Over the past few days I have received a number of emails from people in my patch of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich asking for my views and support for Zac Goldsmith’s amendment to the Recall of MPs bill. So below, I have tried to briefly outline my views on the bill.
Weak, near irrelevant and almost totally non-progressive would be my general sentiments over the Recall of MPs bill as it stands without Zac Goldsmith’s amendment. “Serious wrongdoing”, ie being jailed for 12 months or more, will all but guarantee that Recall will be a gesture of tokenism and not a move towards true reform of our democratic system. To many, if these amendments were to fail, then it would smack of the ‘Westminster village’ looking out out for themselves again. The promise of reform after the expenses scandal will amount to nothing at a time when faith in politicians is at an all time low.
Now Zac Goldsmith’s proposals may not be perfect and there will always be questions about whether the theory of such a change will work until they are put into practice. But failing to put some power back in the hands of the electorate is dangerous both politically and morally. Politically, because many people already perceive politicians to be liars, who are totally unaccountable, leading lives alien to themselves (that is using kind language). Morally, because we are a democratic nation with MPs being no more than representatives of the people. For MPs to then withhold electoral power from those that they represent will undermine that very notion.
I’ll give you an example of an instance where I believe a proper Recall bill could and would have been used;
Nick Clegg campaigned on the pledge to vote against any increase in Tuition Fees in a constituency which has a more than significant number of university students. Thousands of students voted for him on that pledge, a pledge that was a cornerstone of his election campaign, a pledge that was broken in a manner that can only be described as one of the worst electoral betrayals in recent times. The worst thing was that there was absolutely nothing we could do about it; tens of thousands of students marched in London but to no avail and on a personal level, I joined the Labour Party soon afterwards but knew that I would have to wait 5 years to truly hold him and others to account. In the meantime, my brother and thousands of others will rack up tens of thousands of pounds of debt.
The pledge on Tuition Fees wasn’t your average manifesto promise. It was directly aimed at the thousands of students in the constituency of Sheffield Hallam, of which I was one, who made up a potentially crucial proportion of the electorate. Without them it is highly questionable whether Clegg will win in 2015; Sheffield Hallam, although looking like a sizable majority on paper, is, in actual fact, a very shaky seat once the expected Lib Dem to Labour student vote is taken into account.
However, we have essentially been powerless for five years whilst waiting for an opportunity to effectively challenge Clegg and the rest of the Liberal Democrats. Half a decade. This is simply not OK.
That is why we must have a Recall bill that gives more scope than criminal wrongdoing. As Zac Goldsmith says, under the current proposals “it would still be possible for an MP to switch parties, to refuse to attend Parliament, to disappear off on holiday, to break every conceivable promise made before the election without qualifying for recall.”
We must have a bill that says, if you treble tuition fees after pledging not too, if you vote for the bedroom tax then claim extortionate accommodation expenses, if you accept a police caution for assaulting your former partner, then you will have to justify yourself effective immediately to the electorate, not in however many years time.
At a time when apathy is embedding itself across British politics and culture, Westminster must do all it can to reform, to make itself more democratic and more accountable to those that elect them. Some people may have you believe that we will be having a by-election every other week under these proposals, but we won’t. We need a right of reply to those MPs who are guilty of wrongdoing and not just in the criminal sense. What the Governement is offering today is little more than tokenism, knowing full well that, in reality, their bill will change almost nothing. I hope that MPs support Zac Goldsmith’s amendment today, offering the first steps down a path that will see Westminster reform and reconnect. If we do not make significant strides in this direction, then apathy will continue to make inroads and render politics irrelevant to peoples lives.
We need genuine recall, as promised after the expenses scandal, taking power out of the hands of MPs and into the hands of the electorate. If this promise isn’t fulfilled then the ramifications could be far larger and deeper than a couple of by-elections.