Bad law is often passed when people encounter a problem, seize on a solution and wed themselves to it regardless of the unintended consequences. It’s the sort of kneejerk reaction we see from our Labour and Tory rivals all the time. Sadly, Antony Hook and Duncan Borrowman have done this over the “solution” of recall for MPs to solve the “problem” of Derek Conway fiddling his expenses.
Let me start by adding this caveat: I can see the case for recall where an executive is directly elected, such as in the case of an elected mayor. Directly elected executives are powerful things which are supposed to represent communities as a whole. This would be a valuable check on their power.
An executive is not the same thing as a representative however; both perform radically different functions. The purpose of representative democracy is that elected representatives have leeway to disagree with the people they represent, on condition that they are held to account after a period of time.
Liberal Democrats – and anyone with half a braincell who lacks a vested interest in the status quo – support proportional representation. This would maximise choice and competition within the system and ensure that politicians had to sing more loudly for their support. PR might even have ensured that benchwarmers like Conway had been given the heave-ho a long time ago. Either way, to the best of my knowledge, no-one has designed a system of recall that works with PR and avoids imposing the very majoritarianism that the electoral system is designed to bypass.
A Green MEP supported by 10% of the electorate should not be subject to the indulgence of the majority. Under PR, a system of recall would be outrageously open to abuse. We can have PR, or we can have recall: we cannot have both.
It might be argued that in lieu of PR, recall might be justifiable if under a FPTP system (or AV for that matter). The problem with this is that recall would exacerbate many of the worst aspects of such electoral systems.
An MP with a majority of 30,000 would be much less vulnerable to recall than an MP with a majority of 30. MPs in marginal constituencies would be under constant attack; MPs in safe constituencies would be free to do as they pleased.
We already have a system whereby the swing voters in marginal constituencies have a disproportionate level of influence on our Parliament. Recall would give them even more influence.
I’ve often been criticised for my support of things like citizens’ initiatives and Chris Huhne’s proposed people’s veto on the basis that it would undermine representative democracy. On the contrary, I want to strengthen it and see some forms of direct democracy as a way of doing that. But recall is an example of a system which can only undermine representative democracy. It is a way of exerting the tyranny of the majority onto MPs. Only the most venal, spineless and self-serving politicians could work their way through the political culture it would impose on us.
In summary, recall is incompatible with PR – which we should all support. It is incompatible with the principle of representative democracy – which we should all support. And even as an interim measure it would exacerbate the worst aspects of majoritarianism. If you value pluralistic politics, you should avoid it like the plague.
Thankfully, Parliament is unlikely to adopt recall before hell freezes over. It is even less likely to adopt recall than it is to adopt PR. We’re probably safe.
In the meantime, I’m afraid that unless he resigns (and I think he should), either Mr Conway will have to be with us for another couple of years or he will end up in the slammer for a fraudulent use of public funds. That’s a price I for one am happy to pay.