Peter Cuthbertson writes:
After finding no information on the GLA web site, we called them up directly, and were put through to their Public Liaison Unit. The person on the other end answering our request was extremely helpful – but the information was simply not available.
Votes in the London Assembly are taken by a simple show of hands, she explained. Minutes of meetings are kept, but the way in which Members vote is not recorded except in cases where they specifically ask that this occur. These are not secret votes – anyone so inclined can turn up in the gallery and record what they see if they are quick enough – but this is entirely up to them.
A webcast is also available of each meeting for six months, we were told. The webcasts themselves, however, show only exceptionally grainy hours-long meetings, with no indication of when or whether any votes were taken. The video quality is so poor that the name plates of the members cannot be read. Alternatively, one can contact either Ed or Rebecca – two GLA staffers – to ask if they were in the meeting and if they recall who voted which way!
In summary, there is no realistic way anyone could access reliable data on how their Member of the London Assembly voted. Some of the consequences of this seem obvious, but they are worth spelling out:
- It damages the notion of accountability between voters and their individual representatives. How are voters to assess whether candidates have kept their promises, and how can they trust candidates to keep them, if they are not even able to rely on accessing a voting record – or on journalists doing the same? What is to stop people claiming credit in their electoral literature for voting in the opposite way than they actually did, or to have abstained when actually they voted?
This applies also to members of a political party who select their candidates for the Assembly.
- It damages too the link between voting for a party and seeing the consequences. If all a voter is able to know is that "the assembly" voted a certain way, but no way of knowing for sure if the party they favoured did so or not, the same problems as above can arise.
- A secret ballot at least applies universally, whatever its other failings. But the current system – publicly available but only to those who bother to show up – allows a selective and asymmettrical use of voting records. In last week’s Guardian article, it is obvious that the author seeks to embarrass the four Conservative AMs who voted against amnesty for voting the same way as the BNP’s Member. This would be fine, if a low blow, if those who voted in favour could also be held to account. But the author only seemed interested in targetting those who voted against. Such a system seems guaranteed to prioritise the interests of vocal and active minorities – those with the time and inclination to send people to compile enemies’ lists of politicians who voted against their interests – over everyone else.