Why should MPs be allowed to abstain? I ask because this is being touted as an acceptable option for the Liberal Democrats in the vote this Thursday on increased tuition fees.
We live in a representative democracy which means we elect people to represent us. Sometimes we will agree with what they do and sometimes we won't but the least we can expect from them is that they take an attitude on issues, particularly one as crucial as the future of higher education.
Of course the LibDems collectively and individually do have a view, though they don't all agree with each other. They ought to express that view and then put their vote where their opinion is.
Abstention should not be an option. Only Yea or Nay will do. What is the point of having Members of Parliament if they can cop out when the going gets tough and simply sit on their hands or absent themselves in the tea room while the rest are casting their votes?
To make it even more galling, if there is a whipped vote MPs can only not take part if they "pair" with a member from another party who would have voted the other way, thus cancelling out each other's non-vote.
The Speaker should decree that no MP can abstain from an important vote. Any who do will be punished in some way, such as being excluded from the chamber for a week, with consequent docking of salary.
There is no such thing as a principled abstention. Abstention is always unprincipled. If they don't like something, they should vote against.