Saturday, 7 June 2014


I was too optimistic yesterday in welcoming the promise in the Queen's Speech  of  "right to recall". Details filtering out reveal that the Bill will be much watered-down from what Liberal Democrats and radical Conservatives hoped for before the 2010 election. (I only hope that the "pubco" Bill doesn't also turn out to be as flat as last year's swipes.)

The Independent, surely swimming against the tide of public opinion, is against giving constituencies the right to recall members of parliament who have turned out to be corrupt. Therefore, it is a measure of the feebleness of the Bill that yesterday's leader column praised it (with faint damns). The writer says: "A strong recall power, of the kind favoured by Goldsmith [Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park], would mean that, no sooner had the result of a close election been declared, the political opponents of the successful candidate could start to look for excuses to collect signatures for a petition to demand a by-election. Imagine how such a power might be used by a minority in any constituency". Goldsmith's response is that a reasonable threshold (he is in favour of 20% of the electorate) would deter frivolous recall petitions. This is supported by wikipedia's summary.

It is important to give people this extra power in a democratic state. Steve Shaw of Unlock Democracy wrote in 2011:

The Power Inquiry of 2006 showed evidence that over three-quarters of people felt they had little or no power between elections, and that 56 per cent of people consider that they have no say in what the government does.

Parliament is meant to hold the government to account. Yet currently the reverse happens: party leaders and whips control how MPs vote and the Parliamentary legislative timetable.

Citizens have no way to hold their MPs to account. General elections are almost never about voting for your MP, but rather about voting for the next government and based on the current government’s record.

Introducing recall: the power for voters to remove their MP, would be very effective at reversing this in a way unlike any other proposed reform. It would mean MPs are truly held to account and thus make MPs more responsive to their voters and less so to the government, political party leaders and whips.

Zac Goldsmith, feeling betrayed by the Conservative leadership and traduced by Nick Clegg, posts here.

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