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Andy McSmith

Andy McSmith is a senior reporter at The Independent. He has vast experience in political journalism and has also appeared on documentaries for BBC Radio 4.

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Julie Kirkbride and 'the power of recall'

Posted by Andy McSmith
  • Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 01:47 pm
Of all the ideas about constitutional reform swirling around at the moment, the one that is most topical today is the notion of 'the power of recall'. It is suggested that the voters should have the power to sack individual MPs in mid-Parliament if they have become mired in scandal. In Bromsgrove, the spontaneous 'Julie Must Go' campaign has collected 4,000 signatures calling on Julie Kirkbride, their Tory MP, to stand down. They are holding a public meeting on Sunday. She is not going to the meeting, and even if they collect 40,000 signatures, they have no power to force her out before a general election.

In Old Bexley and Sidcup, the sitting MP Derek Conway was exposed last year for having dispensed thousands of pounds from his parliamentary allowance to members of his family. The Conservative Party has disowned him, but the voters of Old Bexley and Sidcup are stuck with him still.

Another case is Quentin Davies, who has not been implicated in scandal, but switched parties from Conservative to Labour, with the result that the voters of Grantham and Stamford have a Labour MP, who would never won the seat if he had stood on the Labour ticket.

Objectors to the idea of instant recall - such as Michael Howard, in today's Independent - argue that once you have given the voters this power, there is no telling how they will use it. MPs might be challenged for reasons that have nothing to do with sleaze. You can imagine that if this power had been in place during the Iraq war, there might have been a series of by elections in which individual MPs were forced to defend the stand they had taken on the war, for or against.

But why is that a bad thing? Many, many years ago, when the Labour Party opposed entry to the EU, a pro-EU MP named Dick Taverne resigned his seat, forcing a by-election on the narrow question of whether the voters of Lincoln were for or against British membership. He won. That did democracy no harm. A few by-elections fought over the Iraq war would have been a good barometer of public opinion. It is an insult to the voters that an MP can switch parties soon after a general election, in defiance of those who voted for him, or that someone like Conway, disgraced and shunned by his own party carries on for years as an MP. I think if sufficient numbers of people who are on the electoral register in one constituency call for a by election, it should happen, and the sitting MP should, of course, have the right to stand


quite right
kooliusbeezer wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 02:14 pm (UTC)
Michael Howard being against something is practically a recommendation.

Your proposal would be entirely workable, democratic, and focus the minds of MPs on who they are really working for.

The question is: how to get it?
deimosp wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 02:44 pm (UTC)
" You can imagine that if this power had been in place during the Iraq war, there might have been a series of by elections in which individual MPs were forced ..." and the net result may have been we did not go to war, we did not break international law by invading a country Tony Blair and George Bush did not like but had loads of oil). I would say that this argument is a very good case for the electorate having such power. Means MPs might feel they have to represent the electorate rather than do what their party leader says (and ignoring their constituents - which is what seems to happen at the moment).
drg40 wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 02:51 pm (UTC)
It's a bad thing becasue the electors are supposed to choose someone they trust, not a party apparatchnik or a baboon with a blue rosette.

If they are foolish enough to choose a party clown sometimes they have to live with the consequences.
MacKay and Kirkbride
arthur_ide wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 03:25 pm (UTC)
Why are they not arrested, tried for their theft, and sent to prison? They are common criminals and deserve no mercy as they showed the good people who misguidedly voted for them no mercy while the two plundered the public purse.
Re: MacKay and Kirkbride
celticwelshman wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 08:55 pm (UTC)
This is a quote from the other side, however, I think it gives us the answer to your question. Quote; Gordon Brown said last night: "We are going to clean up the political system. We are never again going to have a situation where MPs are put in this position, where they sign their own expenses and have to do it all on their own and getting into mistakes which then have to be corrected"
Mistakes?? MP's are put in this position?? therein is your answer, they are protected by the establishment. It's rotten, It stinks.
Re: MacKay and Kirkbride
arthur_ide wrote:
Friday, 29 May 2009 at 01:30 pm (UTC)
It is time to take cheques away from MP--save for their over-inflated earnings. It is time that MPs have to run from single-member districts, and that voters have the power to recall those abusing the system. The question is not when--it is now--but the problem is with the voters. Will voters be intelligent enough and public spirited to gut the dry rot and reshape this nation into a beacon of democracy? I fear not.
Independent Commission Against Corruption
new_order_now wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 07:02 pm (UTC)
It has become blindingly obvious that the party leaders all want the gravy train to continue. They utter vague promises about 'reforms' which have about as much substance as Banquo's ghost. The Thieves of Westminster who have so shamelessly plundered the public purse, know there is nothing their constituents can do to be rid of them before the next election. So they give us poor taxpayers a Churchill Salute and carry on as before, milking the super-elastic, MPs-only 'benefit system' for all it's worth. I predict that not one of them will be fired or prosecuted. The system was designed purposely so that in the event of the theiving becoming public, the perpetrators would be legally fireproof. Here is proof, if proof were needed, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is what happens when an elite group is allowed abolute power, without a representitive body carrying the support of the people and the force of good law to oversee it.
Other countries (eg Australia) have dealt decisively with corruption with an ICAC Commission. Hong Kong and New Zealand also hve ICAC laws. The public is represented and involved. SO WHY CAN WE NOT ADOPT THIS PROVEN SYSTEM AND WHY HAVE POLITICIANS (and the press??) KEPT CONSPICUOUSLY SILENT ABOUT IT?
Such a body is also needed to deal with draconian laws, forced through Parliament over the last decade, designed to control the populace and curtail free speech.
Does The Independent support the ICAC system? Will they promote it as the way forward to clean up politics at Westminster?
Julie Kirkbride....
w1551ns wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 07:54 pm (UTC)
Please can we have less of the sullen photo of this cheating bint at the top of each piece about her.
She's got a face like a 'fish supper' and it's very off putting.
Many thanks.
stewartfleming wrote:
Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 08:25 pm (UTC)
True democracy - Representative or Delegate

The fundamental fallacy of our political system is that MP's represent their constituents whilst free, once elected, to behave as they think fit on voting, expenses or anything else without recourse to or sanction by the electorate.

This doctrine, first expressed as an act of faith by Edmund Burke in the 18th century, had merit then if only because primitive communications made it virtually impossible for MPs remote from their constituency to establish their constituents' views on the issues of the day. The MP could only represent what he considered to be their views - if he agreed with them.

Nowadays it is easy to gauge public opinion on almost any issue quickly and inexpensively and so the need for independence of mind in an MP largely falls away. In other words, in the modern world an MP should be a delegate from and not a representative of his voters.

This manifestation of true democracy would quickly destroy the present iron party control of MPs, who would then be accountable to their electorate, not the Whips. It would also have an highly beneficial effect on the country's education of its children. All politicians love to have a helpless, hapless, uneducated underclass that they can throw money at. It buys votes. MP's who had to do what their constituents commanded would soon realise it was better to take instructions from people properly educated.

Pr Liverpool
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