Crossing the floor

In politics, crossing the floor has two meanings referring to a change of allegiance in a Westminster system parliament.

The term originates from the British House of Commons, which is configured with the Government and Opposition facing each other on rows of benches. Votes, or divisions, are taken by entering lobbies to the left and right of the chamber to have one's vote tallied; the "Aye Lobby" is on the Government side and the "No Lobby" on the Opposition side. If one wishes to vote against one's party, one must quite literally cross the floor to get to the other lobby. An MP who switched parties would also need to cross the floor.

Winston Churchill crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals, before later crossing back.


Voting against party lines

The term has passed into general use in other Westminster parliamentary democracies (such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) even if many of these countries have semicircular or horseshoe-shaped debating chambers and mechanisms for voting without Members of Parliament leaving their seats. It is most often used to describe members of the government party or parties who defect and vote with the opposition against some piece of government-sponsored legislation.

In Australia, one of the major parties (the Australian Labor Party) forbids its members from crossing the floor,[1] while amongst other parties it is rare. Senator Barnaby Joyce of the National Party of Australia however, crossed the floor 19 times under the Howard coalition government[2]. However, the record for crossing the floor in the Australian Parliament goes to Tasmanian Senator Sir Reg Wright, who voted against his own party (the Liberal Party of Australia) on 150 occasions.

Changing parties

In the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries, the term is also used to describe leaving one's party entirely and joining another party, such as leaving an opposition party to support the government (or vice versa), or even leaving one opposition party to join another. In both Canada and the United Kingdom, the term carries only this meaning, and is not used for a simple vote against the party line on a bill.

In April 2006, the premier of Manitoba, Canada, Gary Doer (NDP), proposed a ban on crossing the floor of the Manitoba legislature. According to Mr Doer, this move came in response to "the concern some voters have expressed over the high-profile defections of three federal MPs from their parties in just over two years." [3] The resulting legislation, which amended the provincial Legislative Assembly Act, mandated that Members of the Legislature who quit their political party to serve out the remainder of their term as independents.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Crossing the floor in the Federal Parliament 1950 – August 2004, Research Note no. 11 2005–06, Australian Parliament
  2. ^ Independently inclined: The Age 31/5/2008
  3. ^ [1] Michelle Macafee, Proposed reforms would ban floor-crossing in Man., Canadian Press, April 11, 2006
  4. ^ [2] Manitoba Elections Reform Act S.M. 2006 c. 15 sched. E

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