The Poms can come up with good ideas now and again, despite their fondness for morris dancing and sports like soccer.
Or rather, they can revitalise old ideas that are well worth the revitalising.
But they are apt to seize on such an idea, then modify it so much that it becomes almost pointless and they might just as well stick with the status quo.
This seems to have happened in the case of UK Government plans to allow voters to sack their MPs.
The Daily Mail today reports on the Queen’s Speech which included a mention of a long-awaited bill to allow MPs to be ‘recalled’ by constituents.
It will give constituents the opportunity to sign a petition demanding a by-election:
* If an MP is jailed; or
* If the House of Commons ‘resolves that an MP should face a recall petition’.
But the proposals haven’t gone down too well with a Tory backbencher by name of Zac Goldsmith.
He has led the campaign to introduce the power of recall, enabling voters to spark a by-election if they want to get rid of their member of Parliament.
But he is adamant MPs should not have a role in deciding whether or not they should face a petition to be sacked.
He said: ‘Recall is about empowering people to hold their MPs to account at all times, that’s all it is.
‘It’s a very simple mechanism that happens all over the world. What this bill will do is that it gives that power to a committee of parliamentarians, of MPs – the same committee, by the way, that got into trouble over Maria Miller.’
Miller resigned as culture secretary in April amid claims she was forced out by No 10 after a row over her expenses.
Goldsmith warned that the measures would leave voters with ‘no more power after this bill goes through than they do today’, and predicted an ‘immense’ backlash. He went on:
It’s worse than meaningless, it’s a pretense, and voters will know it’s a pretense at the very first scandal.’
Nevertheless he is pleased that a recall bill is going through Parliament. A watered-down bill is better than none, obviously, even though he complains:
‘The criteria are so narrow that it’s virtually meaningless, it would be impossible to recall anyone.
‘So the danger of this – and it really is a danger, particularly on the back of this huge Ukip vote we saw last week – is that people will discover at the very first scandal that they have been duped, that they have no more power after this bill goes through than they do today, and I think the backlash will be immense.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance agrees and says it is an ’embarrassingly weak’ proposal.
The group’s chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “This stitch-up will do nothing to restore the trust of voters in politics. It will centralise more power in Westminster, rather than handing it to voters.’
Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said the power to recall an elected representative between elections is an essential mechanism for democratic accountability.
‘Recall enjoyed cross-party support and featured in every party manifesto. Why are the government afraid of giving voters their say?
‘Genuine recall empowers voters not parliamentary committees. At the moment when there is a scandal political parties can have a say, they can withdraw the whip from the MP, Parliament can have a say through the Standards Committee but voters are left out in the cold.
‘The government’s watered down version of recall risks creating the illusion that people will have a say in recalling their elected representative while ensuring that this will probably never happen in practice. There is a real danger that this could alienate people from politics and politicians even further.’
Essentially, a recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended.
Recalls are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition.
They have a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy and are a feature of several contemporary constitutions.
Alf can’t recall if similar recall proposals have been considered in this country.
But it looks like a helluva good idea.
He can think of several candidates for the recall treatment starting with….
He will leave it to his constituents to come up with their own candidates, however, although he will smartly go off the idea of recalls if he gets any whiff that someone has put him on their list.