"We're not being whipped" Cabot's LibDem councillor Alex Woodman told the council debate on abandoning the sell-off of the city's green spaces.
Technically, he was probably right, because a Labour amendment had just been introduced, and any formal whipping on it was impracticable. But only the previous day the LibDems had announced that "Bristol City Council’s ruling Lib Dem group (38 members out of 70) will amend the Tories’ motion on the Green Spaces Strategy (PGSS) at tomorrow’s full council meeting (Nov 16th).". It's hard to know how Alex could have any choice but to do what his party had agreed.
You'd think that the selective sale of green space wouldn't really be a big 'party' issue, except maybe for the Greens - but right through this debate, every vote was conducted entirely on party lines. LibDems in wards threatened by proposed sales still voted for it; Tories and Labour in wards that could only gain voted against. The usual disciplined tribal voting patterns, in fact.
Why this 'default' of routine voting as a block? Don't parties trust their own councillors to make their own judgements?
I put in a Public Forum statement to the same full council meeting to suggest that where a whip is in force, speakers should say so, and say why. I explained that "If an election or manifesto promise is involved, or some intrinsic party values, then a whip is understandable; but for the majority of council decisions (for instance the motion to be heard later about the funding for the Area Green Space Plans) it is very hard to find any rational difference between the parties."
The statement's been referred to the respective party whips. So far, only Labour has responded; I'll come back to this when I hear more.
As a footnote, it's worth noting that Alex Woodman and his fellow Cabot councillor Mark Wright (defender of Green Belt except when it involves a stadium) have put out a 'Cabot E-News', acknowledging that "that there is opposition to the sale of some of the sites (around 15 of the 60 proposed)". It turns out that the 15 are not actually sites, they're protest groups, while the 60 are proposed sale sites - so it's grossly misleading. It's still not been corrected though.
Meanwhile my own Freedom of Information request for the officers' assessments of the various suggested disposal sites remains unacknowledged, a couple of weeks after the statutory date for a full answer. With decisions imminent, you have to wonder why such a delay.