We need a proper recall system, not a Westminster stitch-up

September 13, 2012 9:40 AM

Imagine that tomorrow I was elected as MP for Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill. Now let’s imagine that, after being sworn in, I decide that this politician lark and the commute to and from the Home Counties each week isn’t really for me so I decide to jet off to Cuba to spend the next five years on the beach. What are my constituents going to do about it? Fire me? Stop me from claiming my generous salary and expenses? Have me booted out of the party?

The truth is they would be helpless to do anything. The residents of the leafy metropolis I was elected to serve are instead going to have to wait five years to get a new Member of Parliament while I enjoy the mojitos at their expense. There is no process to remove a sitting MP who is clearly failing their electorate unless either they go bankrupt, they are imprisoned for more than a year or they are sectioned for more than six months (and there are moves to axe this rule).

This may sound extreme but it highlights an important point: voters cannot do anything about their MP in-between General Elections, no matter how they behave. There have been some extreme examples of MPs deserting their posts. And what if I just stopped holding local surgeries, got some poor staffer to do all my work, was caught taking advantage of my expenses or even got into a brawl and got myself a police record?

None of these actions would allow the voters of Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill to kick me to the curb until the next General Election. While most MPs are hard-working souls looking out for the interests of their constituents, we need a mechanism to recall those who let them down. They shouldn’t have to wait without proper representation for years.

Before the last election all three major parties recognised that the public wanted recall and pledged to introduce it in their 2010 Manifestos. Yet now that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have taken over the reins of power they are back-tracking.

The Coalition has put forward recall proposals but they are a Westminster stitch-up that hands power to a parliamentary committee, not the electorate, meaning that the Government’s proposals are actually worse than no recall at all.

They would require 10 per cent of voters to sign a petition but only after the Standards and Privileges committee has found an MP guilty of serious wrongdoing. Not only would this undermine the democratic principle of recall by taking power away from voters, it would simply hand more power to the Government whips who would be able threaten rebellious MPs with a trip to the committee and the distinct possibility of an immediate by-election. Our political system is already far too heavily dominated by “loyalty to the party”.

Luckily there are some backbench MPs who are campaigning for proper recall and not this fudge.

Zac Goldsmith MP makes an impassioned and powerful case for a proper recall mechanism. He has tabled a bill that would make good on our leaders’ earlier rhetoric and deliver a proper recall referendum should 20 per cent of voters in a constituency sign a petition calling for one. The 20 per cent figure seems about right. It allows voters the chance to boot out an MP while providing a high enough threshold to prevent an easy vote motivated by simple party politics.

One often overlooked benefit of the recall system is that it would also mean an end to the notion of a safe seat for life. A successful recall ballot would allow residents to dump an MP without a change in the party political control of a seat. This, combined with open primaries, would make our representatives more responsive to public, even in constituencies where majorities are weighed, not counted. Primaries for sitting MPs would complete the job.

The cynics among you might think turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but, if politicians want to show they have moved on from the behaviour which led to scandals in the last Parliament, they must vote for a proper recall system and not the lousy stitch-up that the Government is proposing.Imagine that tomorrow I was elected as MP for Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill. Now let’s imagine that, after being sworn in, I decide that this politician lark and the commute to and from the Home Counties each week isn’t really for me so I decide to jet off to Cuba to spend the next five years on the beach. What are my constituents going to do about it? Fire me? Stop me from claiming my generous salary and expenses? Have me booted out of the party?

The truth is they would be helpless to do anything. The residents of the leafy metropolis I was elected to serve are instead going to have to wait five years to get a new Member of Parliament while I enjoy the mojitos at their expense. There is no process to remove a sitting MP who is clearly failing their electorate unless either they go bankrupt, they are imprisoned for more than a year or they are sectioned for more than six months (and there are moves to axe this rule).

This may sound extreme but it highlights an important point: voters cannot do anything about their MP in-between General Elections, no matter how they behave. There have been some extreme examples of MPs deserting their posts. And what if I just stopped holding local surgeries, got some poor staffer to do all my work, was caught taking advantage of my expenses or even got into a brawl and got myself a police record?

None of these actions would allow the voters of Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill to kick me to the curb until the next General Election. While most MPs are hard-working souls looking out for the interests of their constituents, we need a mechanism to recall those who let them down. They shouldn’t have to wait without proper representation for years.

Before the last election all three major parties recognised that the public wanted recall and pledged to introduce it in their 2010 Manifestos. Yet now that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have taken over the reins of power they are back-tracking.

The Coalition has put forward recall proposals but they are a Westminster stitch-up that hands power to a parliamentary committee, not the electorate, meaning that the Government’s proposals are actually worse than no recall at all.

They would require 10 per cent of voters to sign a petition but only after the Standards and Privileges committee has found an MP guilty of serious wrongdoing. Not only would this undermine the democratic principle of recall by taking power away from voters, it would simply hand more power to the Government whips who would be able threaten rebellious MPs with a trip to the committee and the distinct possibility of an immediate by-election. Our political system is already far too heavily dominated by “loyalty to the party”.

Luckily there are some backbench MPs who are campaigning for proper recall and not this fudge.

Zac Goldsmith MP makes an impassioned and powerful case for a proper recall mechanism. He has tabled a bill that would make good on our leaders’ earlier rhetoric and deliver a proper recall referendum should 20 per cent of voters in a constituency sign a petition calling for one. The 20 per cent figure seems about right. It allows voters the chance to boot out an MP while providing a high enough threshold to prevent an easy vote motivated by simple party politics.

One often overlooked benefit of the recall system is that it would also mean an end to the notion of a safe seat for life. A successful recall ballot would allow residents to dump an MP without a change in the party political control of a seat. This, combined with open primaries, would make our representatives more responsive to public, even in constituencies where majorities are weighed, not counted. Primaries for sitting MPs would complete the job.

The cynics among you might think turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but, if politicians want to show they have moved on from the behaviour which led to scandals in the last Parliament, they must vote for a proper recall system and not the lousy stitch-up that the Government is proposing.

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