Another day, another compromise on recall

“A grubby little compromise” is what Andy Silvester, our Campaign Director, branded the recall Bill that is currently passing through the House of Lords. 

Under the current wording of the Bill, MPs’ constituents would only be able to recall them if they had been judged to meet a set of rigid and rare conditions by – you guessed it – their fellow MPs. The Bill ensures that MPs continue to decide the future of misbehaving MPs, the very arrangement that has so dragged politicians through the mud. The Bill was almost unanimously derided by the Lords; Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab) stuck the knife in, describing the Bill as “daft, stupid, unworkable, unreconstructed and difficult-to-operate.”

The Bill’s headline proposals are:

  • MP can be exposed to a recall petition if he or she is convicted of an offence in the UK and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less; or if the Commons orders their suspension for at least 21 sitting days.
  • If either of these triggers is met an MP's constituents will have the opportunity to sign a recall petition, calling for a by-election.
  • If 10% of parliamentary electors in the constituency sign the petition, the MP's seat will become vacant and a by-election will be held.

From first glance it is plain to see that hardly any MPs will ever face recall, such is the narrowness of the required criteria. Under the rules, an MP, upon his election - after much self-aggrandisement – he or she could take a 5 year holiday and there is not a single route for his electorate to remove him within that time. It has been argued that elections are the time for constituents to do away with incompetent politicians, but in the private sector does a 5 year contract entail 5 years of perks without work? Of course not, incompetent staff are sacked before their contact is up, why should MPs be any different.

The Bill’s practicality was called into questions during the debate; Lord Forsyth exclaimed none of us can think how on earth [they] could possibly achieve this.” The Government’s Bill was not particularly well defended by Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) who stated that “it will not be possible to lay regulation before either House between now and 7 May.”  So not only is the Government seeking to put through a Bill that does not facilitate its primary purpose, the Lords were being asked to vote through a Bill that was in essence incomplete.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance supported Zac Goldsmith’s amendment, which had 3 key steps:

Step 1 – Notice of Intent
If a ‘notice of intent’ to recall an MP is signed by 5% of voters in a constituency within 28 days then a recall petition is made available.

Step 2 – Recall Petition
If a recall petition is signed by 20% of voters in a constituency within 8 weeks then a recall referendum will be held.

Step 3 – Recall Referendum
If the majority of constituents vote for their MP to be recalled at the referendum, a by-election will be held where a new MP will be chosen.

This would ensure that an MP’s constituents – the people an MP is paid to represent - not a parliamentary committee, would pass judgements on their misbehaviour.  Centralised Westminster power has been at the root of many of Britain’s ills and the behaviour, and lack of punishment thereafter, of MPs is one of the many to be laid at its door.

Unfortunately, however, whilst the Lords shared our opinion on the utter incompetence of the Bill, they rejected Zac Goldsmith’s proposals, branding them “massively dangerous.”

There was no demand in the Lords to see the threshold fall below 10%, if anything there was pressure for it to be increased, as they feared that such a low threshold may result in recall for political reasons, not an MP’s misdemeanours. Andy Silvester suggested that this line of argument betrays “a view of the electorate that does Westminster no favours,” only serving to increase the gap between Westminster bubble and the ‘real world’. Moreover, it is simply not the case, in countries with similar powers of recall to Zac Goldsmith’s proposals, such as the United States, that elected representatives are on a weekly basis recalled and hauled in front a pack of partisan hyenas from their constituency.

The Bill was brought in by the Coalition to address the ever-increasing lack of trust in politicians, yet, in a painfully ironic show of the type of detached lunacy that the public deride politicians for in the first place, we have been served up closed shop recall. Seemingly neither of the Houses of Parliament are interested in a genuine Recall Bill – more’s the pity.