By Joseph Willits
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Both Douglas Carswell and Zac Goldsmith condemned Government proposals yesterday for the recall of MPs for wrongdoing when they appeared before the Commons's political and constitutional reform committee. The plans would mean that if over 10% of constituents signed a petition calling for a by-election, an MP could be recalled providing they had spent less than twelve months in prison or if the Commons' disciplinary committee recommends that a petition takes place.
However, a committee of MPs would be given the power to define what constitutes a recall. Goldsmith suggested that this could lead to unfair outcomes, given that other MPs were making the decision to recall another member:
"You could be the world's worst ever MP without breaking a single thing in the (MPs) code (of conduct) because it relates to financial things. Or vice-versa, you could by accident break one of those codes - not registering a bottle of wine given to you by a friendly constituent for example - which could be a genuine error. But that might be an excuse for the committee to qualify you for recall because you might be a unpleasant character and not popular in the House."
Carswell likened the proposals to something that Sir Humphrey would have come up with. MPs he said, would not be accountable to the people, but rather to other MPs:
"Sir Humphrey Appleby came up with a system that Sir Humphrey Appleby would perhaps like, which is to keep the people at bay and ministers seem to have gone along with it ... I think it is deeply and deliberately flawed. Instead of doing what recall should do, which is make all of us more outwardly accountable to the people, I think it will make us inwardly accountable to Westminster grandees."
Daniel Kawczynski is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Continuation of First Past the Post. All-party it may be in principle, but of course the Liberal Democrats are not fans. The arguments in favour of our current system for electing MPs are worth quickly rehashing.
It is certainly the case that a candidate's party affliation is the most important factor for most electors - but that doesn't mean that a potential MP's personal qualities should be systematically overlooked, which is what happens when they are elected because of their position on a list drawn up by party hacks in smoke-filled rooms. (Actually, perhaps the rooms aren't smoke-filled any more.)
It may be that many of us would find it a challenge to name our MEP even if they were elected by first past the post - but it seems likely that the list system we use for European elections has made that challenge even tougher. Do we want that for Westminster too?
Proportional representation often results in smaller parties enjoying disproportionate power as the big boys struggle to form a majority, and this may in turn result in less stable government.
Proponents of PR argue that millions of votes are wasted because if someone lives in a safe Tory or Labour seat they have little hope of effecting change. But this is sloppy thinking. No vote has been cast until it's been cast, and is there not a danger that PR would stop parties and candidates from seeing a need to reach out to new voters in unnatural constituencies? Might it not seem easier just to play to one's core vote? Would that be healthy?
That said, there is no reason why a Conservative supporter should not also be a supporter of electoral reform. Rumour has it that the young William Hague was pro-PR. Would any Conservatives out there like to advocate a different way to choose our representatives in Westminster?
(With many different forms of PR existing in practice world-wide and in theory as well, this conversation could get mega-geeky. Let's embrace that.)
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