Buying votes in Parliament






Now the precedent has been set, how much more will it cost taxpayers to maintain the Government's majority? There are a lot of votes coming up and a lot of unpopular and controversial measures to be discussed. If there are rebels too principled to be bought, as there clearly were in the Labour party last night, then MPs who would otherwise be automatically loyal will undoubtedly realise their support is now worth withholding until they get a good offer. Imagine if John Major's Government, bedevilled by rebellions and a wobbly majority, had taken this route, simply buying itself the legislation it wanted. The Government might have got through more of its desired legislation, but taxpayers would have been bankrupted within a year or two. At this rate, we still might.


The application of pressure and the negotiation of concessions is a valuable and indeed crucial part of the Parliamentary process, but those concessions won in return for votes are meant to be improvements in the Bill being debated. By all means discuss more safeguards, re-wording or sunset clauses, but simply selling or buying votes in return for taxpayers' money being poured into one constituency or another demeans the process and does nothing to improve the legislation.


This seems to have been pork barrel politics of the worst kind - a Prime Minister buying the survival of his Government by splashing cash on particular parts of the country in return for the local MP's support. The sum suggested by the Conservatives is anywhere up to £1.2 billion, which equals almost £50 for every household in the land. I don't suppose the price matters so much if you can force taxpayers to foot the bill for you.


If the allegations are true that Gordon Brown effectively used to taxpayers' money to buy the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on 42 days internment without charge yesterday, it is a national disgrace that bodes extremely ill for taxpayers.

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