Recall Bill: This is not democracy, it's an incitement to malice and short-termism

We already have a recall power in the British constitution. It is called a general election

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Good idea.

Give the people the power to “recall” their MP, goes the idiot cry of those who would appease the lowest common denigrators of politics. Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell, Conservative MPs who see themselves as tribunes of the new politics, complain that the Recall Bill in the Queen’s Speech is a feeble and wretched thing.

How right they are. It is feeble-minded and wretched cowardice to give in to the mob mentality of people who have no time for democracy. The Government should not be trying to fob them off with a milksop Recall Bill that pretends to give the antis what they want and which will satisfy no one.

But it is better to have a fudged Bill that “allows MPs to mark their own homework”, as the Goldsmith-Carswells allege, than to have the kind of Recall Bill that is demanded by the Committee of Public Safety. They want to give the voters in a constituency the right to petition for a by-election, which would have to be granted if supported by 20 per cent of those on the electoral roll.

Nick Clegg, who is responsible for constitutional reform, a responsibility which consists largely of coming to realise too late that easy promises made in opposition would be harmful if enacted in law, has said, insincerely, “Oh, yes, I totally agree,” and inserted an extra test in the Bill. This means the by-election would not be triggered unless a committee of MPs agrees that the conduct of the MP concerned was very, very bad. Naturally, his insincerity discredits the Bill and the invention of extra conditions makes the Government look as if it is standing in the way of the legitimate demands of democrats.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and Clegg should have the courage to make the argument out in the open. A Goldsmith-Carwell recall power is fundamentally undemocratic. It would allow the political opponents of any MP to try to re-run their election continuously until they achieve their desired result.

As soon as the general election is over, the losing party in marginal constituencies would look for excuses to start to collect signatures demanding the “recall” of the MP. In any closely-fought contest, 20 per cent would be an easy target to reach. If the MP is a member of a governing party, a by-election would be used as the chance for a protest vote against whatever the government was doing at the time. This is not democracy, it is a playground for professional politicians and an incitement to malice and short-termism.

We already have a recall power in the British constitution. It is called a general election. If people want to get rid of Maria Miller or Patrick Mercer (oh, he’s gone), that is their chance. That is democracy. That this chance won’t come until next year, however, is undesirable. Five years as the normal minimum is too long. The Fixed-Term Parliament Act ought to be the target of the so-called democratic reformers. That is Clegg’s fault too, although the last-minute decision during coalition talks to change the fixed term from four years to five was George Osborne’s idea.

Goldsmith and Carswell should concentrate on either scrapping fixed-term parliaments or on restoring the term to four years.

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