Five reasons we need a stronger recall bill

The 'power of recall' doesn’t really give constituents the right to recall their MP.

The ‘power of recall’ doesn’t really give constituents the right to recall their MP

MPs will today debate whether voters should be able to deselect them using the ‘power of recall’ if they are found guilty of serious wrongdoing.

The plan being put to a vote will mean that an MP could be unseated if 10 per cent of voters sign a petition – but only after the MP in question had been sent to jail or given a 21-day Commons ban.

Commons bans are given out by the Commons Standards Committee, which is mostly made up of MPs.

In other words, an MP would have to have committed an offence and other MPs would have to agree that an offence had taken place before constituents were given any right to recall that MP.

This really doesn’t give constituents the right to recall their MP.

1) Recall should empower voters, not committees of MPs

The bill before the House of Commons today gives a committee of MPs the power to decide if voters can attempt to recall their MP. In other words, the electorate only get the chance to recall an MP after other MPs have decided whether or not one of their colleagues should face a recall vote.

The old cliche about turkeys not voting for Christmas springs to mind. I’m not entirely sure that MPs policing themselves is the best way forward. Ultimately recall should to empower voters, not MPs.

2) Where recall already exists it is seldom used

The naysayers argue that a proper right to recall would result in mayhem, with elected representatives unable to act due to fear of making unpopular decisions – thereby triggering a recall.

Yet in those countries where the electorate already has a right to recall the procedure is seldom used. The US has had recall for over 100 years and it has been used just 40 times – a recent high profile example involved Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became governor of California in 2003 after a recall vote.

3) Recall won’t make life easier for the rich

One fear is that stronger right to recall apparatus could be used by wealthy individuals and organisations to move against MPs whom they dislike. It is, after all, those individuals who surely have the resources required to launch a campaign against sitting MPs.

Again, though, it’s worth referring back to the US – big money has a much bigger influence on politics there, yet it doesn’t have an undue impact on recall.

Similarly, a stronger right to recall bill, of the sort proposed by Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, would require the signatures of 20 per cent of voters in the constituency in question. Even if the right-wing press did manage to ‘brainwaish’ (a horrible phrase) 20 per cent of a constituency into recalling an MP, what’s to stop the other 80 per cent voting that MP back in? And if the tabloids and Lord Ashcrofts of this world could wield so much power in recall selections, what’s to stop them doing so already? Why would they have any more influence in a recall election than in a General Election?

4) Voters aren’t stupid

It’s unfortunate that we still have to say this, but representative democracy is not an excuse for ignoring the electorate. Voters do not need a vanguard, thanks very much, and nor I suspect would they want to throw out a genuinely principled MP who simply voted a way in which they disagreed. No, voters are simply sick of politicians breaking promises and taking liberties over things like expenses.

This also goes back to point three: voters are not ‘sheeple’ (another unpleasant term) who need to be shaken out of their tabloid-induced comatose. They’re not ‘brainwashed by the tabloids’ (if they are then why aren’t you?), and when a high proportion of them dislike an MP enough to sign a petition you can be pretty sure that the politician in question has done something sufficiently serious. And no, Rupert Murdoch didn’t make them do it.

5) It won’t cost the taxpayer £100m

Well it could, but only if all 650 constituencies in the UK recalled their MP at once – and that won’t happen. As 38 Degrees (who know a thing or two about collecting signatures) has pointed out, the biggest UK petition ever raised was on Post Office closures in 2006 which collected 4 million signatures. 10 million people would need to simultaneously sign recall petitions for the cost to reach £100m.

There is also something slightly sinister about the argument that democracy costs money. Can you really think of a better way that money ought to be spent? And if we really want to take this argument seriously then we might also cancel next year’s General Election – the ‘markets’ are already warning of ‘turbulence’ and lost revenue for the treasury due to political instability. Perhaps we should postpone voting until 2020? It would certainly be cheaper. (I hope you can see where this is going).

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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