MP recall: 73% of Lib Dem members approve of voters’ right to sack their representatives

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

73% of Lib Dem members approve of MP recall; 19% disapprove

The government has said that voters should have a means to ‘sack’ MPs who are guilty of ‘serious wrongdoing’. It proposes to allow voters in individual constituencies to vote on whether to recall their MP – that is, to hold a by-election – if more than 10% of voters sign a petition calling for one to take place. Voters could start a recall petition if an MP had committed a crime for which they receive a prison sentence or if the House of Commons passed a vote saying they had committed serious wrongdoing and could face a recall petition. Do you approve or disapprove of these triggers for allowing voters to start a recall petition?

    32% – Strongly approve

    41% – Tend to approve

    Total approve = 73%

    6% – Neither approve nor disapprove

    13% – Tend to disapprove

    6% – Strongly disapprove

    Total disapprove = 19%

    1% – Don’t know

Almost three-quarters of Lib Dem members (73%) back MP recall – the right of voters to sack MPs who are found guilty of ‘serious wrongdoing’: just 19% disapprove. However, as you’ll see from the sample of comments below, opinion is more divided on the triggers that would allow recall to happen. A number of those saying they approve note they think the 10% of voters petition threshold is too low (20% is mentioned as a preferred proportion). Many are also unhappy about the idea of recall first being subject to a Commons vote – either because they fear a majority party might abuse the system subjectively to target opponents, or because they think the Commons has no right to be involved in the first place.

My own view is that voter recall was promised in the Coalition Agreement and should be delivered. Nick Clegg has said voters can trigger a by-election only if the House of Commons first agrees an MP is guilty of ‘serious wrongdoing’ – a commitment made to try and steer this controversial measure through parliament. Though intended to avoid vexatious attempts to jettison MPs, it would be far better to set a high threshold than to dilute recall in this way. Kudos, by the way, to Tory MP Zac Goldsmith for sticking to his guns on this with his Campaign for True Recall.

A selection of your comments…

• I agree with recall, but would have preferred the judgement to be made by an independent standards body (IPSA or whoever), not a vote of the HoC.
• 10% of voters seems too low
• 10% is too low. I would certainly approve if this was raised to at least 20%, however.It would be an excellent way of showing that MPs are responsible to their constituents (without being their delegates/mouthpieces as the threat of recall on a low percentage of the electorate would tend to make them).
• Instinctively I disagree with recall as it could lead to knee-jerk reactions to a situation. However if we do have one then it must only be for serious crimes, not just because people are angry with their MP as it will lead to MPs just doing what is politically expedient rather than what is right.
• These safeguards need to be in place, otherwise I reckon you could get 10% of any constituency to vote to recall their MP.
• Voters should be able to start a recall petition against any MP without need for trigger, although perhaps in those circumstances the threshold should be increased.
• The bar needs to be set higher. I’d suggest 20%.
• I think some objective criteria are needed as a check on the power to recall
• 10% is too low and could cause problems down the line as it could be used as a political weapon. I think it should be at least 20%.
• Hopeless and a pale shadow of what Clegg promised before he got a taste of power
• Recall should be in the hands of the voters, possibly with a higher threshold but without any let or hindrance. If they just decide they don’t like their MP so be it. We’ve seen in the last week what MPs marking their own homework leads.
• I think the ONLY trigger necessary is a suitable threshold for signatures (verified)
• he Commons shouldn’t control whether voters can recall their MP or not. If they are worried that it will be used flippantly then up the threshold triggering a by-election to, say, 15 or 20 per cent.
• No caveats should be allowed on a recall election – just a simple petition, but the threshold should be higher.
• We already have a means of getting rid of MPs. It’s called a general election. A petition mechanism would simply be exploited by minority causes to harasss MPs who disagree with them.
• There does need to be a basic floor, recall for any reason would be a nightmare.
• I’m comfortable with the criminal offence trigger, but the House of Commons say-so trigger risks being abused for party political or other reasons and is not sufficiently objective.
• This is a nonsense, we have elections and we have criminal law. We don’t need these as well.
• A petty knee-jerk reaction to the expenses scandal.
• This sounds like a sensible idea, however I believe the threshold of 10% voters is too low.
• The power of initiative should rest with voters. The proposals actually leave the recall power with other MPs. voters should be able to recall an MP for any reason of their choosing, provided they can raise a petition with more names of electors in their constituency than the MP was originally elected by. It should not be a ‘dual key’ with the first key controlled by MPs. The proposals are pathetic and represent another broken promise by our leaders and other parties.
• Having a “fair” voting system which would ensure far more seats are genuine contests would achieve much more than a recall scheme
• There would need to be effective safeguards to protect MPs from malicious/repeat recalls
• 10% is too low a figure for initiating a recall because it is a temptation for rival parties to be mischievious.
• Depending on enough evidence that they have, as a lot of time it is all here say!
• I think a lower non-political threshold than a prison sentence should enable the public to initiate a recall.
• I have no particular reasons for opposing, but I just do not like it.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    11 Comments

    • Zac Goldsmith was very scathing, on the Politics Show in February, of the Coalition’s attempt to bring forward a draft bill – and of the Lib/Dems effort in particular:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti1dBFv1754

      I think you are mixing up the ‘Recall’ that all parties agreed to before the last GE with what ZG refers to as True Recall – which allows constituents to sack their MP at any time – simply because they are not satisfied with they way they are representing them – just as employers are allowed to sack their staff if they do not measure up!

      Would be an attractive policy for the Party [might even get ZG to join up] – but greater democracy does not seem to be an attractive notion to the Party.

    • True recall could introduce AV by the back door. Is that Goldsmith’s intention?

      It would be a very messy way to achieve majority support in constituencies though!

    • John Roffey 21st May '14 - 1:14pm

      I don’t think so – as far as I am aware his primary intention is to give the electorate an opportunity to show their displeasure with their MP if they do not do as they promises at the time of their election – or are supporting their party when it is breaking manifesto promises! Apart from booting out crooked or low performing representatives.

    • Under the current system, a recall is probably a desirable adjustment to make the system more accountable. But it would be wholly unnecessary if general elections were more frequent. They are now on a 5-year schedule. Prior to the Coalition’s legislation, they were held on average about every 4 years (more or less, depending on how the PM of the day felt about the national mood). In the early 18th century they were held every 7 years, which I think most would agree is well past the time that a sitting Parliament can claim a popular mandate. Prior to the Septennial Act, however, they were held every 3 years. The only still-unenacted part of the People’s Charter of the 1830s is the point demanding annual parliaments.
      I think 5 years is too long, and something between 1 and 3 years would be ideal. If there were annual elections, Parliament and governments would be (for good or ill) far more responsive to popular opinion, and there would be no call for recall.

    • John Roffey 21st May '14 - 1:36pm

      An after thought.

      The fact that it is the constituents that select their MP when they apply for the job of representing them [by standing as a candidate]; that if selected – it is the constituents taxes that pays their salaries and expenses – is it reasonable that it is their party leader that determines their success for the next 5 years and that the constituents have no input during that time?

      Even senior professionals in other forms of work are likely to have an annual review!

    • John Roffey 21st May '14 - 1:44pm

      @ David -1

      ‘I think 5 years is too long, and something between 1 and 3 years would be ideal. If there were annual elections, Parliament and governments would be (for good or ill) far more responsive to popular opinion, and there would be no call for recall.’

      Recall seems more sensitive to the circumstances. If a new government were to start passing laws that had no bearing on what they promised in their manifesto – they would probably find that many of their MPs would be recalled very quickly [and they would no longer have a majority] – whereas one that was doing what it promised would probably last a full 5 years.

    • Recall as explained by Zac Goldsmith is entirely reasonable. I agree a 20% threshold is more appropriate.

      According to Hansard, the average number of voters in each constituency is approximately 68,175 so if 13,625 of the electorate in the constituency are so disappointed with their MP that they sign a petition for him/her to be recalled, it suggests a deep-seated problem.

    • Matt (Bristol) 21st May '14 - 3:40pm

      In the event (currently seeming unlikely, but you never know) that a ‘top-up’ or ‘party list’ element to the HoC was passed into law, how would recall operate?

      Does conceding a ‘right’ to recall prevent electoral systems that do not allow individual named MPs to be presented to the elctorate as single indidviduals, and re-elected as single individuals?

      ie – does it prevent anything working effectively except FPTP and AV?

    • Denis Mollison 21st May '14 - 4:55pm

      Recall is the wrong answer to the problem of misbehaving MPs, for two reasons.

      (1) It should be a judicial process not political. What’s wrong with the present system is that it’s MPs that decide on their own misdemeanours.

      (2) The effect of re-running an election would vary hugely with the safety of the seat. An MP in a very safe seat would be likely to survive. Contrariwise, in marginal seats opposition parties might use recall against MPs who’d done little if anything wrong.

      I agree with others on the interval between elections: the coalition were greedy in asking for 5 years, which was the previous maximum.

    • Very few seats are currently decided by the winner securing an overall majority i.e. getting over 50% of the vote. Therefore by ganging together the supporters of all other parties could throw him or her out and secure a sort of repechage if a “test-free” version of recall were to be introduced whatever the percentage required to secure a recall.

      In my view there must be some independently judged test to trigger a recall vote. It is clearly the difficulty of deciding this in such a way as to avoid an unacceptable watering down that is holding up the introduction of this measure.

    • I don’t agree with what Zac Goldsmith calls “True Recall” as it’s open to being triggered whenever thw winning party in that seat is lower in the polls than they were at the last GE.

      I’m rather uncomfortable about the idea that it’s “democratic” to overturn the will of 100% of voters who voted on the whim of 10 or 20% or the decision of some parliamentary committee. The ONLY way I would support recall (and I do think we should deliver it on this basis) is on the basis of a breach of very clear rules. The decision on what constituted a “serious breach” should be independent. For example, the rule could be that conviction of an indictable crime triggers a recall.

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