Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is it time for electoral recall laws?

Well we're now in Day Three of the expenses debacle and whether the very worst of it is over is anyone's guess. Clearly the Telegraph has been preparing this for some time and has done an excellent job of keeping it quiet. The general rumour is that tomorrow is the day when they will go for the Tories, so we just have to wait and see who is going to be fingered.

The real question though is what should be done about it. Clearly the system is wide open to abuse, no one is denying that, not even the people accused who use the "but its within the rules" defence deny it. However, the sheer scale of MPs being brought into this, household and non-household names, makes it a special turn of events.

The other day I asked whether the impact of this would be mass protest votes against the three main parties, if all three got pulled into it. Currently the Lib Dems are getting off quite lightly, and if that continues it will do wonders for them in the marginals they want to gain. However, the real winner will be the side that put forward not just reform proposals that are tight but also other effective instruments to deal with those that take the piss so royally.

Is now the time to consider some sort of emergency legislation that introduces the ability to recall an MP, like recall laws in the US? I have seen others mention this, such as Tory Bear, and as a member of the great unwashed, it ought to be the case shouldn't it, that if my MP has been such a utter shit with my money that a method exists to force them to seek reelection from their constituents?

Parliament itself can have votes of no confidence, so why can't the constituency electorate? We often hear from MPs about how political disengagement concerns them. That turnout is falling etc etc. Have they considered that may be because the adage of "if voting changed anything it would be made illegal" is not just cynicism but a reality for so many?

Take James Gray MP for example. The current situation means that he can have the whip withdrawn and possibly be deselected by his constituency party, but as far as his electorate goes, they can do nothing. If this was the beginning of a Parliament he could remain in place for five years with no recourse. The sit it out and hope people forget strategy is embedded into the system, is it not time to remove it?

We could, for example, have electoral law that allowed "petitions of recall" based on getting signatures of significant proportion of a constituency electorate. If you wrapped this in some sort of time constraint you could safeguard against a long campaign over say two years. For example, you could say that it was necessary to give notice of a recall petition starting at which point there was X number of days to garner support.

After the time period have been reached there would be another set number of days within which the Returning Officer would have to process and count the signatures. If a threshold was reached there would be a local referendum held to establish the validity of the petition. That is to say a vote of confidence in the MP that could force a by-election.

Now I can see what the obvious criticisms of something like this are. If a hyper-marginal existed then it could be the case that the second place party might try to force a by-election constantly over a four year term, but if other safeguards were added to limit how often and the circumstances under which it could happen then such things would not necessarily occur.

I'm thinking here of the principle behind impeachment in the US. Clearly the law couldn't just allow someone to start a campaign on a whim. There would have to be some sort of "high crimes and misdemeanours" rules about what could and could not justify a recall, but the principle and concept itself is something we should surely have no?

I realise that one could argue that you already have the ability to do this every four years, but if an MP does something early in an electoral cycle, that is hardly a consolation, is it? None of what I've just outlined is set in stone in my mind of course, the principle of recall seems to sound to me, how it could be done without it being abused is open to debate.

Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

Everyone is talking about reforming the system to prevent the same thing happening in the future.

What about revenge? I want some punishments handed out.

Praguetory said...

Dizzy, this is a great idea for ensuring that democracy isn't something that simply happens when the PM decides. I look forward to hearing sound arguments against in your thread, because I've never heard them before. I reckon a threshhold of 10% of the electorate is enough.

Mitch said...

Like the idea but as these troughing bastards make the rules they would just set the bar too high,oh they would sound reasonable but the end result would be no chance.

we need the Swiss system but we wont get it.

Anonymous said...

I think you will find The Plan by Carswell & Hannan has lots of ideas, including some you've mentioned above

Paul said...

Totally agree. The system is used in several American states and doesn't seem to be abused there.

Bardirect said...

The Gray wreath thing is a red herring, its hardly a perk nor was it a normal cost of daily life like food or a bath plug.

Anonymous said...

A recall law would be abused by Labour. They would start a petition every time a Tory or LibDem got up their nose.

A recall law would be open to knee-jerk reaction and emotive response. There should be a 90 day cooling off period for tempers to cool down

Anonymous said...

1. recall laws - an excellent notion - whereby the local people who the MP represents can ditch their MP mid term
2. no payments or expenses to MPs from Parliament - MPs to be re-imbursed as much or as little as little as their constituents want on an individual basis. Organisationally this can be done by local committees involving various councils and precepts on local tax bills or some such routine - there are ways
3. no fixed term Parliaments

These 3 points would remove the tendencies of MPs to be controlled from the centre. They are supposed to be in Parliament to represent their people. It's a representative democracy isn't it.
Point 1 allows local people to ditch bad MPs based on local feelings (in tune with national feelings or not). Point 2 allows the money to be controlled locally (don't people always follow the money - why have their purse strings controlled centrally), and point 3 is to re-inforce the notion that political campaigns should be short and sweet. With fixed term Parliaments you get campaigns lasting years. Think US presidential elections. This generates elections being won by spending money on a monumental scale - again, bad for elections which are in name at least, there to send people to Parliament to represent local people.

Keep it local !

Demetrius said...

After seeing the piece in the Observer on Caroline Flint today, I really do wonder. Whatever next?

Sparrow said...

I agree a system of electorate deselection would be useful.

More immediately we have an election looming in less than a year - unless of course someone decides on some emergency or other requiring we put it off.

If the parties were treating this seriously then all local party organisations should ask their MPs to justify their claims before an open meeting and face reselection before the vote.

Alex said...

Once they are elected they should be allowed to stay for the rest of the parliament, for better or worse, to teach the voters a lesson about bad MPs.

We only need recall laws because voters don't know the true character of candidates foisted on them by the main parties. Open primaries and published references from previous employer's, as would a mandatory reselction process for sitting MPs.

Anonymous said...

Unlike the claims for bath-plugs, moles etc. the Grey wreath claim could well be considered as meeting the expenditure rules (as part of his duties as an MP).

Keep digging on Grey; there are probably plenty of abuses to be uncovered.


Prodicus said...

With a fairly high threshold to prevent victimisation and Tammany Hall-ing, yes.

Anonymous said...

I've decided ... we are governed by a bunch of chavs.

Harman_Pride said...

By your cynical abuse of our elected representatives, you are creating an anti-politics atmosphere which is very damaging and could be exploited by the BNP.

I think the British people are getting bored with this tittle-tattle and gossip now.

Ordinary hard-working families are interested in the real issues. When it comes to policies, Gordon Brown is taking decisive action to give real help now, while Cameron would do nothing and is plainly out of his depth.

David Cameron has refused to commit to maintaining child benefit and winter fuel allowances at the same level as the Labour Government.

He has one rule for millionaires and another for parents and pensioners. He can promise a tax giveaway for 3,000 millionaires yet now he won't give a "running commentary" on his plans for millions of middle income parents who receive child benefit, nor millions of pensioners who rely on winter fuel allowance to heat their homes.

He talks of an “age of austerity” but he must answer the question “austerity for who?”

Our party has been in power now for eleven years - something Labour has never come close to achieving before.

And though it’s been tough at times and there are still big challenges to overcome, we can be hugely proud of the progress we have delivered together for the country.

It is easy to forget what Britain was like in 1997 - the NHS on its knees, schools crumbling, crime doubled and millions of families still scarred by unemployment over three million and interest rates still recovering from hitting 15 per cent on Black Wednesday.

And while we know that everything is not perfect now, Britain is, without doubt, a better, more prosperous and fairer place.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that parliament wouldn't vote to introduce recall.

However, I remember the deselection of Nick Scott MP at a meeting of 1400 constituency party members in Kensington & Chelsea. He was required to stand down at the next general election. This is a local party method rather than constituency wide method, but can still be done.

Had Enough said...

Good English oak and a strong hemp rope!

Anonymous said...

Fully agree with Sparrow.

We have not heard anything from constituency associations. They should be demanding to meet with their MP. The worst offenders should be de-selected as a warning to others:

"Pour encourager les autres"

Anonymous said...

This is unlikely to work in Constituencies with large majorities, or Party organisations although it is a good step.

Perhaps, the trigger for such a recall is if a Member has been found guilty of something by a Parliamentary Ombudsman. (Cough, Conway, Cough). Expelled by his party, deselected, but able to stay until Parliament ends.

The same should be applied at Local Council level. Where Councillors are named by the Ombudsman.

Anonymous said...

Whatever we decide to do about the dishonest MPs will have to be done quickly, very quickly.

I am coming to the view that what we are seeing is part of The Plan. The EU faces a difficulty after the voting time in June that is intended to legitimise the next intake of MEPs. After that so called election, it is intended to implement the Lisbon Constitution. This calls for Brussels dealing in future with their Regions, not the "Member States". Just how do you abolish the Westminster Parliament without getting the English to rebel?

Now we know. In classic EU procedures, get it to cause its own demise. Expect it to get even worse, until a majority of the people are saying "Well surely the regional assembly couldn't be any worse, could it? Let us rebel against this bunch of thieves in favour of the regional assembly (that has in any case been mandated by Brussels)." Of course we all know that the EU and its Brussels bureaucracy is untainted by corruption or sleaze of any sort, and is therefore best placed to drive out corruption and sleaze amongst the MPs in the UK parliament.

Anonymous said...

I've often thought recall votes would be a good idea if they could be implemented without being abused.

I wonder how many signatures you'd get in George Galloway's constituency. He rarely attends Parliament or constituency surgeries, preferring to spend time in the Middle East or wearing a leotard in the Big Brother House. Yet, strangely enough, he still manages to claim some of the highest expenses in the House.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

I feel as though I'm in the middle of a maze on a foggy day. So many things have been going on for so long that reform looks overwhelming.
I offer these practical suggestions
1. return candidate selection to the local constituency association and in order to keep away the unwelcome tentacles of central headquarters establish a residency requirement - say 12 months residence in the constituency (or within a defined radius) prior to offering one's candidacy.
2. Adopt some version of the US system of appointing Ministers for their expertise. If that Minister was an MP resign the seat and forget about pretending to do two jobs.

I know this won't happen but if it were to be implemented it would make MPs more accountable to their constituents and more independent of the executive - which ought to lead to more effective and accountable government.
We can but dream

dizzy said...

Hilarious comment above from Harman_pride... basically a "lines to take" cut and paste from the Labour official website. Twat.

Anonymous said...




Miller 2.0 said...

Strangely enough, this was actually a demand made by the Chartists.

I'm not sure you'd agree with the rest of them...

Praguetory said...

What's the concern with abuse? The trigger is automatic if a certain number of signatures are gained in a certain timeframe. It is not at all easy to get 10,000 signatures and if it was seen as being a malicious petition I am sure the rest of the electorate would respond.

Anonymous said...

A very good idea - its not just if an MP does something daft shortly after an election you have a problem. It's also that there are many safe seats where a monkey would get elected if it had the right coloured rosette, so it the MP has to be really bad to swing enough votes to get booted out. Admittedly an MP could be deselected, but that leaves the choice to a handful of local people in the relevant party - hardly democratic is it? There are also on occasion issues on which the parties agree, but electors don't - what is the good of an election then? You can vote for someone in red or blue, but either way you end up going to war in Iraq, for example. But if enough people feel your MP is not doing his/her job in representing local opinion against the war (or whatever) and enough others agree with you, you have a way to hold them to account. Even if an election is just around the corner, you don't have that if all parties are backing the issue.