Sensible reform dropped to benefit PM’s party

  • @oliver_wright

U-turns, as most of us know, are far from uncommon in British politics. Sometimes they are done for the best of reasons: what seemed like a good idea turned out, on closer scrutiny, to have unintended consequences. Remember the pasty and caravan taxes from the “omnishambles” budget.

At other times they are done because politics intervenes and the Government realises it is going to alienate core supporters – even if the policy is quite sensible. A good example was the Government’s plan to “privatise” England’s forests – in reality nothing of the sort – which went down very badly with middle England. But the decision not to proceed with the recall bill fits into neither of these categories. It is a sensible idea which commands broad support from voters.

So why has it been dropped? The short answer: Mr Cameron’s fear that his own MPs could embarrass him ahead of the election.

The Tories’ Australian election strategist, Lynton Crosby, has already told the Prime Minister he must ensure that there are no “distractions” between now and the 2015 election.

The public messages coming from the party need to be disciplined and narrow: the economy (improving), crime (down), immigration (controlled) and benefits (cut).

Anything else, as Mr Crosby memorably put it, is a “barnacle” on the boat that needs to be scraped off.

And there is no bigger barnacle than recall. A lot of Conservative MPs, for personal reasons, are inherently hostile to the proposal.

They fear it will be used by campaign groups to pursue hardworking MPs on spurious grounds. They also believe it will lead to MPs facing recall motions on unproven allegations of malpractice. These fears are almost certainly unfounded, given the tight way in which the draft legislation is written.

But it will be hard for the Conservative leadership to get its MPs to support the measure. And that projects a very bad image to electorate in the run-up to 2015.

So it is far better, from Mr Cameron’s point of view, to kill the measure off now, even if that means breaking his manifesto promise and irritating his Liberal Democrat Coalition partners in the process.

But voters should see it for what it is: putting political expediency and Conservative self-interest ahead of sensible democratic reform