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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17 Responses to “Five reasons we need a stronger recall bill”

  1. David Lindsay

    Anyone who secured a recall election ought to be required to pay for it. Much better to have no such provision in the first place.

    We most certainly do not need recall elections. Those would be nothing but a charter for nuisance. Mostly by Liberal Democrat activists, and these days possibly also UKIP and the SNP.

    Although not exclusively so.

    Think of the MPs who voted against DRIP. Think of the MPs who voted against war in Libya, and against the recent bombing of Iraq.

    Party machines, quite possibly by means of each other, would mobilise to recall MPs like that. Having to pay for the elections would be no deterrent there.

    We must not go down this road.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    I’m not sure using America as an example is a good idea. Party discipline is much looser there, and moreover it’s not in either major party’s interest to open that can of worms, whereas here…

    (10% is also low)

    “Why would they have any more influence in a recall election than in a General Election?”

    Targeting the area is something already seen in byelections, the same would happen.

  3. Northeus

    It’s a lot of rubbish. A sticking plaster on a gaping bullet hole.

  4. blarg1987

    There does need to be a system to right of recall, however it should be to the people if an MP carries out an illegal activity.

    Problem with MP’s on a committee is that if an unpopular party are nearing election time, they may use it on trumped up charges on swing seats of the opposition to strengthen their position.

    Recall should also be triggered if MP’s break their party manifesto so Lib dems on tuition fees and the Conservatives on the NHS, that way it would force Mp’s to be more truthful to the public instead of doing uturns like UKIP is at the moment.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    “Recall should also be triggered if MP’s break their party manifesto”

    5-year plans worked so well for the USSR, after all.

    No, they’d just adjust the wording to technically not “promise” anything.

  6. blarg1987

    It does not matter if it is a promise or not, they would still have a manifesto of policies that they would try to achieve.

    If they defy the manifesto then there should be a right to recall.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’d tie the UK to absolutely inflexible five-year plans.

    Again, worked so well for the USSR.

    Voting reform is far more sensible.

  8. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Any ideas on how socialists drive growth and create jobs? Any examples?

  9. blargh1987

    No not necessarily as I already have given two examples e.g. tuition fees and NHS reorganisation. These were policies that were either not on the party manifesto or were pledged not to change.
    Political parties are voted in on what they tell us, so if they decide to change what they are doing when they suddenly get into power then we should have the right to recall to encourage political parties to be more honest.
    For example the Lib Dems have kept to part of their manifesto to increase the tax free allowance, so there is room to have certain flexibilities.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    You are talking about every last but of referendums, though. Moreover, you’d prevent anything not in a manifesto? You’re going to utterly cripple government.

    Moreover, what if something’s voted down? The government’s out for *anything*, rather than supply bills?!

    This isn’t about honesty, it’s about your 100% cast-iron inflexible plans.

  11. Guest

    Still fighting those magic socialists, I see. Spamming me, Dave.

  12. Guest

    Still fighting those magic socialists, I see. Spamming me, Dave.

  13. The_Average_Joe_UK

    You cant answer the questions, you cannot tell us how socialists drive growth and create jobs. Why? Because they cant. You cant offer any examples, but your view is that its socialism or nothing. You know that its always failed and led to the misery and poverty for all who are stuck with it. Which makes you a complete – expletive of your choice.

    But then again you could prove me wrong and give us ideas on how socialists drive growth and create jobs?

    You are a snide snake oil salesman. Ripping off the poor with your stupid ideas.

  14. Guest

    No, I am not trying to take your job, but thanks for talking about it.
    No surprise you’re in complete denial about poverty in the UK today, or simply think it’s far too low as you want to double-down on failed neoliberal policies.

    You are screaming irrelevant crap about socialists, which I am not, and which no politician of any significance in the UK is, as you once more deny the existence of Germany and the Nordics and call me a Jew. (Your choice!)

    Moderate left policies are not “socialism”, there are no reds under the beds, and many of those policies have very broad support when polled for separately- renationalisation of the railways, for one example.

    How does your Fish Man drive growth and create jobs? Answer the question, Dave/LB, it makes just as much sense as what you said.

  15. blarg1987

    Lets be honest you can;t really say that the reorganisation of the NHS or coalition goverment were things that were not planned for.

    Goverment would not be crippled as I have already stated, the lib dems kept raising the starting level of income tax.

    There is a big difference between a goverment trying to achieve something e.g. pledges to bring more things back in house and only partially succeeds, and a goverment not being honest e.g. pledging to bring things back in house but outsources more state assets.

    Even if there is unforeseen circumstances such as a financial crisis, you can always have a caviat for that but that is once in a blue moon thing and can;t be used to to justify every change in policy.

    I have not said goverments can’t be flexible I am saying they can’t pretend to have one intent but in reality have another.

  16. The_Average_Joe_UK

    The bottom line Socialists, Labour, the left call it what you will, will either answer in the way that Leon has, with BS, innuendo and name calling, or in the case of Labour with incoherent mush. Until they can offer a real answer do not support them. All they do every time they are in power is spray money up the wall and drive up unemployment.

    So thanks for the BS. Now redeem yourself and tell us how you create jobs and improve the lot of ordinary people, or do everyone a favour and crawl back under your rock….. Wind bag.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    I can’t see the difference, I’m afraid. The Opposition certainly wouldn’t!

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