPs will now know that the Tories cannot be trusted to respect even ancient protocols. It will be a huge inconvenience, especially for the government.
It would not be done lightly.
It’s not unprecedented for pairing to be suspended – swinging the Commons mace during an argument about such a suspension is what earned Tory MP Michael Heseltine the nickname ‘Tarzan’. But for agreed pairs to simply be ignored across a whole party at short notice appears to be a first.
The Tories were supported in their bid to defeat the transparency motion by the DUP, so would have won the vote regardless.
But Theresa May was prepared to break practices honoured for well over a century, to avoid even the tiniest chance that she might lose the vote and be forced to disclose records of Windrush/hostile environment correspondence and discussions means the question now looms as large as the Empire Windrush itself:
Just what the **** is in those records to make her that desperately reckless?
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