Recoil at recall!

Share This

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.

9 thoughts on “Recoil at recall!

  1. My posting may be deceiving James. I am not saying we should have recalls (which Anthony is). I am pointing out what is wrong about the conclusion of Michael White’s blog posting, he seems to be suggesting that voters have a say, when they don’t. So the agents of the voters are mainly the press (and increasingly the internet) in bringing pressure on errant MPs to do the decent thing).

  2. I agree that recall would be wrong for representatives. However I would also suggest that someone suspected of embezzlement, which is really what Conway is, should be fully investigated and prosecuted as far as the law permits as an example to others. If the probity of our representatives is not beyond reproach how can they expect the rest of us to be so. Of course in such a case as this it might take till the next election anyway to see it through court (unless it goes to a Home Secretary mandated Diplock style court over in a week!). It is just not good enough for them to deal with it between themselves with a ten day suspension.

  3. If an overwhelming number of Old Bexley constituents would like to sack Derek Conway I really don’t see why they should have to wait until the next General Election.

    The people hired him. They should be able to recall and sack him if they want.

  4. That’s a bit lame isn’t it Antony? At least address some of my points before wrapping yourself up in the comfort rhetoric.

    Anyway, what’s this “overwhelming majority” of which you speak? No recall system in the world insists on the petitioners gaining an “overwhelming majority” before a recall vote can be held – it would be futile. I’ll happily split the difference with you and say that such a system would not be subject to any of my objections above. But why would anyone campaign for such a system – it would never result in anyone actually being recalled.

  5. This is a rather unfortunate line to be plugging today. Gray Davis, former Governor of California, was recalled for being incompetent. It is arguable whether anything he did illustrated less competence than Clegg’s own handling of the EU referendum fiasco, which has made our party a laughing stock. And it is also arguable that breaking a promise to the electorate would be grounds for recall, in which case all but 15 of the party’s MPs would be feeling extremely uncomfortable today. Imagine if I Want a Referendum organised a recall election in Sheffield Hallam …

  6. 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.

    Here is one. AV+ where 80% are elected by AV, the other 20% as top-up members (my prefered top-up procedure is different to the Jenkins report, but that’s another story).

    The AV members can be recalled, the top-up members can’t. This isn’t a big problem because within any parlamentary majority, the majority of the majority must be AV members.

    Derek Young: And it is also arguable that breaking a promise to the electorate would be grounds for recall

    I very strongly feel that there should be a mechanism to punish MPs for breaking manifesto promises, either recall or maybe docking their salary.

  7. Well, AV+ a) isn’t proportional and b) not allowing the top up members to be recalled is a massive loophole.

    But, like I said in my more recent post, I’ve come around to the idea of recall with multi-member constituencies if the rule is that all the candidates in the block get recalled. The blameless MPs would get re-elected without difficulty (unless there were other reasons for getting rid of them) while the errant MPs would be the ones under scrutiny. That way it wouldn’t be open to abuse.

  8. “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.”

    It sounds almost as bad as AV …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *