Getting ready to visit your MP about the real recall bill

Going to see your MP to persuade them to back real recall makes the difference in at least three different ways:

  1. Just by turning up, you’re sending a powerful signal that you care. MPs generally assume that if some people are coming to see them about an issue, that means an awful lot more of their voters are concerned.

  1. It’s a chance to ask your MP some questions and put your points to them. It forces them to engage properly with the issue rather than just following the party line.

  1. It’s a chance to ask your MP specifically to commit to do some things to help win the campaign.

This briefing gives you the essentials for what you need to know to visit your MP. There’s also some suggestions for “sticky questions” which suggests things you can ask your MP.

If you prefer to watch videos, there’s a five minute film explaining how to convince your MP from Zac Goldsmith MP here.

With all of this, please remember – you don’t need to be an expert, it’s about you and your opinions.

After your meeting, please do send a photo and a quick summary into the staff team so we can let other 38 Degrees members know how it went! You can email this into
recall@38degrees.org.uk

What is the real recall bill?

The real recall bill gives voters the power sack their MPs in between elections. Voters would have to state their reasons if they attempted to do this. 38 Degrees members helped pay for and write the real recall bill. We want MPs to vote for it, in the form of amendments to the government’s bill, later this month.

The real recall bill sets out three steps for recalling an MP:

Step 1 – Notice of intent

If a ‘notice of intent’ to recall an MP is signed by 5% of voters in a constituency within 28 days then a recall petition is made available. Signatures can be gathered electronically or in person.

Step 2 – Recall petition

If a recall petition is signed by 20% of voters in a constituency within 8 weeks then a recall referendum will be held. There will be four places in the constituency where voters can sign the petition.

Step 3 – Recall referendum

If the majority of constituents vote for their MP to be recalled at the referendum, a by-election will be held where a new MP will be chosen. The referendum has to happen no less than 21 days, and no more than 27 days, after the issue of notice has been given. A referendum cannot happen within 6 months of a general election.

What we want MPs to do

There are two things we need MPs to do:

  1. Sign the amendments which will be tabled after the Second Reading of the Bill (that’s the next stage of the Bill in Parliament)

  2. We need MPs to vote for the amendments to the government’s ‘Recall of MPs Bill’ that is progressing through the House of Commons now.

You can read the amendments here: http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2014/10/07/recall-amendments-to-the-governments-plans/

It might be a good idea to print them off and take them with you to the meeting.

The key difference between the real recall bill, and the government’s cop-out version, is that real recall gives voters the power to call a recall referendum. The government’s bill wants to keep the power to call a referendum amongst a group of other MPs.

So the key question to put to your MP is:

“Will you please vote for real recall that puts voters in charge of whether and why to call a recall referendum in between elections, and not a committee of other MPs?”

How to deal with the common arguments

Here are the most common arguments made against the real recall bill and points that you can make to counter them. Your MP could say these things, so you can use these responses if they do.

It’s too complex to come up with a good voter driven recall bill, how can you relate a percentage required to sign the petition to the percentage which someone is elected by, for example?

  • The percentage (or margin) an MP has been elected by is not relevant. What is important is that, ultimately, an MP would only be recalled if a majority of constituents voted to kick them out.

  • At 20% the petition percentage is high – that is what’s important in order to prevent abuse of the power by a smaller group of individuals.

  • It’s not complicated in the USA and European countries that use recall effectively and 20% is the most common petition requirement.

Powerful interests and ‘big money’ like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, will use recall against MPs they don’t like

  • Someone like Rupert Murdoch would have nothing to gain by spending their resources – in Murdoch’s case column space in his national newspapers – over many weeks in order to attempt to influence a local constituency recall attempt. The attempt may be unsuccessful, with the public, customers, financial backers or advertisers of Mr Murdoch’s publications objecting or being angered.

  • Despite over 100 years of recall being used across the USA, ‘big money’ does not influence or misuse the process. In fact recall was introduced in the USA as a remedy to stop the bad influence that big business and corrupt finance had over their democracy in the late 19th century.

We need a definition of wrongdoing/a trigger mechanism so that MPs can’t be recalled just because their constituents disagree with them (the Equal Marriage Bill is most frequently cited as an example of when this could have been ‘dangerous’)

  • Democracy is about trusting people to hold their MPs to account. We are happy for them to do this at election time so there is no logical reason why we can’t trust them to do it in between elections too.

  • It would take several months for an MP to be recalled, during which time there would be extensive dialogue and debate. The proposer/s of the recall would have to include a statement giving their reasons. Constituents would have ample opportunity to consider these reasons and decide whether to support the recall or not.

  • Recall is a valued and strong part of the democracies of the USA, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and many other democracies around the world.

I hate 38 Degrees – therefore I hate this bill

  • Consider the bill on its merits – it proposes a desperately needed improvement to our democracy that would re-engage people and lead to far better dialogue and interaction between people and politicians.

  • The bill has wide support, for example from citizens organisations such as Unlock Democracy and the Taxpayers Alliance.

The recall proposed by 38 Degrees would cost £100 million pounds a time

  • This is an unexplained figure put forward by the Lib Dems and makes the outlandish assumption that every single one of the 650 constituencies in the UK would seek to recall their MP. This would mean over 10 million people signing respective recall petitions across the UK – bear in mind that the biggest UK petition ever raised was on Post Office closures in 2006 which collected 4 million signatures.

A recall bill like the one proposed by 38 Degrees would destabilise democracy

  • the point of representative democracy is that we trust our MPs judgement, even if sometimes we disagree

  • Absolutely, but there are also some rare moments when we and a majority of our fellow constituents may be utterly incensed by something our MP has done – e.g. misclaiming tens of thousands of pounds of public money in expenses to pay for a second (or third!) house. In such situations the right for us to attempt to recall our MP would strengthen our democracy.

  • Recall would not stop our democracy being representative. Recall does not turn representatives into delegates (only a comprehensive system of citizens initiated referenda could do that). MPs would be free to act as they saw best and the extensive checks and balances of our recall bill ensure that it could not be abused.

  • This kind of bill would lead to MPs being populist and short term in their thinking – instead of doing what’s right for the country.

  • This assumes what constituents want is not right for the country. But democracy allows us to vote for our MPs which assumes we do know what is right for the country.

  • In democracies around the world that have recall (USA, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and many others) it does not cause short term thinking but rather strengthens the dialogue and communication between representatives and voters.

  • Governments with a small minority could be brought down by the use of a recall bill – no stability which is necessary for good governance

  • In over one hundred years of recall existing in the USA this has never happened and our recall bill has more checks and balances against abuse than the recall used there.

  • In democracies around the world that have recall (USA, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and many others) recall is used because of misconduct of individual representatives or specific policy issues that affect local areas and local people.

Needing 5%/20% of the electorate to sign a petition to trigger recall is too low – 20% would vote to recall an MP based only on party loyalties and no MP has the support of 80% of their constituents.

  • This misunderstands the process in our bill. 20% of constituents are required on the recall petition that would trigger the recall referendum. At the referendum a majority of constituents would need to vote to actually recall the MP. Note: most MPs do not have the support of a majority of their constituents at general elections.

Needing 20% of the electorate to sign a petition to trigger recall is too high – the Governments 10% threshold is better

  • There is a risk that the 10% threshold could be abused. Extensive analysis of use of recall in the democracies that have it around the world (USA, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and many others) shows this.

Real recall doesn’t close the loophole on imprisoned MPs

  • Indeed, and this is intentional. MPs may have been imprisoned for reasons that constituents do not support. For example for protesting against a new local road or power station.

The returning officer has too much power

  • The returning officer’s power is nothing more than administrative and functional. It is necessary to have an unbiased official empowered to conduct the recall process if constituents wish to use it.

Here’s a few ideas for some sticky questions that might put your MP on the spot

If we trust people to reason when voting for you at election time why would you not trust them to reason between elections?

Why would you not be wildly supportive of this? If you think you’re a good MP you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. Real recall would even strengthen your mandate – so on that basis why would you not want to support it?

Dozens of other democracies around the world have voter-driven recall – the USA, Canada, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan etc etc. Don’t you think it’s time we moved forward and caught up with these countries?

Recall has proved that it engages people in politics and democracy in the dozens of countries that have it, like the USA, Germany and Canada. Why would you not support something that re-engaged people at a time when it is so desperately needed in our country?

Some MPs might already be on-side 

For those MPs, it’s important to make sure that they have signed the amendments. But you can also discuss with them other ways that they can get involved. For example, they could speak to their colleagues and ask them to back the amendments too.  Or they could encourage their party leaders to back the changes. They could also write to the local paper.