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 The current situation means that he can have the whip withdrawn and possibly be deselected by his constituency party, but as far as his electorate goes, they can do nothing.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.