THE BLOG

A Vote Against Real Recall Is a Vote Against Democracy

03/11/2014 17:24 GMT | Updated 03/01/2015 10:59 GMT

When it comes to topping the 'least popular' lists, MPs have form.

Typically, we're pipped to the post only by bankers and traffic wardens.

And whilst not all MPs are the same, who could blame voters for having such monumental misgivings?

Westminster's hardly a billboard for people-centred politics. Given its makeup, the term 'Commons' is pretty ironic, too. Then there was the MPs' expenses scandal. The redacted reports, the bizarre rituals (think pink ribbons on coat hooks for one's sword). All topped off with a good dash of blasé gender discrimination and free leg-ups for old school chums.

We're supposed to be the mother of all democracies. But Parliament remains resolutely unrepresentative, unaccountable and un-transparent.

Last week, MPs had an opportunity to right that - or at least take a small step in the right direction.

They chose not to by a majority of 340 to 166. Which is why this week we're voting on a Bill that exists for appearance sake only. Monday's Recall Bill alludes to MP accountability. It's mere smoke and mirrors; a shadow of what it should be.

Why? Because real recall means power to voters - where people can decide, with safeguards for fairness, when and why an MP is recalled.

In a nutshell, the Recall Bill means that, should an MP grossly fail their constituents in some way, a parliamentary committee would hold the power to recall them.

Which misses the point entirely. My constituents are my employers - if I let them down I should be accountable to them.

Those who voted last week against the amendments tabled by Zac Goldsmith MP for real recall positioned themselves on a pedestal out of reach of those they represent. They'd rather be held to account by their parliamentary peers than those who voted them in - for which read they don't especially want to be held to account at all.

The arguments against the amendments have been driven by fear and a lack of awareness.

No, MPs wouldn't be turfed out in succession by voters with vested interests.

Goldsmith's amendments are responsible and robust. I know this because I sat on the committee which interrogated them in detail.

The process starts with a 'notice of intent'. If 3,500 constituents (on average) sign it over a four week period then a recall petition is created. Then a full 20% of voters must visit the town hall in person to sign the official recall petition.

If the petition is successful, it would lead to a referendum - a by-election would be called only if a majority of constituents voted in favour of it. The recalled MP can then stand in the by-election if they wish.

But last week MPs rejected the idea by 340 to 166 in favour of the Government's water-down Bill.

Speaking after the failed vote, Zac Goldsmith MP said that what is at stake was a matter of principle - "do we trust our voters to hold us to account or not?"

The shameful answer was "not". When it came to real, voter-driven recall, Parliament just couldn't stomach it.

Westminster has always dragged its heels. But something has to give. In the Scottish Referendum we witnessed a public fully engaged in the political process - the highest voter turnout in my lifetime. Every vote, every voice, counted. The people had power and they exercised it.

We're at a crossroads. We can shake the sand from our ears, or count the cost of our inertia.

If we don't trust our voters, they will never trust us, and we'll have no one but ourselves to blame for the cynicism, disillusionment and disengagement that will continue to pervade our democracy.

A vote against real recall was a vote against democracy, a vote for the privileged comforts of the status quo - and the public should be left in no doubt about where their own MPs stand.