A failure of recall: Why has the Coalition forgotten its promise to give constituents the power to bring errant MPs to book?

The Coalition’s term of office is littered with constitutional changes promised and either thrown out or abandoned

Share

The notion that citizens can only oust their local MP once every five years, regardless of what that MP might get up to in the meantime, would be laughable, were it not the case. To take only a recent example: when Patrick Mercer was caught apparently soliciting payment for raising issues in Parliament last July, the lapse was sufficiently egregious for him to feel he must resign his party whip. But his constituents had no such option and Newark is stuck with Mr Mercer until May 2015 whether they like it or not.

It was the revelations over MPs’ expenses in 2009 that propelled the “right to recall” to the fore. So much so, in fact, that, the following year, both the Tory and Liberal Democrat election manifestos promised to introduce one, and the commitment was written into their subsequent Coalition Agreement. With the exposé of Mr Mercer – itself just the latest on a growing list of lobbying-related scandals – only adding grist to the mill, the draft Bill published shortly before Christmas was more than welcome.

The Tory half of the Coalition is having second thoughts, though. As The Independent reports today, a tussle in the “quad” at the heart of the Government could see the right-to-recall Bill dropped from the Queen’s Speech. Given that this is the last such speech before next year’s election, parliamentary long grass beckons.

By all accounts, there are two causes for the reversal. One is the ever-restive Conservative backbenchers. With Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo both recently deselected by their local party, the prospect of the voters, too, gaining more powers of dismissal is causing shivers of apprehension that could plunge the Tory high command into yet another internecine battle.

The other question is one of campaign strategy. Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ election guru, wants to “knock the barnacles off the boat” ahead of 2015. That means focusing relentlessly on crime, the economy, and the like, and avoiding anything so tedious as constitutional reform or so tawdry as parliamentary corruption. Right to recall fails on both counts.

Neither is sufficient reason to put off much-needed reform. There are risks here, not least that right-to-recall powers might be misused by vocal minorities with a grudge. But such concerns are allayed by the details proposed. A by-election would be triggered only if 10 per cent-plus of locals agreed, and the conditions under which such a petition could be opened would be closely circumscribed. Only if the House of Commons voted to do so, or if an MP were sent to prison, would the process be set in motion.

The Coalition’s term of office is littered with constitutional changes promised and either thrown out or abandoned. From proportional representation to redrawn boundaries to Lords reform, all efforts at improvement have fallen foul of special-interest groups, short-term politicking or both. The absence of a mechanism to sack an MP is not only one of the more glaring flaws in our system, it is also one of the easiest to resolve. Yet while the current situation continues, it contributes to the sense of powerlessness draining public engagement with politics. The Liberal Democrat half of the quad must push hard for the Bill’s inclusion in the Queen’s Speech. And the Prime Minister and Chancellor must rethink their priorities.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory