Saturday, March 01, 2008

Could this work?

Much has been made of the letter written by a number of Tory MPs to the Telegraph, calling for a "recall" sanction against MPs.
Sir - At a time when trust in politicians continues to be diminished, there is an urgent need to look again at the sanctions available when an MP has been found to have behaved improperly.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee is able to suspend an MP, but many members of the public feel frustration that, save for very limited circumstances, an MP disciplined by the Commons authorities will not be answerable to his constituents until a general election is called and, therefore, can retain his position and salary for some years.

As Conservative MPs all elected for the first time in 2005, we recognise that we are accountable to our electorate and, consequently, we do not think that a parliamentary committee should have the discretion to expel an MP. However, we do think that consideration should be given to creating a recall mechanism, similar to that used in some US states, to enable constituents to vote on whether they remove their MP during the course of a Parliament.

For example, in California in 2003, a petition was organised calling for the recall of the governor, Gray Davis. Once it was established that a sufficient number of electors had signed the petition, a ballot was held on whether Davis should be recalled. That ballot succeeded, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to replace him.

We would want safeguards to be put in place to ensure that this mechanism was not abused, such as requiring a high percentage of registered voters in a constituency to petition for a recall ballot, or only permitting a recall ballot when the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee has recommended it as a sanction.

None the less, a mechanism of this sort used in exceptional circumstances would increase MPs' accountability, address some of the frustration felt by a disenchanted public and help restore trust in our democratic institutions.

David Gauke MP, Ben Wallace MP, Greg Hands MP, Ed Vaizey MP, Brooks Newmark MP, Richard Benyon MP, Peter Bone MP, James Brokenshire MP, David Burrowes MP, Douglas Carswell MP, Greg Clark MP, Philip Dunne MP, Tobias Ellwood MP, Stephen Hammond MP, Philip Hollobone MP, Stuart Jackson MP, Mark Lancaster MP, Anne Main MP, Maria Miller MP, Anne Milton MP, Mike Penning MP, John Penrose MP, Lee Scott MP, Graham Stuart MP, Rob Wilson MP, Stephen Crabb MP, David Jones MP

Whilst the fact that some MPs realise how much they are loathed, I fear that I must side with EU Referendum on this issue.
One has to applaud the good intentions of the signatories but, in our own way – which some will no doubt dismiss as "sneering" – we have to say that this is simply another case of tinkering at the margins, without addressing the root cause of the problem.

At the heart of this displacement activity is a basic misunderstanding of the malaise affecting the body politic. It has become fashionable to talk in terms of "trust" in relation to politicians, as if that was somehow important. To us weary cynics, however, trust is an irrelevance. Anyone who invests trust in either politicians or the political process is either hopelessly naïve or needs their brains examined.

No, the heart of the problem is the uselessness of MPs – their irrelevance to the political process. Over term, they have handed down their own powers and responsibilities to that deadly combination of quangos and the European Union, to the extent that, in vast areas of policy, they are simply redundant.

In the nature of things, since they have no real power, they internalise, focusing in part on the few things over which they still have control, while mainly devoting themselves to the theatre of politics rather than the substance. From this stems not a lack of "trust" but a wholehearted contempt for politicians – a word which the signatories of this letter avoid.

It is not that we do not "trust" politicians. Trust is not an issue. We have wholehearted contempt for them as a breed – those useless mouths who preen and posture – and more so for those who line their pockets at our expense. This we wrote about in January and will continue "banging on" until the message gets through.

As always though, diagnosing the disease is one thing – administering the cure is another. In the first instance, the remedy lies in the hands of the MPs themselves. They as a parliament must reassert their own authority and take back the powers they and their predecessors have so freely given away. A good start would be to reject the government's mendacious line on the constitutional Lisbon treaty and turn the ratification over to a popular referendum. They have the power to do this, if they care to exercise it, remembering the old saw – power is not given, it is taken.

Of course, they will not. There are now too many seedy time-servers, rent-seekers and party apparatchiks in the House – those who enjoy and exploit the system for their own personal benefit, no matter how they dress it up.

That is why – despite the good intentions of the class of 2005 – we are going nowhere. The authority of parliament will continue to decline, because the MPs as a body are prepared to let it decline. And, if they do not address this issue, history tells us that, eventually, we will have to do it for them.

I think that the phrase that is most relevant here is, quite simply, "too little, too late"; over thirty years too late, in fact. Our parliament is debased and sidelined; it is little more than a trough for the most unscrupulous, rapacious, deceptive and dishonest in our society—the only difference between these scum and the "scrotes" on the housing estates is in the degrees of power and money: the MPs have considerably more of both and, as such, their malign effect is commensurately greater.

Sweep it away; pull it all down and start again.

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