The recent trouble with MPs’ behaviour surely triggers one question – where’s the accountability? Their respective parties may be able to suspend them, but ultimately MPs are only answerable to themselves. There is no procedure in place which could demand an MP to stand down or face a by-election, apart from under very limited conditions.
The narrow scope of The Recall of MPs Act 2015 can be seen in the summary below:
The Bill provides for a recall petition to be triggered if a Member is sentenced to a prison term or is suspended from the House for at least 21 sitting days. If either occurred, the Speaker would give notice to a petition officer, who in turn would give notice to parliamentary electors in the constituency. A petition would then be open for signing for eight weeks. If at the end of that period at least 10 per cent of eligible electors had signed the petition, the seat would be declared vacant and a by-election would follow. The Member who was recalled could stand in the by-election. The Bill also introduces rules on the conduct of the recall petition, including campaign spending limits for those supporting and opposing recalling the Member.
Surely it is the electorate who should decide if Jared O’Mara’s past behaviour should result in his continuing as an MP. The same goes for Stephen Crabb. Some would deem Michael Gove’s crass attempt at humour on BBC Radio 4 as reason enough for him to resign. But, unlike other professions, accountability in politics is an elusive concept.
When the current right of recall Act was passing through Parliament in 2014/15, under the guidance of Nick Clegg, maverick voices such as those of Douglas Carswell called for the power of recall to rest with the electorate. His calls were rejected. Recently Carswell took took to Twitter, in light of the Jared O’Mara affair, to remind Nick Clegg of the paucity of the Act which he had delivered.
No one wants a dysfunctional democratic system where MPs can be recalled simply because a portion of the electorate dislikes their politics. But the unaccountable nature of 5 year terms for MPs is inexcusable.
It’s time for someone to call for a repeal of the 2015 Act. New legislation is needed. If worked out properly, it need not lead to disrupting an MP’s electoral term on a whim, but it would be there as a means of holding MPs to account for flagrant abuses of power and position. Politicians must be made to realise that they represent the people and not themselves.