Monday, December 10, 2012

Politics when parliamentary democracy functions

Two weeks ago, when the UN vote on seating the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations was looming, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard intended that Australia would vote no, along with Canada, the US and a few other countries. Then parliamentary democracy took hold.  


Sydney Morning Herald provides the details:
Ms Gillard was told the cabinet would support whatever final decision she took because it was bound to support the leader but the same could not be said of the caucus.
''If you want to do it, the cabinet will back you but the caucus won't,'' a source quoted one minister as telling the Prime Minister.
Gillard's Labor party caucus prepared to take a formal vote to determine caucus policy on the issue. It became clear that Gillard's policy would lose: the caucus would not support a vote in favour of against [sorry!] seating the Palestinian delegation. Gillard agreed to change her position. After some negotiations between PM, cabinet, and caucus, a compromise was reached. The Australian delegation at the UN was instructed to abstain, and it did. [This paragraph has been revised - it originally reported an Australian "yes" vote was the result.]

This is how parliamentary democracy works. The cabinet is bound by cabinet solidarity -- and the Gillard cabinet followed that rule to the limit, since most cabinet ministers evidently disagreed with Gillard and preferred seating the Palestinians.  But the government is always accountable to the House majority, which in this case is the Labour Party parliamentary caucus.  And in real parliamentary democracies, this accountability is taken seriously.  

In Canada.... well, the most we ever get is some blinkered political columnist or leadership candidate going so far as to recommend that perhaps leaders could indulge their serfs backbenchers by allowing some "free" votes on unimportant matters some time in the future.

In a parliamentary democracy, the House majority rules.  If that doesn't apply, it must be something other than parliamentary democracy that is in operation.  Welcome to Canada.

Has anyone seen any coverage of this Australian story in Canadian political news? I may have missed it.  Canada's No vote at the UN was certainly widely covered and commented on.

(Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)