Mercer is another urgent reminder - we need a recall law. And soon

How can we trust in politics when discredited MPs are allowed to keep their seats?


During the MP expenses scandal of 2009 I experienced first hand what it was like to have an MP caught up at the centre of it. Our local MP of the time, Andrew MacKay, had been accused of dodgy dealings regarding how he had designated their second homes for claiming purposes.

On 22nd May 2009 there was a very well attended public meeting which MacKay had called where his constituents were able to question him and express their feelings about what he had done. It remains one of the most extraordinary political events I have ever attended. The feeling in the meeting was overwhelmingly of anger even amongst members of MacKay's own local constituency party.

Despite the fact that he tried to put a positive spin on the meeting to the media afterwards it was abundantly clear to me as I wrote at the time that he would have to stand down as an MP as indeed he did the next day.

Well actually, he almost stood down. What MacKay announced was that he would stand down at the next general election. So that meant that for almost a year myself and my fellow Bracknell constituents were going to have to endure an MP who had manifestly demonstrated their unfitness for public office and there was nothing we could do about it. He was not alone of course. There were dozens of MPs who were guilty of expenses excesses and most of them remained in their seats until 2010.

Not long after this episode politicians of all parties started talking about the potential to bring in a "parliamentary recall" law. This would mean that once a certain threshold of petitioners within a constituency had been reached a recall election could be triggered. It would certainly have enabled us in Bracknell to have dealt with our errant MP. The proposals found their way into manifestos and such a measure was included in the coalition agreement in 2010.

Then nothing. No legislation, no measures brought forward, nothing in the most recent Queen's Speech. We are more than three years into this government and the ability for us to be able to recall MPs is clearly considered a very, very low priority.

Last week the Conservative MP Patrick Mercer resigned the Conservative whip due to allegations that he had lobbied on behalf of a company for money. And in a pattern familiar to students of the 2009 scandal he also announced he would be standing down as an MP at the next general election.

So this means that if the allegations turn out to be correct, Mercer's constituents in Newark will have to put up with having an MP whose standards have fallen way below those expected of our elected representatives and yet again they can do nothing about it.

This is simply not good enough. Our political representatives have never been held in lower esteem. I often find myself trying to persuade friends and colleagues who are not interested in politics that most MPs are in it to help and for the greater good but when scandals like this blow up and they are then allowed to cling on to their seats earning tens of thousands of pounds in the process I find it impossible to justify.

We need a recall law, immediately. There is always some space in each legislative session for measures that were not signalled in advance by Her Majesty. Now is the time for such a law to be brought forward.

Our political system cannot hope to recover from the various scandals it has suffered in recent years unless and until the voters have the right to kick errant MPs out of office. Not "at the next general election" but immediately if they see fit.

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