Leadsom, Lewis and Smith in trouble over Jo Swinson pairing scandal

Remember when the Tories cheated in order to win the tight vote in Parliament, just like Vote Leave cheated to win the EU Referendum?

Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis, paired with Jo Swinson who was at home with her two week old baby, should not have voted on Tuesday night. He honoured that in the first few, but in the really crucial ones, on the European Medicines Agency (which the Government lost) and the customs union, (which the Government narrowly won), he cast his vote. Now, had he voted in the earlier divisions, Alistair Carmichael, our Chief Whip, might have noticed and created merry hell about it.

On Tuesday night, Lewis made out on Twitter that it was all an unfortunate accident, but didn’t elaborate on how it happened when pressed by Jo.

The “honest mistake” line was blown out of the water by Sam Coates in today’s Times (£)

Mr Smith summoned Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman, from a meeting to parliament as a crunch vote on customs approached, witnesses claim.

The chief whip is understood to have told Mr Lewis that the later votes were going to be close and he needed him to vote. This breached the pairing deal with Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP who is on maternity leave.

The Times has been told of two other Tory MPs told by Mr Smith that they should vote on Tuesday despite being paired. Both sought further advice and ignored the instruction. The Tory whips’ office did not comment.

Jo said on Twitter today that this did not reflect well on those involved:

A party spokesperson called for the Tory Chief Whip, Julian Smith, to make a statement to Parliament to explain how this happened:

The Conservative Government’s account of Tuesday’s pairing collapse is at complete odds with The Times story today.

The Conservatives have clearly broken the pairing convention and possibly misled Parliament in calling the vote ‘a mistake’.

The breaking of that convention means we must break another. The Tory Chief Whip must make a statement to the House and be accountable for this mess.

I think that the party is possibly being too kind. Brandon Lewis has a privileged position as Conservative Party Chairman, with access to the Cabinet although he is not paid as a Minister. He made an agreement not to vote on Tuesday. When his Chief Whip asked him to abandon that agreement, even if it was an accident, he had the choice to tell him to get lost. He should have done that. He has no excuses and I think he should resign.

Julian Smith certainly needs to explain himself – and in the Chamber of the House of Commons. He needs to explain in the minutest of details how this happened.

Andrea Leadsom said something interesting yesterday during Alistair Carmichael’s urgent question:

It is absolutely clear that he was unaware that he was breaking a pair. It was an administrative error.

That makes no sense at all. The Tories were whipped up to their eyeballs on Tuesday. Everybody was. These votes were important. So how come Brandon Lewis didn’t vote in the earlier divisions but came in for the crunch ones?

Jo certainly knew he was her pair. She tweeted so in advance of the votes:

When she originally expressed her annoyance that Lewis had voted, she shared an image of a text message saying that her pair was Lewis which she had received at 15:24.

There is a massive whiff of large rodents with tails here.

By repeating a line that was so obviously not credible, Andrea Leadsom appears to have misled Parliament. The very least that should happen is that she should apologise in Parliament. She may not have worked out that what she was saying was unlikely, but it certainly doesn’t now look to have been correct.

The most important thing that needs to happen, though, is that Leadsom has got to stop making excuses and get a proxy voting scheme in place before there are any more knife edge votes. The Tories have shown themselves to be entirely untrustworthy so MPs can’t have confidence that whips will honour any commitment that they make.

Perhaps, to restore confidence in the system, pairing arrangements should be published in future so that people know what the score is.

The most worrying thing I have seen is women saying on Twitter that this sort of thing makes them worry about standing for Parliament if they are not going to be able to take maternity leave. I’d say not to worry because this will get sorted. We cannot go back to the days where the place was all shooting gallery and no creche. The voices of mothers with young children must be heard in Parliament.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Yeovil Yokel 19th Jul '18 - 4:32pm

    Throw the book at them AND run the customs union vote again, that’ll learn ’em.

  • Alistair Samuelson 19th Jul '18 - 4:41pm

    You can’t trust a Tory. And what value does a statement from Leadsom carry? Isn’t she scheduled to resign in the next week or so?

  • As this whole mess is unfolding Anna Soubry has backtracked from her earlier ‘mistake in good faith’ position…It now reads…
    If true this is appalling and those responsible must resign. If we cannot behave with honour we are nothing….

    I look forward to seeing the Tory chief whip answering direct questions in parliament; IF he comes, that is

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '18 - 5:22pm

    Speaking from almost 30 years working in the Dutch parliament I can tell you that this sort of r*tting on a pairing agreement never ever happened here. But I immediately concede that our arrangements (MP’s vote at a pre-arranged time, being convocated by a bell that rings for a solid minute all over our parliament building, giving MP’s 5 minutes to reach their personalised seat, sitting down in the plenary chamber, raising their hand/arm when called to vote for or against) is much more clear and obvious than shuffling in and out of rooms.
    With us, breaking a pair would immediately lead to furious interventions by MP’s and parliamentary leaders; and would embarass the infringing party until kingdom come.

    With parental leave (and bonding time) for working moms and dads a live issue in present-day Dutch politics, that also would contribute to the fury about breaking a pairing agreement.

    I find it all gob-smacking presumptious, insensitive, dirty, “not cricket at all”, and it further undermines the prestige not only of the Tory government and its Brexit team, but of May and Leadsome personally.

    Bernard Aris, D66 parliamentary researcher (and party historian) since 1989

  • Bring in electronic voting

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '18 - 6:56pm

    @Jennie “Bring in electronic voting”
    One reservation I would have about that is that it could be too easy for an MP to vote without taking part or even listening to the debate, possibly strengthening the whipping system and weakening MP independence. We could save time and money by simply getting the whips to add up a block vote for absent MPs (including those who would otherwise be loitering elsewhere anyway, waiting for the division bell).

    I feel that any system that facilitates remote voting should also encourage remote participation. Now I come to think of it, I quite like the idea of virtual reality “Pokemon Go” style characters sitting on the parliamentary benches, especially if MPs – or better still, their constituents – have free reign to design their avatars! 🙂

  • @Jennie – “Bring in electronic voting”

    Only when you can completely, totally, 100% guarantee it can’t be hacked.

    As in never…….

  • John Marriott 19th Jul '18 - 7:10pm

    The ‘pairing scabdal’ Is typical of Tory ruthlessness. I had 30 years of dealing with Tories in local government. It used to amuse me how some would have a right go at some of their party colleagues in private; but, you try to criticise them in public and just see how they closed ranks. To be honest, Labour weren’t much better. Oh, what it to be always right!

  • Ruth Bright 19th Jul '18 - 7:13pm

    This is difficult for female MPs because it potentially spoils what little maternity leave they take because they are in constant fear of what is happening back in the Commons.

    Fawcett are currently looking at barriers to parliamentary candidacy and maternity leave is clearly one such barrier. The Lib Dems still have no protection for pregnant candidates and though it is up for discussion again action is once more being delayed by “whataboutery” about other reasons why a candidate might need to take leave.

  • This whole debacle shows how useless the current system is, and will hopefully force the government into proper voting reform, at least for pregnant women and new parents.

    What has particularly depressed me is the number of people who have brazenly misogynistic attitudes towards maternity leave and what an MP should and shouldn’t do in the immediate aftermath of having a baby. It’s hard to tell how many of those who think new mums should resign from Parliament genuinely believe what they say, and how many are just making political hay whilst appealing to the casual misogynists out there. Kate Hoey is just one of many Brexiteers who seem to think that women on maternity leave shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.

    It goes without saying that I’m thoroughly depressed with how certain people thought cheating was a good idea, then lied and lied again when people began to notice. The silver lining is that quite a few Tory MPs are equally disgusted and have been prepared to say so publicly. Perhaps this is their revenge for the heavy handed tactics the whips have been enacting lately?

  • Bring in electronic voting
    Notice to all MP’s, if you are going to be absent from the Chamber, please ensure you leave your mobile phone with the voting app on, at the whips office…

  • What is disgraceful is that, on their ‘flagship’ 6pm news, the BBC made no mention of this appalling incident.
    Now it seems the Conservative party have admitted that Julian Smith instructed MPs to break their pairing agreements…I wait to see what action will follow

  • “Only when you can completely, totally, 100% guarantee it can’t be hacked.”

    What does that even mean? Every MP would be able to verify if his or her vote had been accurately recorded or not. “Hacking” an electronic vote-recording system would be pointless, as it would be immediately detected.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Jul '18 - 12:01pm

    Peter Watson 19th Jul ’18 – 6:56pm
    @Jennie “Bring in electronic voting”
    One reservation I would have about that is that it could be too easy for an MP to vote without taking part or even listening to the debate

    …which is exactly what happens now, of course. MPs are summoned from all over the place to come and vote – often interrupting important meetings for half an hour to engage in the bizarrely old-fashioned practice of voting with their feet. There’s no requirement that they attend any part of the debate (not that all votes are on matters that have been debated anyway).

    I don’t really know why people make such a fuss about MPs “listening to the debate” before voting. Do you seriously expect them to turn up without having already thought about their position, or so undecided on any matter of importance that they could be swayed by one good speech from the opposing benches? What if they heard another good speech half an hour later and changed their minds again? Too late!

    Parliamentary speeches and debates are showpieces. They have many functions, some more admirable than others; but they are hardly ever anything to do with persuading members of the House how to vote, and nothing can realistically be expected to change that (nor should it).

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '18 - 6:42pm

    MPs or equivalents from several countries, India, USA, etc like to lobby Ministers.
    Andrea Leadsom MP has just pointed out that her SNP opponent could “join me in the lobby” and presumably vote for the government.
    The SNP were accused of getting revenge by causing votes during an England world cup game.
    If parliamentary time is to be saved by using speedier procedures access to Ministers for MPs should be improved, impartially.

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