Not out of the mire


Oh dear! Just when parliamentarians thought they might be scrambling out of the mud, a new volley of sleaze allegations hits Westminster.

So should the response be a bill to allow easier removal of tainted MPs and peers? The idea of a "recall" procedure was in the Coalition Agreement which promised:

"We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents."

Well, it's not that early....and the idea of recall makes a number of MPs rather queasy.

Quite a number, particularly in marginal seats, fear that they could face a constant guerrilla challenge from rival candidates, permanently agitating for their removal on any pretext that could be cobbled together. Hence the wording of the Coalition's proposal: "Where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing."

This would rule out, for example, an attempt to recall Nick Clegg for joining the Coalition and ditching his commitments on student loans, or to recall an MP for supporting gay marriage, or opposing an EU referendum, or even accepting the closure of a local hospital. And it wouldn't be possible to sack an MP who was failing to turn up to parliament, or the constituency.

Under this system, an MP would only face the possibility of recall if first convicted of some serious offence, presumably by the courts or by the Commons Standards Committee.

A petition of 10% of their voters could then unseat them - so their opponents would have to gather 7,000-8,000 signatures in most constituencies. This would answer the situation which occurred a couple of times in previous parliaments, where a discredited MP lingered on, sometimes for several years, before slinking quietly away at a general election.


But, say the critics, the system relies on a Commons committee opening the way for local voters to act. And what if that committee decided to protect some popular establishment figure, or even protect a vital vote for a beleaguered government? In the 1970s, remember, one of the vital votes which sustained James Callaghan's minority government belonged to John Stonehouse, who was eventually convicted of fraud after having attempted, Reggie Perrin style, to fake his own death. He would come to the House after spending a day in the dock at the Old Bailey, to vote for the government....

So, they argue, recall is too important to be left to the Westminster establishment. The scenario I've outlined would certainly be a test for the new lay members of the Standards Committee, who're supposed to be outside the cosy parliamentary bubble. Like a Victorian miner's canary, they're supposed to keel over if the air in the committee becomes noxious with favouritism or special pleading. Is that safeguard enough?

The radical Tories, like Douglas Carswell, who've championed recall, don't think it is. They argue that the petition should come first and should simply trigger a re-run of the election in their constituency. Let the local party decide whether to re-adopt the sitting MP, let the sitting MP decide whether to stand as an independent if dropped by them, and let the local voters take the final decision.

And give no role to any committee of the Westminster Great and Good. (The Carswell tendency, by the way, like the idea of electing, rather than appointing, the Standards Committee.)

Ooo-err. Tensions between these two rather different ideas of recall could make passing a bill pretty interesting. It's not hard to imagine a serious backbench uprising, not least because any measure identified with Nick Clegg seems to attract trouble. And this is the kind of measure which can turn the mildly dyspeptic backbench critic into a committed enemy, if they see it as a direct threat, or as a stick with which their opponents will be able to beat them.

There are different issues with peers - they gain entry to the House of Lords by virtue of a writ of summons which confers membership until death. One option is the revival of the Steel Bill - David Steel's modest package of tidying-up reforms, which includes provision to remove peers convicted of serious offences - it was passed by the Lords in the last session, but was never debated in the Commons.

The Conservative backbencher Dan Byles (fifth in the annual ballot) is going to have a pop at getting the bill through, but this might be rather too weighty an issue for the private members' bill system. But you never know. Alternatively, the government may produce a bill of its own, or stir the issue of errant peers into a bill on recalling MPs.

Of course this is just one facet of the problem...there is a bill mooted to create a register of parliamentary lobbyists and the Speaker is looking hard at abuses of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).

But many in Westminster regard the most toxic issue of all as being party funding - which is why a cross party group has floated a draft bill to sort out the system. I'll try to meander through these topics in the next couple of days.

Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

Week ahead at Westminster

There's still time for a soupcon of high-powered politics as MPs and peers prepare to decamp for their Easter break.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    18 - Megan. Agree. So, what is the solution which does not rely on Politicians to instal & police the solution? Afterall, would in be sensible & productive to expect the Mafia to clean up the Mafia, the Banks to clean up the Banks, paedophiles to police paedophiles,etc? What is a viable alternative to corruption policing corruption? Backbenchers? They see no evil, hear no evil & speak no evil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Just as turkeys don't vote for Christmas, neither will politicians vote for any measure that will hold them to account for their behaviour.

    They would much rather line their own pockets without regard to the citizens who employ them, & happily stoop to lie, cheat or outright steal from the public purse to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    16 - Brentford Activist. "...standards in public office".

    If only that would work, but it wouldn't when the overiding remit of corrupt Politicians is to retain power at all costs. One solution would be to dispose of "rules & guidelines", introduce laws which ALWAYS apply to the electorate & when broken insist that the law is openly enforced on Politicians. But then, its back to Post 15.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Wouldn't it be nice if Cameron, instead of starting a new committee to decide if an MP should be disqualified, was handed over to the existing y Independent committee on standards in public office,

    Who could then refer the MP to their constituency.

    That will never happen, "they're all in it together".

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Many good suggestions on here as to how Politics can be cleaned up, but they all rely on Politicians being honourable & having a natural ability to put the UK first. It 'aint gonna happen, because MP's are all the same in mindset & intellect. And, backbenchers are guilty of apathy too. Parliament requires fumigation & replaced with people who possess a natural abilty & above all, honesty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I have a problem with "Political Speak" & I would guess that a significant number of Posters have as well. Lets get something clear once & for all. Politicians & BBC use phrases like "sleaze" which means fraud, thieving, lying,etc. And by the way, a "promise" to the electorate is a promise, not an "aspiration". Finally, the often used phrase "lessons will be learned" never are. Speak the truth!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    MPs should be forced to use the same stupid and demoralising appraisal system that has been centrally forced upon civil servants - a 20% quota of underperforming MPs should be put on poor performance measures annually and if they don't improve they should be sacked!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Mark d'Arcy, the word you are looking for is CORRUPTION, these MP’s weren’t caught wearing stockings, bent over a desk with an apple in their mouth. They were caught taking money to push private agendas for moneyed interests.

    I wish the media would have the courage to tell the truth of the matter. No matter who committed them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Mention was made of the proposed Lobbyists Bill and the fact that Cameron et al had decided to tack trade union political funding on it. Why, I ask myself, other than winding Labour up as a distraction from other things. In the distant past when I was a trade unionist you would become an 'associate' Labour party member by paying the political levy, then as now optional. How is that to be changed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    As Zac Goldsmith MP suggested on Newsnight yesterday

    "Under the proposed bill I could leave the Conservative Party and join the BNP, never hold a surgery in my constituency and never turn up in the House of Commons, my constituents still could not recall me"

    Mind you, he would still be able to claim his salary.

    So what is the use of this bill, and how much Parliamentary time will it use?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Ban MPs from having any second income larger than their salary - and REDUCE the salary.....

    ....offering such rich rewards attracts too many greedy people out for themselves, not us.....

    ....I want someone happy with £50K P/A tops, not someone who is osbcebely greedy & desires to be a millionaire.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    AndyC555 #6
    Unfortunately these politicians have a 5 year fixed contract unless they spend a year or more in jail. They have "Parliamentary privilege" so they can name/defame or otherwise abuse anyone who is not an MP without fear of prosecution.
    This "recall" bill is nothing but a sham and if passed will not give the electorate the right to re-call their MP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    No. Any MP should be subject to recall if his constituents are dissatisfied with how he is representing them - those who break the law should be automatically dismissed and disbarred from standing for re-election upon conviction, even if they are not gaoled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Rather than waffle about "Members should not accept money to ask questions" or whatever in the guidebooks on procedure how about "It is a criminal offence to accept money to ask questions"?

    It's our democracy, our parliament.

    If these things being done are wrong they shouldn't result in a stern telling off and writing "I won't be naughty again" 100 times, they should result in prosecution,

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Can Mark d'Arcy define anything more serious than lying to the electorate. It is behavior like Nick Clegg's and the rest of the LIb Dem's that has brought the standing of politicians to such a low ebb. After the last election Cameron and Clegg conspired to thwart the will of the electorate. Many of whom wondered why they bothered to vote at all. I predict turn outs will be very low in 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    There seems to be something about politics that corrupts so many that come close to it.

    Interesting to hear James Caan argue both his daughters went through a fair recruitment process, so James we are supposed to believe they were, from all the applications, the best for all those jobs.

    Here in the real world we have a word for that, its the same we use to describe the uni fees promise

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    1.Dr Bob Matthews
    I wont hold my breath regarding any promises made by this shambles of a coalition government
    And your precious socialists are innocent are they?

    ALL political parties of every hue; left, middle & right have experienced corruption and sleaze over the last 300 years. And yes, it was going on under the last 13 year Labour government and they did nothing at all about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Surely parliament will want to be recalled to help the PM in his "secret affair crisis"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I wont hold my breath regarding any promises made by this shambles of a coalition government, far too interested in personal skin saving exercises and deliberately misleading the electorate than actually keeping promises!



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