Douglas Carswell

03 JUN 2013

What recall is – and what recall is not

The right of recall – as the name implies – gives local voters the power to "recall" their elected representative. It works in two simple stages:

Step One: a certain percentage of constituents (some say 10 percent, others 20) trigger a recall ballot by signing a petition demanding one.

Step Two: the ballot they demanded takes place, asking each local voter a simple question: "Should local MP, Joe Bloggs, be recalled? Yes / No".  If over half vote "yes", Joe is out of office and an immediate by-election is held.

Far from leading to a flood of vexatious attempts to remove sitting MPs, this second stage makes it almost impossible to oust a sitting MP on partisan grounds. Note how few recall attempts have ever been successful in California.

Recall is so simple, even Cabinet Office officials can understand it.  But for some reason they chose not to, and have come up with the following scheme instead: 

Step One: a committee of Westminster grandees finds an MP guilty of wrong-doing, triggering the process. Joe Bloggs MP is not being "recalled" by local people, but sent away by other politicians.  Note, indolence or saying one thing before polling day, and doing another after are not seen as grounds for dismissal.

Step Two: If one in ten voters then signs a petition confirming the grandees decision, the MP is out.

Far from strengthening democracy, under the government's proposal, at no point will majority opinion in an MPs constituency be sought – or even needed – before overturning the result of the previous election.  That's the sort of scheme one might expect to find in a tin pot republic, not a genuine democracy.   

The government's recall proposal does precisely the opposite of what a real recall mechanism should do.  It concentrates power into the hands of party whips in Westminster, rather than passing it out to the people.

What is it about making MPs more outwardly accountable to the voters, and less dependent on party whips, that the Westminster establishment fears?

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