MP letter response: Recall Elections

Recall elections: an important democratic addition, no matter WHO they elect.

Early Day Motion (EDM) (click here for an explanation of what this is) 1253 – Recall of Elected Representatives states:

“That this House welcomes the Coalition Agreement commitment to introduce a power of recall for constituents to recall their hon. Members; expresses its disappointment that a recall vote will only happen if the Committee on Standards and Privileges deems an hon. Member guilty of serious wrongdoing; further expresses its disappointment that the Government has no plans to introduce a power for electors to recall members of the London Assembly, local councillors or Members of the European Parliament; further welcomes instead the provisions of the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill that would permit voters to recall their elected representatives if a majority has lost confidence in them, for whatever reason, and if enough voters sign a petition to trigger a recall vote; and urges the Government to incorporate these provisions as part of its legislative programme to put power in the hands of communities and individuals.”

My MP, Stephen Williams, does not agree with this EDM. He feels that:

“such a rule would leave our representative democracy far too open to exploitation by discontented electors…”

Let’s have a look at this argument.

Firstly, Stephen starts with the assumption that representative democracy is preferable to other forms of democracy and that we don’t need to change this either. At the moment, we elect our MPs every five years, our MEPs every five years and our local councillors every two or three years. Thus, for large swathes of time, the people’s political preferences are not taken into account.

As I have argued in an earlier post, the democratic system I prefer is that of Switzerland, where citizens have regular referenda on important issues, and the key reforms that the country needs are decided by the populace, not an elite.

Stephen suggests that we should not be working towards this, but settling for representative democracy, where some people make all the decisions, whether they are popular with the majority of the population or not.

Secondly, Stephen does not define exploitation. So, let us find a definition. Exploitation can means one of two things:

  • The act of using something for any purpose.
  • The act of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.

If Stephen means the first definition, then why should the electorate NOT use recall to express their discontent with their MP? If the MP isn’t popular with the electorate, why should we not recall them?

If Stephen means the second definition, then why does he feel that popular (i.e. “majority” or “over 50%”) displeasure with an MP is “unjust or cruel”? Or is he merely thinking it would be “unjust or cruel” if a majority of HIS electorate decided they wanted to oust him before 2015?

Stephen goes on:

“[the rule]…would give such electors the opportunity to displace MPs with whom they might simply disagree politically”.

Yes, this is how democracy works, Stephen. You might have noticed that your election was a result of “soft Labour” voters protesting against such things as Iraq, Trident and tuition fees (oh, the irony!) and decamping to the Lib Dems in protest in 2005. You’re lucky that the left is generally split so that the second largest “left-ish” (and I hesitate to use the term about your party in any sense, these days) picks up the largest percentage of protest votes against Labour. Elections are where the voters decide who they agree or disagree with politically, aren’t they?

All that the recall rule will do is displace unpopular MPs without having to wait for a general election. This is more convenient for the voters (who don’t have to hang around having a lame-duck MP who they are going to vote out anyway) and is on their own terms. What’s not to like?

Stephen continues:

“Although MPs are of course elected as representatives of their constituents and must always strive to support them and lobby on their behalf, a general power of recall might jeopardise the careers of MPs who were simply unpopular.”

The “careers” of MPs, Stephen? Who do you work for, exactly? What is the “career of an MP” might up of without the electorate’s support? Nothing, Stephen – which is exactly the point. The electorate decide how long you’re an MP for, not you or anyone else.

What other reasons are there for ousting MPs, other than for being “simply unpopular”? An election is a popularity contest, Stephen! Has nobody told you this?

Stephen laments:

such a power should only be available where serious wrongdoing has been establish as this seems to be the only fair basis upon which to recall an elected representative.”

What about if 50% of your electorate don’t like you and want a change? Is that a “fair basis”, or not?

And what is “serious wrongdoing”, anyway? Do you know? Who decides what it is?

As you will have seen in my previous posts, I believe that Britain needs to move further towards direct democracy.

Stephen’s representation of a large constituency (82,503 electors, or thereabouts) is not adequate to stoke the fires of democratic participation in the electorate. He should recognise this, and also recognise that it is the public who should and must decide on his political future. The five year term limits (I personally think the US system where representatives must put their case to the electorate every two years would be preferable) that his government have instituted as the period between elections will not do for our democracy.

Recall elections must be brought in, and within this parliament which, after all, is wanting to clean up politics.

OFFICIAL GREEN PARTY POLICY

On policy website, in section “Public Administration”, sub-section “Direct Democracy and Political Rights”:

PA254 Government at all levels should be accountable to electors between elections. Accordingly, necessary legislative steps will be taken to provide for any representative’s electors to be able to petition for the recall of any elected person. Specifically, a petition signed by 40% of the registered electors within an MP’s constituency will trigger a recall by-election. Until this legislation is passed, Green MPs will voluntarily resign and trigger a by-election, if they are presented with a valid recall petition signed by 40% of the registered electors within their constituency. In the event of the elected representative having been elected by the Additional Member System, the recalled representative would be replaced by the next person on their party list not to have been elected…

PA255 It is accepted that such recall provisions as described in PA254 above may cause some difficulties under a proportional representation method of electing representatives and accordingly the Constitutional Commission will look further at this matter. Until, however, proportional representation exists for elections to all levels of government the Green Party will campaign for recall provisions under the current “First past the post” system.

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