Indicative votes – where do they leave us?

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The Guardian has a breakdown of the indicative votes last night, and a tool so that you can find out how your MP voted.

First of all, the indicative vote process is very much to be welcomed. It should have happened a lot earlier and been repeated at regular intervals IMHO.

We are seeing a preferential voting system of sorts here – there will hopefully be a further “second round” process next Monday.

Last night’s vote showed the Customs Union and the People’s Vote option emerging as front-runners. I think we can be optimistic that this is the beginning of a positive process.

Yesterday we had Steve Baker, from the Conservative European Reform Group, saying:

I could tear this place down and bulldoze it into the river. These fools and knaves and cowards are voting on things they don’t even understand.

The problem is that he can’t have it both ways. People who want to “take back control” from the EU, need to decide what they want. They either want a Parliamentary Representative Democracy where the people elect representatives who then study the issues and decide upon them. Or they want a Swiss system of frequent, often repetitive plebescites. If Steve Baker wants to bulldoze parliament, what does he want in its place?

Vince Cable has provided a succinct summary of the situation now, describing last night as “A big win”:

Last night, the House of Commons predictably failed to alight on a single way forward on Brexit – but the centre of gravity is a lot clearer than it was.

A record 268 MPs voted with the Liberal Democrats for a people’s vote. This was the most popular vote of the night and got more votes than the Prime Minister’s deal has ever got.

While no proposal commanded a majority, the largest support is for a People’s Vote.

And we discovered yesterday that Theresa May is, at last, accepting the inevitable by preparing to leave office. Her dogged attempts to “deliver Brexit” – with Jeremy Corbyn’s help – have cost her her job.

Yet the Prime Minister nonetheless appears to be planning to make one final attempt at securing her deal tomorrow.

The fact she thinks she could have a chance of winning demonstrates the cynicism of her opponents in the Tory Party. Until very recently they were telling us – as an absolute principle – that they could not support her deal under any circumstances.

They now fear Brexit is at risk.

And they are right.

After three years of campaigning, public opinion has decisively moved in favour of remaining in the EU, with 60% indicating they would support staying in the EU in a new referendum, nearly 6 million demanding revocation of Article 50, and more than a million marching with us last weekend.

It is absolutely crucial that we keep campaigning and keep the pressure up on MPs in other parties to support us.

It is clearer than ever is that however, the Government proceeds the public must have the final say.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I see that Norman Lamb abstained on party policy proposed at conference by Tom Brake: that we will revoke article 50 when push comes to shove.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Mar '19 - 11:09am

    Bill Cash (Tory, Stone) said on tv on 27/3/2019 that there was a precedent, misquoting Oliver Cromwell
    “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
    More recently a Tory MP used the same quotation about a Conservative Prime Minister, who had a parliamentary majority, despite the crisis. He resigned. An “abler man” was appointed to replace him, Winston S. Churchill. WSC had the support of patriotic Labour MPs and of former PM David Lloyd George.
    Bill Cash should look in the mirror. He has been “boring for England” for far too long.

  • Whether or not Mays deal is passed tomorrow, The Commons can still discuss a Peoples Vote on Monday, we keep campaigning.
    It looks like the idea of Revoking Article 50 is now off the table but a Peoples Vote now seems more possible than ever before.
    If, as seems most likely, Mays deal fails again tomorrow then The PM has to go back to Brussels for yet more talks. Parliament has the opportunity to really take back control & do something with it.

  • Whilst “a Peoples Vote” sounds a nice idea, it is a process of selecting a solution, not a solution.

    Additionally, given there has been no changes in campaigning law since the referendum and there is still a queue of people/campaigns being investigated, I question the degree to which “a Peoples Vote” will be honest. I suspect given those behind the Brexit campaigns, they will take the chance of swinging the result, because if they get result they want, who cares if 3 years down the road it is deemed invalid?

    To my mind the only pragmatic solution is to revoke article 50 and investigate the the Bad Boys of Brexit.

  • John Chandler 28th Mar '19 - 12:11pm


    My preference has shifted to revoking Article 50 as well. We need breathing space without time pressures to find a solution that a supermajority in the country can come to an agreement over. Revoking Article 50 is legal, has no penalty, and cannot be vetoed by a third-party.

    I realise there are some Brexiters who will cry and moan, but there are some who accept that no solution currently has a commanding mandate from either Parliament or the country, and we’re running out of time. Better to halt everything and come up with a solution that works to achieve what they want (with public support), than be forced into the automatic No Deal situation that only a few hardcore Brexiters are eager for (for reasons best known to them and their hedge funds).

    For the stats/graph nerds, some interesting representations of how the indicative voting went yesterday:

    And an alternative layout/colouring scheme:

  • But was outvoted more heavily than the ‘customs union’ and the ‘Labour plan’ were?

  • Monday will rpobably clear a lot of matters up anbd give an alternative way forward. However essential for that to happen that Mrs May does not get her deal through on Friday. Speaker, over to you.

  • Paul Barker 28th Mar ’19 – 11:10am…………Whether or not Mays deal is passed tomorrow, The Commons can still discuss a Peoples Vote on Monday, we keep campaigning….

    Discuss????? If May’s deal wins it is the ‘will of parliament’ and that is what you’ll get.

    The only hope, which LibDems have ‘blown’, was to give something (a custom union) that would have made May’s deal irrelevant.

    The criticism of this party is that it will keep on voting until it gets what it wants; yesterday proved the critics right.

  • Peter Watson 28th Mar '19 - 12:35pm

    “more than a million marching with us last weekend”
    An awful lot of people marched and it is right to celebrate that, but copying Donald Trump’s approach to numbers does nobody any favours!

  • John Marriott 28th Mar '19 - 1:09pm

    Steve Baker is starting to sound more like TOM Baker in his ‘Little Britain’ nuttiness. Concerning the so called indicative votes, as I said in another thread, it’s a pity that MPs weren’t allowed to list the options in order of preference and then to use an STV type system to end up with the #1 option.

    I can’t see revocation gaining much support in Parliament unless we are faced with No Deal, which itself was the least ‘popular’ option. What seems to be emerging, always assuming May doesn’t bring back a version of her Deal, which is acceptable to the Speaker before possibly an options ‘run off’, is a Customs Union and some form of confirmatory referendum.

    Assuming that a new Deal motion fails, it’s then vital to get some kind of withdrawal agreement through Parliament so we can then concentrate on negotiating our future relationship with the EU. If such a motion succeeds I guess that’s it for Round One. I assume it will then be up to the government to negotiate a trade deal with the EU. Who would then lead that government is anybody’s guess.

  • William Fowler 28th Mar '19 - 2:12pm

    Be interesting to see, on Monday, if there is the option of May’s deal plus confirmatory referendum (v, remain, of course). Weird vote tomorrow on just the WA, which seems a bit pointless as no reason for it to gain any extra votes but maybe just to get around the Speaker. Be amusing if that was amended with that confirmatory referendum and, having run out of time, the govn gave in…

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '19 - 3:15pm

    There is a lot of comment along the lines that our Parliament must be useless because they can’t agree on anything. However, yesterday’s result is not at all surprising to anyone who is even slightly familiar with game theory.

    An ultra simple example would be a family of three who had to decide which TV program to watch. Each member had a preference for a different channel.
    So they’d end up in a bind. There would be no majority for any single choice. There probably would also be unanimous agreement that the TV shouldn’t be switched off!

    Democratic votes can’t solve every problem!

  • Richard Underhill 28th Mar '19 - 4:07pm

    GoD has spoken on the World at One.
    He was replaced by three people. He is now a peer.
    An important task for the head of the civil service is to maintain its integrity, which can be under pressure from governments of the day, since Gladstone’s reforms.–Trevelyan_Report

  • There is a lot of comment along the lines that our Parliament must be useless because they can’t agree on anything.
    Agree, the slightly surprising part is that it is some MP’s who are saying this, as if they are somehow not Commons members…

    To me it is to be expected, yes game theory has a role to play, but too a larger extent Parliament taking control is something our MP’s have little experience in, so we can’t expect them to be proficient immediately, however, with the pressures on them I do expect them to rapidly learn and become more proficient – who knows they might like the taste and start to overrule the Executive more often …

  • Steve Comer 28th Mar '19 - 4:45pm

    I’m not interesting in “game theory” this is not a bloody game its a disaster!
    To quote Neil Kinnock – Westminster is playing politics with people’s lives and people’s jobs
    I thought indicative votes might produce something, and I was really depressed when Ken Clarke’s Customs Union proposal lost as did Margret Beckett’s People’s Vote motion.
    Yet again Parliament is adept at saying what it doesn’t want, yet cannot seem to get its collective act together to compromise on something that might win a majority. I thought this was an opportunity, but it looks like MPs have blown it.

    Peoples Vote is not a policy, its a combination of tactic and gamble!
    I’m really worried we’ll end up with a No Deal Tory Brexit by default while MPs fight a proxy war on the next General Election.

  • MP’s are reluctant to take responsibility, they fear their electorate, they fear even more their local membership. Truely this country is beings led by donkeys, with an apology to any donkeys viewing this site, tis a metaphor not a judgement on donkeys.

  • bob sayer5 28th Mar ’19 – 8:36pm………….With Barry Gardiner stating that Labour is not a remain party, he underlines why Labour are going to be less than a supporter in this project…………….

    Labour MPs were whipped to support the motions on a customs union, Common Market 2.0 and a confirmatory public ballot. Had LibDem MPs voted for the customs union Theresa May’s deal would’ve been ‘dead’ and with a strong possibility of a public ballot.

    Still, why bother with any facts that contradict prejudice.

  • My guess is Labour MP’s will get the Government over the line today, plus our Eastbourne man of course. If it happens could be a game changer in the minds of people, both in respect of the PM and politics generally.

  • Assuming TM’s deal is rejected again, the indicative votes indicate that we need at least a year to come to some sort of agreement. This could be via a General Election or a confirmatory referendum. As time passes, the validity of the referendum result decreases and the need for another increases.

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