Shailesh Vara on secret voting and the bid to oust Bercow

john_bercow17:21 Thursday 26th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The last day of Parliament before the General Election has ended in tears, literally. The Government has botched an attempt to undermine John Bercow as the Commons Speaker, leaving him looking on the verge of crying, and dozens of MPs giving him a standing ovation. One of those who voted with the Government was North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara, who spoke with me afterwards.
SHAILESH VARA: I voted in favour of having a secret vote, and I take the view that the vote is sacrosanct. And also, on important decisions, people should be able to have the secret ballot. It’s what we do normally when we have vote systems¬†and I’m sorry that we had all the fuss that we’ve had today. But a decision has been taken and there it is. But ..
CHRIS MANN: It was all just a mechanic to try and get rid of John Bercow wasn’t it?
SHAILESH VARA: No. I think there’s a general principal here, the principle that if you are voting for somebody in such an important position, then people should be free to vote the way they want to vote rather than thinking of consequences afterwards which may arise because people know how they voted. And I think that we shouldn’t have a situation where people feel that they have to vote a certain way because a certain community or certain individuals would be able to see how they vote.
CHRIS MANN: But a bit embarrassing, the last act of this Parliament is for the Government to be defeated in a vote they clearly put a lot of effort into.
SHAILESH VARA: You know Chris, you say this is embarrassing, but I wonder to what extent the general public are going to be really interested in that. I think the public are going to be perhaps more interested in the way ahead, the General Election that we’re all going to be campaigning on very hard. And I think more people are going to be concentrating on what each of the parties has to offer for their own benefits and for their own prosperity in the years ahead.
CHRIS MANN: Sure, but as the symbolic last act of this Parliament, the Government tried to fix something and failed.
SHAILESH VARA: I’m not sure I agree with your use of the word ‘fix’. I would say that the Government tried ..
CHRIS MANN: I think they tried to pack the Commons so they won the vote. But in fact at the end of the day they lost it.
SHAILESH VARA: Well we can hardly have packed it if we lost.
CHRIS MANN: You didn’t do it very well then. (THEY LAUGH)
SHAILESH VARA: This was a procedural matter. It was a free vote. People voted and at the end of the day …
CHRIS MANN: I can hear the smile on your face Shailesh. You know fine well that you tried to do something here and it’s not come off.
SHAILESH VARA: Chris, this is democracy, and it was a free vote. We all voted. Some on my own side voted to keep the existing system of people being able to see how you voted, and others took the view that when it comes to such a critical and important decision as voting for the Speaker, it should be done in confidence, rather than people saying well, if I vote that way, then so and so won’t be happy, or if I don’t vote that way, so and so won’t be happy or this community or whatever.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Well you’re all now going back to your constituencies, as someone once said, to prepare for government, or not. Now, are you going to win this election?
SHAILESH VARA: I very much hope so Chris. It is I think the most important election for a generation. When we came to power five years ago the country literally was on the brink. And if it weren’t for the tough decisions we’ve taken, people would be talking about Britain the way people talk about Greece now. And we’ve had to take some tough decisions. I know a lot of the public, many of the people out there have to put up with circumstances ¬†that they would rather not have.
CHRIS MANN: But as you know, sometimes there are governments for hard times, look at Winston Churchill leading during the war. And then straight afterwards he country dumped him because they needed a peacetime leader. Perhaps it’s time to have a different party in power for these more expansive times.
SHAILESH VARA: Well I think the public should be in no doubt that at the General Election there are only two possible candidates for Prime Minister. There is David Cameron who has a track record of the past five years. And I think he’s achieved a lot from a Conservative agenda, notwithstanding that we’re in coalition. And he’s done a lot to bring Britain forward and on the road to recovery. Or the alternative is Ed Miliband, who was part of the team who crashed the car in the first place. And the public have a very simple choice. Do they vest their confidence in David Cameron and judge him on his part five years, or do they give the kesy back to the people who crashed the car in the first place?
CHRIS MANN: But they may also hand the key decision over who’s going to be Prime Minister to somebody else like UKIP of course. And that’s a challenge you’re facing in your own constituency.
SHAILESH VARA: Well that’s all the more reason why people should vote Conservative, because we are the only party that will deliver, that will continue on the path of recovery. If they vote for a minority party, what they will do is that they will strengthen the hand of Labour and let Labour in by default.
CHRIS MANN: Do you fear UKIP in your constituency Shailesh?
SHAILESH VARA: UKIP are free to stand. But what I would say is that they speak up on important issues, immigration and Europe. Certainly these are important issues, and issues on which I am speaking up as well, as well as my party. But I hope that people will take the view that there are a lot of other policies that they need to be aware of. What are UKIP’s policies on the economy? What are UKIP’s policies on better education, on better health, on transport? These are all important issues.
SHAILESH VARA: And they can’t simply say it will all be sorted if we come out of Europe, because we’ll save the money and that will take care of everything. Life isn’t that simple.
SHAILESH VARA: You can’t blame everything on immigrants and on saving money by not being in Europe.
CHRIS MANN: What do you think will be the biggest issue that decides this General Election?
SHAILESH VARA: I think people will say that they have to .. I think people will say that they want the economy to be strong and better. Because if that is so Chris, then from that will spread prosperity. Prosperity will mean more money for people, if they’ve got a job, that they will continue in their jobs. They’ll be able to spend money. They will have .. there will be more money for education, more money for roads. There will be more money for hospitals and a whole host of other things.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Shailesh Vara the North West Cambridgeshire MP, talking to me today after that vote in the Commons.