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Douglas Carswell MP proposes the end of 'the safe seat'

Earlier today Douglas Carswell MP introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill that would allow the "recall" of MPs in specified circumstances and "to provide for the holding of primary elections in such circumstances".  His key arguments are posted below.

Power from politicians and to the people: "We have all heard, on doorstep after doorstep, “You’re all the same. It doesn’t make any difference how I vote, nothing ever changes.” My Bill aims to address those concerns. I want to restore dignity to this House and independence to its Members. I want to shift power from the Executive to the legislature, from parties to Back Benchers, and from Government to people."

Too many seats are safe and MPs in those seats serve their parties rather than their constituents: "Our constituents have a point when they complain that it does not matter how they vote. At four of the last five general elections, fewer than one in 10 parliamentary constituencies changed hands. The fifth of those was, of course, the Labour landslide of 1997, but even then, more than 70 per cent. of seats were held by the parties that already controlled them. In other words, most of us represent pocket boroughs. As long as we retain the right to stand under the colours of our parties, we have tenure. Our incentives are thus twisted. Instead of answering outwards to their voters, MPs in safe seats are encouraged by the system to answer upwards to their Whips."

Candidates should be chosen by as many local people as possible in open primaries: "My Bill would abolish the concept of a safe seat, eliminate pocket boroughs and open candidate selection to the wider public through open primaries. It would allow local people to have a direct say over who gets to be their MP in the first place, and give local people and local parties the right to petition their returning officer to organise open primary ballots. It is right that that should remain a matter of choice—this is not about legislating for political parties in a free society."

MPs should be sackable in mid-term if found guilty of serious wrongdoing: "At the same time, my Bill would provide for a recall mechanism—that is, a way to trigger a by-election where a Member of this House was guilty of serious wrongdoing. Plainly such a measure would need safeguards. We would need to ensure that it could not be triggered frivolously or on partisan grounds. We would need to guarantee that charges could not be levelled against MPs simply because they had voted with their conscience. A recall vote should be entered into—as the Book of Common Prayer says of matrimony—“reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly”. Triggering a primary would require the backing of a significant number of local people, and it would also require confirmation of serious wrongdoing by the Committee on Standards and Privileges."

The full speech can be read in Hansard. No link yet.


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