The Campaign for Better Democracy GB&NI
5th November 2021
A lesson from the Standards in Public Life affair involving Owen Paterson MP. Questions raised about genuine RECALL by voters
THE RECALL IS PRIMARILY A MATTER FOR CONSTITUENCY VOTERS
As usual in matters of public governance, the people, electorate, appear to be regarded as marginal figures, spectators of state affairs and, in this case of an accused (now 4.11.2021 resigned) MP, as wolves. The tory brother- and sisterhood at Westminster were more than wary of the risk that their fellow MP might be “sentenced” to a suspension long enough to enable a constituency recall procedure to be conducted by citizen electors, “voters”. In the tory fold there was a sense that, “We must not let him be thrown to the wolf pack!”, a sense which might partly explain the apparently desperate, irrational and unparliamentary tactics which were initially tried.
Perhaps we exaggerate slightly in some points. But a touch of hyperbole may – justifiably – be applied to add support and draw interest to a following argument:
After the Paterson affair, in the Westminster bubble there will probably be efforts and public resources to “improve” the regulation and supervision of MP behaviour – “principles of public life”. It is at least if not more important to improve the quality of our democracy, especially the options and means for citizens to take part effectively in our government. This case has reminded us that the people of a constituency have the democratic right not only to choose, elect and so appoint an MP to represent their interests but also the right to remove that person from office. The rulers in our centralised, self-protecting systems of governance have strived and legislated to keep democracy weak, to minimise effective citizen participation in our own government. In the case of “recall” the tricks included (a) Preventing the electorate from independently initiating a recall procedure, (b) Installing a committee with grandee politicians, without whose approval a recall cannot occur (c) Limiting the “acceptable” reasons for recall to non-political matters such as the ethical, criminal or financial. The latter “c” tactic is the most scandalous, an attempt to weaken – yea to castrate – the democratic rights and powers of the people. The recall as it is practised in democratic states is a method by which the people can remove an elected employee or delegate or representative who has lost their confidence – for whatever reason. A seat in parliament is a political office. To exclude political reasons for recall is more than unreasonable, it is absurd. If an MP fails to well represent the electors then they have a right to independently instigate a recall procedure.
In pleading and attempting to legislate for the recall in the UK a well known politician has gone against the grain of prevailing centralised “control freakery”.
We quote a House of Commons Library report*, Section 8.3 The Recall of Elected Representatives Bill 2010-12
"The Recall of Elected Representatives Bill 2010-12 was introduced by Zac Goldsmith as a Presentation Bill (under Standing Order No. 57) on 26 July 2010. The Bill made provision for voters to recall their elected representatives in specified circumstances.
He subsequently introduced private Members’ Bills on recall in every session of the 2010-15 Parliament.
In an article in the Hounslow Chronicle, Goldsmith said that recall “…is a right that should exist at every level, from councillor to MP, and it should not be subject to approval by a central authority”.
On 8 September 2010 Goldsmith secured a Westminster Hall debate on direct democracy initiatives.
During the debate he said: True recall allows people to sack their representatives, for whatever reason, if a majority have lost confidence in them, and it certainly is not subject to approval by a central authority. (emphasis added)"
*Recall elections. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 5089, 2 June2021 https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05089/SN05089.pdf
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