Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 14:27 UK

Should MPs suffer total recall?

By Terry Stiastny
Political reporter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

"For the people to win, politics as usual must lose."

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger triggered a change of regime via petition

Those were Arnold Schwarzenegger's words after the "total recall" election where voters got rid of California's then governor, Gray Davis, six years ago.

Now there are moves to bring that idea to Westminster.

Conservative MP Douglas Carswell is bringing in a bill which would allow voters to recall their MPs between general elections.

He believes it would have a dramatic effect on what he calls a "moribund" Parliament, and make MPs more accountable.

Mr Carswell said: "I think a lot of politicians would grow up pretty quickly.

"Rather than being interested in making tribal noises which go down well with the whips' office, they would take seriously the job of representing all different shades of opinion in their constituency."

Threshold question

It is an idea that is gathering steam. All three main party leaders have expressed their support for the principle.

What they do not yet agree on is how it would work in practice.

The Liberal Democrats set out their plans earlier this year. Leader Nick Clegg's chief of staff, Danny Alexander, said there needed to be two tests before an MP could be recalled.

Firstly, the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should have found an MP guilty of "serious wrongdoing".

Douglas Carswell MP
Douglas Carswell says voters' "real anger" must be addressed

Secondly, at least 10% of the electorate in a constituency should sign a petition saying they want a recall to take place.

But is 10% too low? After all, in an average constituency that would be around 7,000 people. Some argue the threshold should be higher.

Many MPs disagree with the principle of recall.

Some believe that unpopular or maverick MPs would face constant campaigns from disgruntled voters with little foundation.

Parmjit Dhanda, the Labour MP who was the youngest candidate for the Speakership earlier this year, says there is a danger that "hunting MPs" becomes a blood sport.

He said: "People can be upset about an issue, and it only takes a few people to get together to start running a very tribal campaign, and these things can turn quite ugly."

Gordon Brown promised in his speech to the Labour Party conference this year that, where there was "proven financial corruption" and Parliament had failed to act, voters should have the right to recall their MPs.

'Very disruptive'

I understand that Labour is now planning to introduce this as a manifesto commitment at the next general election, although the idea of bringing a recall provision into bills currently going through Parliament had been considered.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told The World At One he thought that just 10% of voters being able to trigger a recall vote via a petition was "too low" a threshold.

And he agreed with Mr Alexander that proof of "serious wrongdoing" was needed too.

Mr Straw added: "Otherwise we get into the situation you get in some states in the United States, where policy as well as misconduct can be a criterion. And that can be very disruptive."

Of Mr Carswell's proposals he said: "We support the principle. I'm very happy to discuss the principles with Douglas."

Mr Carswell has written to the prime minister, challenging him and frontbenchers of all sides to support his Ten Minute Rule Bill.

He said he realised that was not parliamentary convention, but added: "I think convention needs to change. We live in pretty extraordinary times - there's real anger out there."



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