Julie Kirkbride and 'the power of recall'
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 standTagged in: constitutional reform, julie kirkbride, mps' expenses
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