Lib Link… Nick Clegg: Sadly, I’m not surprised by these revelations. Westminster is crying out for reform

I know that the absence of the [lobbying] register from last month’s Queen’s Speech raised some concerns. So let me be clear: it will happen.

That was Nick Clegg writing in the Telegraph following accusations that an MP and three peers were engaging in paid lobbying.

Also on the table is the power of recall of corrupt MPs – something also raised by Tories Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell elsewhere in the Telegraph. The point at issue between the two positions: whether there must be wrongdoing, or whether recall is at the absolute discretion of the petitioners and voters. I fancy that the Carswell/Hannan version where no wrongdoing is required could well deliver something like AV by the back door. Any MP without an absolute majority of votes may be vulnerable to such a recall campaign on behalf of some rival who is preferred by a majority of voters over the sitting MP.

But there is no doubting that recent events have given reform a boost.

Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. Our political system has long been crying out for head-to-toe reform.

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  • Peter Watson 3rd Jun '13 - 1:20pm

    I’ve probably missed the point, but how exactly will a register of lobbyists help?
    It could simply lead to a closed shop for lobbyists and prevent the sort of investigative journalism that has exposed dodgy dealings this week.

  • I would say that recall should be for two reasons both of which should lead to a by election:

    1. Where an MP breaks a criminal law (not including motoring offences) or is judged to have knowingly and significantly breached parliamentary rules. This would a straightforward decision by the standards authority.

    2. Where a constituent can demonstrate to the standards authorities that an MP has made a pledge / promise to act in a certain way and has failed to do so without acceptable extenuating circumstances. This would include for me those that wish to cross the floor or resign their party whip, not to mention those that sign pledges and break them within weeks of an election. Whilst the recent example may be tuition fees, this would equally have applied to Labour and their pledge not to introduce “top up” fees and the Tories and their Tax pledge in 1992. Wouldn’t it be a better democracy if those we elect could be held to their promises more than once every 5 years.

  • I agree with Steve!

    Expanding his second point, would you only judge against written election manifestos, or promises made in mid-term, or in speeches? Example is Labour’s pledge to restrict uni fees to £6k. pa which I’ve a sneaky feeling their manifesto won’t have space for. But still, it would take mighty courage to allow electors to express their disappointment in you breaking promises through a recall system – let’s see who has the guts.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jun '13 - 2:42pm

    @Steve and @tpfkar
    Whilst I completely agree with the sentiment (and feel very let down by those Lib Dem MPs who broke their pledges), I am not entirely comfortable with the notion of recalling an MP for:
    breaking a promise – how do we distinguish between that and simply changing one’s mind when circumstances change, or compromising on one principle to achieve another?
    changing or leaving a party – I quite like the idea that we elect independent MPs who might sincerely believe that they can better represent their constituents by taking a different position.

  • @Peter Watson
    This is why I believe a constituent would need to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the standards authority. For example changing spending plans in relation to a financial crisis would be acceptable, changing plans for political expediency or changing Party having stood on the manifesto of the original Party would not be.

  • I think Clegg misses the point. IMHO, whilst Mercer messed up by not registering a payment fast enough, I just question why our MPs should be taking these payments at all, publicly or secretly. Mercer should have been representing his constituents, not a Fijian junta. It would not all have been ok of the payment had been declared. A register of lobbyists would do little more than protect MPs on the make. The question for me is whether regular constituency interests are as high a priority for MPs as the kind of corporate interests that employ lobbying. This comes back to safe seats. The kind of reform Clegg has in mind doesnt stop grubbing MPs, it just protects them from stings. Coin operated MPs working to a price list are no big help for me.

  • Alex Baldwin 3rd Jun '13 - 3:27pm

    <> – Nick Clegg

    I agree entirely.

  • Alex Baldwin 3rd Jun '13 - 3:28pm

    Oops, that didn’t work:
    “Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. ” – Nick Clegg

    I agree entirely.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Jun '13 - 5:27pm

    Might not the best thing be an ‘either – or’? (say) 10 per cent of the electorate can trigger a by-election if the person concerned has been formally criticised by the HoC Standards set-up; 30 per cent if not.

    The requirements to provide signature, name and electoral roll number for all signatories to count would make a 30 per cent ‘hurdle’ nigh-on impossible unless people were really very angry and the anger was widespread. Most voters, even if they didn’t support the incumbent originally, would not wish to trigger a by-election: by and large, the British concept of democracy involves accepting the outcome of an election.

  • The coalition has been in power for three years. You don’t want anything to change???

  • ““Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. ” – Nick Clegg”

    To be fair, Nick Clegg’s not the only one! 🙂

  • David Allen 3rd Jun '13 - 11:35pm

    “Westminster is crying out for reform.”

    Er, no, Westminster would much rather just carry on as it pleases. But every so often when things get really smelly, Westminster delights in watching people like Clegg make earthshattering speeches promising action by yesterday. After that, they can all safely go back to sleep again.

  • It should be up to the voters what they want to recall an MP for. It might be corruption or it might be adopting unpopular policies – what the reason is should be in the hands of voters. The legislation should just set a threshold for the number of voters needed to recall. A simple threshold would be a petition signed by half of the registered voters in the constituency. This should be a high enough threshold to stop silly recalls.

  • Ben – I think 50% of registered voters is too high a threshold given typical turnout. How about 50% +1 of the total votes from the most recent general election? Or, if that feels too low for you, perhaps 2/3 +1?

  • Minor edit to my post: 2/3 +1 of the number of votes in the previous general election… hopefully that’s clearer.

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