Caroline Lucas: If MPs want voters to trust us, we have to trust them

Comment: Why the opponents of recall have got it wrong

Comment: Why the opponents of recall have got it wrong

By Caroline Lucas

On Monday MPs will decide whether to give voters the power to sack MPs. I will be voting to back amendments which have been crowdsourced and funded by thousands of 38 Degrees members alongside colleagues across the house from every political party.

Over the last few days I’ve seen the arguments Frank Dobson MP has made against voter-driven recall gathering steam. I think he’s got it wrong and here’s why:

1. MPs are not the vanguards of social progress:

“Much of the social and political progress we enjoy today sprang from the work of MPs…”

To suggest that changes such as votes for women, the abolition of slavery and the minimum wage have sprung from the work of MPs alone is simply insulting and inaccurate. Insulting to the people who have tirelessly fought and continue to fight for change. It is incorrect to suggest that these hard fought victories originated in parliament.

I believe real voter driven recall would strengthen the ability for MPs to speak up about these issues. People are fair, and able to make their own mind up. These concerns that constituents are, en masse, unable to make rational decisions and get duped by the press also apply to elections. It actually reminds me a little bit of the arguments once used against giving women the vote: “Women are emotional creatures, and incapable of making a sound political decision.”

2. He misunderstands the process:

"If 20% of voters sign a petition an MP would be sacked and a by-election held, with no provision for the rest of the electorate to block the recall process."

The amendments that I’m backing – that Zac Goldsmith MP has tabled – are robust and well thought out. I know this because I sat on a committee of MPs who interrogated them in detail. The process starts with a ‘notice of intent’ if 3,500 constituents (on average) sign it over a four week period then a recall petition is originated. Then 20% of voters have to physically go to the town hall to sign the official recall petition. Twenty per cent is huge – only extraordinary and sustained constituent opinion could possibly see this happen.

If the petition is successful there would be a referendum that only leads to a by-election if a majority of constituents voted in favour of it. The recalled MP can then stand in the by-election if they wish.

Frank Dobson also referred to his predecessor Lena Jeger as a prime example of where a good progressive MP would have been ‘easily’ recalled. But the fact that she won seven general elections in a Roman Catholic seat, as a strong supporter of abortion reform is pretty strong proof she wouldn’t have been recalled by her electorate, that even while they may have disagreed with her on one issue, they respected her on others.

3. It would not strengthen the hand of the rich, but the people

The last thing that I would want to put my name to is something that leaves the door open to the abuse of big money. These amendments don’t change the rules on spending and we’ll need to think carefully about how we can regulate this.

But, crucially in the USA recall was actually introduced to counter the effects of big money. Studies done on elections in the USA show that the front-running candidate cutting their spending by 50% will only lose them one per cent of the vote – while the losing candidate can double their spending, and only gain one per cent.

Voters are simply too smart, and aware, to be fooled into voting for something because of expensive campaign tactics. Similar to the 'MPs drive social progress' argument this seems to reveal a general distrust in the voting public.

Ultimately voter driven recall – where people can decide when and why an MP is recalled – will only improve democracy. Anything else runs the terrible risk of causing more cynicism, disillusionment and disengagement in our democracy, not less. When the next scandal happens, and voters realise that they don’t have the power to recall their MP, things will only get worse.

If we as MPs want voters to trust us, we have to trust them to make sensible decisions.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion.

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