Recall: Rebuttals for MP responses

If you recently emailed your MP about recall, you may have got a reply that was similar to one of the three below. If you did, the office team have put together a draft reply which you could edit if you’d like, and send back to them.

Replying to your MP’s questions is a really important way to show your MP how much you care about real recall.

Please send any questions, or responses you get from MPs, to
recall@38degrees.org.uk

Typical reply from Conservative Party 

Dear Constituent, 

Thank you for contacting me about the recall of MPs.

The Government recently published a Bill to create a transparent and robust recall mechanism, where constituents are able to recall their Member of Parliament if they are found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing. Under its provisions MPs will be held to account between elections, but at the same time will not be left vulnerable to attack by those who simply disagree with them.

 The creation of a recall mechanism was a clear commitment in the Coalition’s Programme for Government and something that all three of the main Party manifestos committed to in 2010.

Under the proposals, a recall petition would be opened where: 

  • an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less (for more than 12 months an MP is automatically expelled); or

  • the House of Commons orders the suspension of an MP for at least 21 sitting days.

To be successful a recall petition will need to be signed by at least 10 per cent of the registered voters in the constituency, when the MP’s seat would become vacant and a by-election held.

The recall model proposed fits with our system of Parliamentary democracy. Constituents elect MPs to represent them for five years and they should be able to carry out their jobs without facing frequent recall campaigns by their political opponents – but, where an MP’s behaviour has fallen below the standards expected of them, this Bill ensures that they will be subject to a recall petition.

I believe the Government’s proposed recall mechanism is the best approach so will not be supporting the draft law published by 38 Degrees. 

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Suggested Rebuttal

Dear

Thank you for your recent reply regarding the real recall amendments 38 Degrees is calling for to the government’s recall bill. I was however, quite concerned about a number of the points you made.

You say the government’s bill would give voters the power to hold MPs to account in between elections. Recall can only do this if it is voter driven, i.e. it empowers voters to decide themselves whether and why they want to attempt to recall their MP.

The proposed real recall amendments will ensure that the government’s recall bill does this. Currently the bill gives a committee of MPs the power to decide whether or not voters can attempt to recall their MP – and this will only happen if that MP has been found guilty of serious wrongdoing by that committee. Recall must empower voters, not committees.

You claim that by giving voters the right to decide if and whether to attempt to recall their MP the real recall amendments would make MPs vulnerable to attack by those who simply disagree with them leading to potentially frequent recall attempts by political opponents. This seems a strange claim to make given the series of checks and balances that the real recall amendments will create making it very difficult to recall an MP.

In the many democracies around the world that have recall (e.g. USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) it is used extremely rarely and often strengthens the mandate of representatives. In the USA where recall has existed for over one hundred years it has only ever been used 40 times. I am surprised and concerned that your reply suggests you are not aware of this important evidence.

You also say voter driven recall would cause MPs to face frequent recalls that would prevent them from doing their jobs as representatives. The checks and balances in the real recall amendments ensure that frequent recalls would not happen.

Please support the real recall amendments to the government’s recall bill that will ensure recall empowers voters to decide whether and why to attempt to recall their MP. Thank you.

Typical Reply from the Liberal Democrat Party

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Recall of MPs Bill.

Liberal Democrats support the right of recall and I’m pleased the Coalition Government ensured that this year’s Queen’s Speech contained measures to get it into law. For too long, voters have not had any way to hold to account the small number of MPs who engage in serious wrongdoing.

At the moment, those MPs could stay in their seat until the general election. I think that is wrong.

The Recall of MPs Bill, which has now been published, proposes two triggers that would allow voters to open a petition and try to force a by-election. Once a petition is triggered, if 10% or more of registered voters in a constituency added their names to the petition, then there would be a by-election.

The first of these triggers would be if an MP is convicted of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of up to 12 months. MPs are already automatically expelled if they are given a jail sentence of more than 12 months.

The second trigger would be if the Parliamentary Standards Committee – a group of MPs from various parties as well as lay members from outside Parliament too – recommends (and the House of Commons accepts) the suspension of an MP from the House of Commons for at least 21 days.

Some people have called for a system of real recall, but it’s important to highlight the problems ‘real recall’ would create. MPs could face persistent recall challenges by those in their constituency who simply disagree with them. It could also lead to MPs with unpopular views (rather than who had committed serious wrongdoing) being removed from their seats by a campaign backed by wealthy individuals or campaign groups. Possible issues where this might have occurred recently were on votes on Equal Marriage and intervention in Syria, with very strong opinions being held on both sides.

The cost of real recall should not be underestimated either. Just one real recall petition per constituency per Parliament could cost the taxpayer £100m.

I think MPs should be able to speak freely and express their opinions without fear of being thrown out of their jobs before a General Election. Even where I strongly disagree with the views of MPs from other parties, I think it is really important to protect their ability to make up their own minds on how they vote.

This Bill will give you and every other voter out there the ability to do something you’ve never been able to do before – hold MPs guilty of serious wrongdoing to account.

Thank you again for contacting on this important issue. I hope this letter has assured you of the importance I place on this matter.

 With best wishes,

 Yours sincerely,

Suggested Rebuttal 

Dear

Thank you for your recent reply regarding the real recall amendments 38 Degrees is calling for to the government’s recall bill. I was however, quite concerned about a number of the points you made.

You say that you support recall only if MPs are found guilty of serious wrongdoing. Recall needs to be voter driven, to empower voters to decide themselves whether and why they want to attempt to recall their MP. This is how it works in the many democracies that have it already (e.g. USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan). I am surprised and concerned that your reply suggests you are not aware of these important facts.

You say MPs could face consistent recall challenges, yet recall is used extremely rarely and often strengthens the mandate of representatives in the democracies that have it. In the USA where it has existed for over one hundred years it has only ever been used 40 times. Again I am surprised and concerned that you seem unaware of these important facts.

You say MPs with unpopular views could be removed from their seats by a campaign backed by wealthy individuals or campaign groups. However, 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, even months, 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.

Furthermore, despite over 100 years of recall being used across the USA, ‘big money’ does not influence or misuse the process there. 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.

Finally, with regards to the unexplained figure of £100 million, this is based on the outlandish assumption that every single one of the 650 constituencies in the UK would seek to recall their MP at once. This would mean over 10 million people signing respective recall petitions across the UK. The biggest UK petition ever raised was on Post Office closures in 2006 which collected 4 million signatures. I think it is highly irresponsible to quote a figure like this without an explanation especially given that this figure is based on such an outlandish assumption.

Please support the real recall amendments to the government’s recall bill that will ensure recall empowers voters to decide whether and why to attempt to recall their MP.

Thank you.

Typical Reply from the Labour Party
Thank you for writing to me recently concerning the right of constituents to recall their Member of Parliament.

I support the principle of a right to recall where an MP has been involved in serious misconduct as I believe this would provide greater accountability and it would further empower constituents. The right of recall could also increase public engagement in politics and help to restore public trust.

The previous Labour Government had plans to introduce a right of recall and there was broad cross-party support for this at the last General Election. The Government has now brought forward a Bill. Whilst late in the day, it is to be welcomed.

We will scrutinise the Government’s Bill in great detail, but I am not in favour of a system of recall that simply enhances the House of Commons’ internal disciplinary procedures. There is a real risk that such a system will be seen as the political establishment closing ranks and could lose the confidence of the public.

In addition, any system of recall has to be designed in such a way that will avoid powerful vested interests from taking action against MPs, where no wrongdoing has happened, but they simply dislike the way a politician has voted on controversial issues.

I will therefore be judging the Government’s Bill on the basis of these two conditions.

I am aware that there is an alternative Bill which has been published by Zac Goldsmith MP and others, and am similarly looking at the details of these proposals.

Recall could play an important role in giving people a bigger say if we get the detail right. That is why I will be closely studying the Government’s Bill.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.

Yours sincerely,

Suggested Rebuttal

Dear

Thank you for your recent reply regarding the real recall amendments 38 Degrees is calling for to the government’s recall bill.

I am glad that you are not in favour of the bill that currently will only serve to empower an MP committee and not voters.

However, I am concerned that you say that giving voters the right to recall their MP only if that MP has been found guilty of serious misconduct could provide greater accountability and further empower constituents, increase public engagement and restore public trust.

Only voter driven recall will restore public trust and empower constituents. If recall is not voter driven, i.e. if it does not empower voters to decide themselves whether and why they want to attempt to recall their MP, then it risks causing disillusionment and further disengagement. This is how it works in the many democracies that have it already (e.g. USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan). I am surprised and concerned that your reply suggests you are not aware of this important facts.

You say that recall should not mean that powerful vested interests can take action against MPs. However, 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, even months, 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 being angered.

Furthermore, despite over 100 years of recall being used across the USA, ‘big money’ does not influence or misuse the process there. 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. I am surprised and concerned that your reply suggests you are not aware of these important facts.

Please support the real recall amendments to the government’s recall bill that will ensure recall empowers voters to decide whether and why to attempt to recall their MP.

Thank you.