Friday 27 April 2012

Sacking MPs

I quite like the idea of electors being able to sack their elected representatives, and if such a proposal is to be introduced for MPs, then there is no reason whatsoever why it shouldn’t also be introduced for AMs – and indeed councillors.  The regional list system of election for AMs is a complication of course; but any system of recall should surely include them as well.
The hard part is deciding under what circumstances recall should be allowed.  Getting 10% of the electorate of a constituency to demand a recall is challenging, but far from impossible.  I haven’t checked the numbers, but I’d be surprised if there were many elected politicians who didn’t have at least 10% of the electorate voting against them in the first place, so the will would probably be there at any time.
And that’s the hard part; merely allowing those who never voted for the politician in the first place to call an election to replace him or her is something of a negation of democracy, and that would still be true even if we had a fairer system of election in the first place.
But the proposal put forward to date seems too restrictive by far.  Allowing recall only where Parliament has resolved to recall the MP, or when the MP has been banged up for a crime of some sort, is hardly empowerment of the people.  In any case, who but a politician would come up with a proposal that an imprisoned MP should remain an MP unless 10% of his or her electors demand otherwise?  Most of us would surely expect more or less automatic disqualification in such circumstances.
Nick Clegg apparently wants to rule out recall on ‘political grounds’ or in the case of laziness or ineptitude.  It strikes me, though, that those are precisely the grounds on which recall most empowers the electors.  Getting rid of representatives who do nothing and don’t turn up, or those who say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in power – that’s giving meaningful power and control to electors.  What is being proposed at present is just window-dressing.


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I'm really not sure about the idea of recall elections.

(1) the electorate must choose at the ballot box whom they wish to represent them for the *whole* term; the one they elect is ultimately their choice and their responsibility.

(2) more importantly is the trigger for recall elections. As you rightly suggest, many representatives will be unpopular from the moment they're elected: tight 4 way contests, moderate turnout = MP or AM voted for by a fifth of the electorate, rejected by the rest.

This is even more apparent in local council elections. Many Carmarthenshire councillors were elected by less than a fifth of the electorate. The second member for Carmarthen Town South received 369 votes out of a possible 2660 - he's been representing the 86% of the electorate who didn't vote for him for the past 4 years.

What of mischief makers who wish to shut down real democracy? If we had recall elections, how many times would Nick Clegg have had to return to the stump in Sheffield over the past 2 years?

Cibwr said...

I have problems with recall, particularly with proportional systems. I think if you go down that road you need strict criteria and a reasonable percentage to sign up to it. The problem is that you either make it easy and so most of the recalls will be just political or you make it really difficult and its just window dressing.

John Dixon said...

As I said at the opening of the post, the idea is one which appeals to me in principle. But it's one of those issues where what sounds like an attractive idea is full of practical difficulties. It is, as Emlyn says, open to mischief making; and as Cibwr says, you either make it too easy - in which case we'll be in a permanent election - or else you make it too difficult - in which case it's just window dressing.

But there is, nevertheless, a certain appeal to it. Take the question of tuition fees. In the 2010 General Election, not introducing fees was one of the big promises of the Lib Dems, and probably garnered them a lot of votes; yet once elected, they did exactly what they said they would not do. (And I could equally, here, point at AMs elected in 2007 on a similar promise, so as not to pick just on one party.) Would a power of recall for politicians who act in that way be an effective deterrent to such behaviour? And isn't that the real point - not that we should actually recall politicians very often, but that the knowledge that they could be recalled for breaking specific and explicit promises would discourage them from doing that?

Paul Williams said...

John - agree with your comments and also on the desirability of a recall mechanism.

In my opinion the problems you describe can be fairly easily overcome. As in Recall Laws in the States, the two keys are:

1. To hold a recall election, the required number of signatures have to be collected within a limited timeframe from the initial filing — in the US usually 60 days. This will not be possible unless there is a fairly substantive groundswell against the person in question.
2. If at the recall election the sitting MP is not recalled, i.e. does not lose the recall election, then no further recalls can be triggered for the rest of his/her term. This stops any frivolous or partisan recall actions.

Where there is a will, there is a way!

Anonymous said...

In Venezuela even the President can be recalled! And it happened, although he then soundly won the ensuing elections.