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The power of recall would make our MPs more accountable

I have recently received a number of emails asking me (as well as Mark Garnier and other Prospective Parliamentary Candidates for Wyre Forest) about the proposals being debated in Parliament to allow the voters to recall their MP between elections.

 

There has been a concern expressed that the proposals put forward (which would only allow the process of recall to start if an MP were guilty of a crime or was suspended for more than 28 days) are too weak and would leave too much power in the hands of Parliament and insufficient power in the hands of the voters. Zac Goldsmith MP has proposed an amendment which would give the constituents far more control.

I support the principle of right to recall when an MP has done something wrong. Labour has long championed this, and it was in our last manifesto. I think it is one of the ways we can empower the electorate, and help restore public trust in politics. Some MPs in safe seats simply have no incentive to work hard for their constituents.

The Government has now brought forward its Bill, but it is not strong enough. It would still fail to hold to account MPs for certain serious acts of misconduct like the Tory MPs who took cash for questions in the 1990s. As Zac Goldsmith himself points out, it would give no power over a lazy MP or one who crosses the floor and joins another party.

Labour supports Recall where an MP has done something wrong, but we are worried about a model of Recall that would give too much power to well-funded interest groups to pressure MPs into supporting their agenda with a constant threat of recall petitions. If you look at how Recall works in the United States there have been numerous examples of where elected representatives have been subject to a recall campaign simply because their political opponents see an opportunity to get rid of them.

A couple of examples spring to mind. In 2003 the Democratic Governor of California, Gray Davis, was removed following a Republican funded campaign. The charge was 'financial mismanagement' but in reality he was trying to introduce measures (such as environmental taxes) that some Republican supporting big businesses opposed. A year ago, in September 2013, two Senators in the Colorado state legislature were removed by recall following a $500,000 campaign by the National Rifle Association when they supported (rightly) gun control measure in the wake of another high school shooting.

It is critical that MPs are able to vote with their conscience on the issues of the day and then face the electorate at a General Election. In the UK our MPs are representatives rather than delegates and must be given some freedom to use their judgement. I can think of examples such as the death penalty and proposals for a UK equivalent of Megan's Law where MPs went against public opinion because they felt that part of an MPs duty is to do what is right in the long run rather than popular in the short run. A balance must be drawn between giving the people the opportunity to recall an MP for misconduct and allowing MPs to make difficult decisions that might anger certain organisations or groups.

Looking at the detail of Zac Goldsmiths proposals I find that his seems a sensible balance between holding elected representatives accountable and ensuring that they are able to sometimes make the unpopular and difficult decisions our MPs have to make.

Dr Matt Lamb, Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Wyre Forest.

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