The scuppering of plans for ‘Real Recall’ and the likely curtailing of the scope for judicial review demonstrate the imperfect nature of democracy on these islands.
Two different votes on Monday, one in each House of Parliament , tell a story of how we not only live in an imperfect democracy, but one that is also under constant threat. It is this, among other factors that is fueling the current insurrectionary advances of Yoo-Kip. Firstly, in this post, to the Recall of MPs Bill. The government sponsored piece of legislation has the personal backing of the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg. It – in theory – is designed to combat the problems of mistrust of MPs by the electorate. This is no small issue a Committee for Standards in Public Life report, cited by campaigning website 38 Degrees demonstrates.
• 26% of people have confidence in MPs, a new low and a 20% drop since 2008, • 26% of people believe most MPs are competent, a 10% drop since 2008, and • 14% of people think MPs are in touch with public concerns.
The idea of recall of MPs is a straightforward one. If your MP has been incompetent, corrupt, willfully lazy and so on, the electorate should have the ability to sack them. Of course that is the case now, except yo have to wait up to 5 years to do it, that is, when the next general election comes around. And at general elections there is a more heightened sense that voters are choosing an overall government, or endorsing the candidacy of a one or other party leader, and nad MPs may survive as a result. Supporters of a recall bill – which is a lot of the public and many MPs – argue that such a measure would restore some of the lost confidence and/or force errant MPs to pull their socks up. The problem is that the coalition government has prevaricated and eventually produced a bill that nobody – perhaps even Cleggers – is actually happy with. Enter Zac Goldsmith, a odd-shaped peg in a Tory-shaped hole, vociferously campaigning for his own version of recall. Here’s the government version first:
a recall petition [would] be triggered if a Member is sentenced to a prison term or is suspended from the House for at least 21 sitting days. If either occurred, the Speaker would give notice to a petition officer, who in turn would give notice to parliamentary electors in the constituency.A petition would then be open for signing for eight weeks. If at the end of that period at least 10 per cent of eligible electors had signed the petition, the seat would be declared vacant and a by-election would follow. The Member who was recalled could stand in the by-election.
Now here is Goldsmith’s own summing up of his ideas from the parliamentary record of Monday’s debate:
.. if 5% of the local electorate sign a notice of intent to recall, within a one-month time frame the returning officer would announce a formal recall petition. Secondly, it would take 20% of voters—14,000 or so—to sign the recall petition in person within an eight-week period to trigger a recall referendum. The referendum would be a simple yes or no—“Do you want your MP to be recalled; yes or no?” If more than 50% say yes, there would then be a by-election.
Both involve formal petitions and triggering by-elections. I have highlighted in green the essential difference, however. Whereas the government proposals begin with the House Of Commons Goldsmith’s begin and end with electorate. In the House put forward persuasive arguments (his opinions here, from 4:00) that it would be in MPs’ interests to open themselves up to so-called ‘Real Recall’. The office of MP might regain some badly-needed trust, whilst the barrier to recall would be sufficiently high to prevent malicious or spurious recalls. The fact that the Real Recall amendment was defeated by 160 votes to 340 would only seem to confirm most people’s suspicions about MPs in the first place. So that was the Good Idea, next post will deal with the Bad Idea and muse upon the Ugly Truth.