Alistair Thompson: Nick Clegg has used the Euro-storm to steal democracy from the people
Alistair Thompson was Conservative candidate for West Bromwich East at the general election. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
As the fallout from David Cameron’s brave decision to veto the Merkozy attempt to force the rest of Europe into some sort of Faustian pact that would lead to full fiscal union of the 17 Eurozone members within the current institutions of the EU, the DPM has used this row to bury some very bad news.
Because if you had blinked just once, you might have missed the fact that the hapless Clegg has published the long awaited "power of recall bill".
Now, you might have expected this to be something that the Coalition and indeed Mr Clegg, whose party continues to flat-line in the polls, would be crowing about - this historic change, a change that would give ordinary voters the power to hold their errant MPs to account, but no. The bill has been slipped out with no fanfare, no round of interviews, not even some self-congratulatory comment piece in one of the left-leaning papers.
So why has the publicity-obsessed Nick Clegg seemingly gone into winter hibernation? Certainly not because of the Euro fallout.
Let me just make that clear: there are no powers for members of the public to recall their elected representatives, because a recall petition can only be triggered with the express permission of Mr Speaker, who must give notice to the relevant returning officer, who in turn will run the set up and run the petition.
Let me explain, with some examples:
The disgraced Labour MPs Elliot Morley, Eric Illsley, Jim Devine and David Chaytor, all jailed for 12 months or more, would under existing legislation be disqualified from the House of Commons under the Representation of People’s Act 1981, so no change there. However, cases like those of Labour’s Tony McNulty who claimed for a second home eight miles from his main home, or the case of Conservative Derek Conway who put his son on his office payroll, but who did not actually do any work and led to his suspension from the Commons for 10 days, would not be subject to the power of recall.
The complicated and convoluted process seems to have been deliberately designed to ensure that no honourable, or even dishonourable Member of Parliament in the foreseeable future will be recalled unless they are automatically disqualified after being sent to prison for 12 months, not least because of the current Speaker, who sees his job as defending Parliament and its members, which includes from their electorate as well.
So in reality this bill does not change anything. There are no great new powers as far I can see and any change moves even more power to the politicians and not the man on the street.
It is no wonder that the DPM has decided to sneak out this bill while everyone is distracted. It is not even a pale imitation of what was promised by both Coalition partners and I suspect that I will not be the only one who feels utterly cheated and let down.
I hope that the bill is substantially amended as it progresses through Parliament, but I suspect that Nick Clegg will throw his toys out of the pram if the bill is rewritten. And judging by the DPM’s adolescent behaviour over Europe and the PM's desire to prevent him from further episodes of sulking, the Government is likely to use the payroll vote to push this through the legislature onto the statute books.
This would be a huge mistake politically and if any future scandals hit the Commons this side of an election, it would come back to haunt Mr Cameron, whose promises to give this power to ordinary voters would be seen as worthless.