Seats in the commons

A step closer to MP Recall?

Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin’s announcement on MP Recall has moved the long-winded proposal ever-closer to coming into effect with the confirmation that the Act will be brought before the Commons in September.

Originally proposed by the Liberal Democrats in their 2010 election manifesto, the MP Recall Act looked set to make politicians more accountable by giving their constituents more power in calling a by-election should they believe their representative is doing a poor job.

The Act was actually passed just before Parliament was dissolved for the election, however, the arrival of the Conservatives into a majority position made many believe that this would never actually become law.

The Tories, whose traditional values support the idea that Parliament should avoid lending out sovereignty, eventually started to give up fighting against this liberal proposal midway through the last Parliament after seeing public support for MP recall grow in recent years.

Putting the Act back before Parliament in September will give MPs and Peers the opportunity to discuss and confirm the regulations that will come with the petition side of the arrangement, something 10% of constituents will need to sign before a by-election can take place.

Questions will, obviously, arise as the petition itself may be complicated and difficult to work out. Because the petition is likely to be done online give as many people as possible access to it, verifying constituents from that specific constituency may be where the whole thing starts to become more complicated.

Although nothing has been agreed as of yet, different proposals that have been put forward have suggested that only those who voted in the last election can sign the petition with others suggesting that anyone on the electoral register should be given a say.

The purpose of the Recall Act is to make MPs accountable to their constituents throughout their term in Parliament and not just at election time. One of the first places which may battle to bring about a by-election is Orkney and Shetland where current MP Alistair Carmichael has faced repeated calls to resign after it emerged that he leaked a memo suggesting that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon secretly wanted David Cameron as the next PM ahead of Ed Miliband.

Although Carmichael later apologised for his blunder, it only became clear that he was the one who leaked the memo after the election, meaning the constituents of Orkney and Shetland were unaware that he played any part. Had they known, the local SNP office argue, the result may have been very different.

How useful and effective the MP recall system remains to be known, however, the Carmichael case (Frenchgate scandal) may be a useful first test of this “exciting” proposal that “All of the house have a considerable interest in doing right”, according to Oliver Letwin, the man in charge of carrying the Act through these final stages.

Any piece of legislation, in my mind, that improves accountability and makes governments and Parliament in general more legitimate are worth bringing through. If the MP Recall Act at least achieves its objective in the most basic way, then it will at least be better than where we lie now.

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Ruairidh Campbell
Based in the Scottish Borders/Glasgow, Ruairidh has written extensively on everything from rugby to politics with work published in publications including the Scottish Rugby Union's website, Scottish Field Magazine and Edinburgh Rugby's match-day programmes.
Ruairidh Campbell

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