Coffee House

After Mercer, Hancock, Miller and now Ruffley, we need a proper MPs Recall Bill

29 July 2014

There seem to have been few people who did not offer their two cents on David Ruffley. From domestic violence charities to his political opponents, in the chattering classes and in the blogosphere, all kinds of people felt the need to share their opinion about whether it was appropriate for the Bury St Edmunds MP to remain in Parliament after accepting a police caution for assaulting a former partner.

However, save a few local political and religious leaders who have a platform from which to be heard, one group has been if not entirely silent then entirely powerless throughout: the constituents whom Mr Ruffley serves. Indeed, the people who sent him to the House of Commons to represent them have been side-lined from the discussion about his future, despite being the body to whom he should be directly accountable.

Now that Ruffley has said he will stand down at the General Election they will be denied the chance to pass judgement on him at the ballot box – yet his not-quite-resignation means he will remain as their MP for the next nine months.

This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Ruffley’s constituents will doubtless be wondering why it is in Westminster back rooms – and not in Bury St Edmunds – that decisions have been made about who should represent them in Parliament. Others have exercised power that should be in their hands.

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Cases like this – and this is by no means an isolated incident, as Basingstoke (Maria Miller) and Portsmouth South (Mike Hancock) residents will attest – are why Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith tabled his Recall Bill earlier in this Parliament: a piece of legislation which would allow for a mid-term vote on whether an MP should remain in place if enough constituents who felt let down by their representative successfully petitioned for a ballot. It was sensible, overdue, and delivered on a promise. Caught up in the anti-politics mood, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives pledged to introduce a ‘power of recall’ in the Coalition Agreement. We at the TaxPayers’ Alliance supported it, as did campaign groups from across the political spectrum.

Yet instead of Goldsmith’s bill, what we have been given by the Coalition is a grubby little compromise, with an announcement in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year that looks like recall, talks like recall, but very definitely is not recall. Importantly, it entails a parliamentary committee ruling on an MP’s behaviour before voters can start gathering the signatures needed to trigger a recall ballot. It’s impossible to know whether this committee would have judged Ruffley’s behaviour to be unacceptable; but the point is that it should be constituents – the people an MP is paid to represent – who make that decision. After years of MPs policing each other with what might charitably be described as mixed results, it’s clear that further centralising power in Westminster is not the way to go about delivering true recall.

Opponents fear kangaroo courts, with constituents irritated by MPs taking out their anger with green ink signatures. Such a fear can be assuaged by the evidence from elsewhere in the world where recall is on offer – but used sparingly. And those parliamentarians opposing this simple yet effective check on their behaviour betray a view of the electorate that does Westminster no favours.

Despite how it things can seem from a glance at Twitter, the vast majority of Britain’s voters are mature participants in a stable democracy – a democracy that would be even stronger if more of its power was returned to the public.

The Coalition’s Recall Bill – supposedly designed to increase the electorate’s trust in MPs and the oft-disparaged political class – will do nothing of the sort. It is ironic that a move designed to bridge the gap between Westminster and the electorate will widen it yet further. The easiest way to restore some public trust in the political and parliamentary systems – and ensure that the power to hold errant MPs to account is in the right hands – is to deliver a genuine power of recall as written into the Goldsmith bill.

Andy Silvester is Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance

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Show comments
  • noix

    I am generally of the opinion that the prosecution of the MP’s was rather like choosing the soldiers to be shot for cowardice in World War 1battle after the line broke, some were done but it could have been the majority. Obviously if constituents went after one the defence would be that they were all at it, especially the mortgage flipping to obtain high value property at the taxpayers expense. Balls comes to mind, for example.

  • bugalugs2

    “Now that Ruffley has said he will stand down at the General Election they will be denied the chance to pass judgement on him at the ballot box ”

    Why should the voters only have the option of expressing their dissatisfaction with their MP as an individual, and let’s not forget the issue here is personal not political, by accepting representation from an MP whose party’s policies they disagree with?

    Why should they not be able at an election to say, we support this guy’s party but not him personally, we want a better candidate? That starts to look like an issue for the local party membership in a primary. If then they are so wedded to their candidate that they would rather lose the election than replace him, it is hard to see how, or why, they should be saved from their folly.

    • Tom M

      Quite so buga. Exactly the same point occurred to me but you put it more eloquently.

      • bugalugs2

        Thank you for the kind word.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Democracy is being undermined in this country by vociferous single issue lobby groups, many of them subsidised through taxes and campaigning politically as “charities”. Demands for resignation are little more than the sanction of orchestrated mobs, regardless of abhorrence of the acts that outrage them.

    The people that get involved in and are central to that sort of activism worry me far more than Ruffley’s loss of emotional control in a private incident for which he has been cautioned and apologised. If hypocrisy is an issue then Parliament would soon be denuded of occupants, as would the lobby groups.

    • HookesLaw

      Well as I say from time to time – its always nice to agree with you. And cogently put.

    • dado_trunking

      Oh yes, well said again! We are disgusted by the repeat failure of the bigoted right at the top to adhere to even basic levels of decent social behaviour. The list of delinquents grows ever larger. As it grows, ever more bigoted right wing apostles will opt for a life as a bigoted far-right apostle to compensate for the now tilted state of their pinball-size brains.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …how’s the goat, lad?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      If a proper recall process exists, the “demands for resignation” will be silenced.

      A seated MP can then tell a resignation demander to GFY, as he serves the People, and if the demander disagrees he should go off and organize a recall. End of.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Yes, because the recall would be restricted to the MP’s constituents and the recaller would effectively have to campaign in the constituency. The danger lies in “third party” complaints which can be launched for political motives, as endorsed by Leveson!

        • the viceroy’s gin

          That’s a fair point, but as you mention, they’re still forced to go to the MP’s constituents, and get +50% of them to affirmatively vote to cast the MP out of office, this after having to meet a minimum threshold required to force that recall election.

          It may be a tradeoff. With a calibrated recall process, the local constituents are empowered and the bubble is disempowered a bit, which is a good thing, but on the other hand the recall process could be abused much as other aspects of democracy are abused, which is a bad thing.

          On balance, it removes the bubble’s tendency to pick and choose which “offenses” are beyond the pale, and I give you my previous example of the Cameroons excusing the multiply-accused rapist while decrying the alleged assailant. Such misguided capriciousness should only be allowed of the voters, not bubble poshboys. The voters have an excuse. They are in charge.

          I like recall for the same reason that the bubble fears it. It brings candidate selection closer to the people, and further away from the bubble. That’s a good thing.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Agreed. I think it’s the identity group and victimhood hierarchy at work again. Both are males but one is homosexual and one is heterosexual so they get cut different amounts of slack.

  • MajorFrustration

    After this do you really think there will be an EU referendum in 2017 – pull the other one. What a pathetic waste of space our politicians are. In it for themselves. and their own kind.

    • HookesLaw

      Another one. Another one inventing an excuse just to let Eurpophile Labour into office. Another one whinging and moaning about politics and politicians. poor little dear. Go get a life.

      • Wessex Man

        Does a Tory have to comit murder before you stop making excuse for them Hooky babe, why haven’t you answered any of the questions about the disappearing letter you hypocrite?

  • revkevblue

    Grubby about sums up the politicians we are obliged to endure between elections.
    Recall of an MP would be good for the people of this country if only for one fact that we don’t have to accept a criminal representing us in Parliament.
    It is a sad state of affairs that no longer any whiff of a scandal would have the Right honourable MP falling on their swords.
    It seems that once elected this crop of Mp’s revert to the morals of a Banana republic, as honour is discarded, and we are left with only the rabble part of HR.
    I am voting UKIP as the whole mess in Westminster needs moral realignment

    • Marmalade Sandwich

      Recall would have made all those expense fiddling MPs unemployed if their constituents could be bothered organising a petition.

      But it isn’t only Westminster we should worry about. The National Association for Local Councils (a trade union) have brought in new financial regulations that mean: ‘Each and every payment to employees of net salary … shall be recorded in a … confidential record. The record is not open to inspection or review (under the freedom of information act 200 or otherwise) other than by 1. any councillor who can demonstrate a need to know 2. by the internal auditor 3. by the external auditor 4. by any person authorised under Audit Commission Act 1998 or any superseding legislation.’

      I wanted to know what my parish clerk’s salary (about £30,000 including NI and pension for a 30 hour week, excessive anyone?) was no longer published. From now on I won’t know, even under a freedom of information request. This is taxpayer money and these people are public employees. But don’t expect those taking guidance from unions to act in taxpayers’
      interests. Look forward to Tower Hamlets for all.

    • Julian Kavanagh

      What a load of nonsense. What don’t you actually engage what little brain you have instead of falling for the cyber-bullsh1t that morons who have run our of green ink deposit below articles like this. Your argument is brainless and generic and, if the system is so awful why not stand for office yourself?

      • Wessex Man

        I would hazard a guess that you are a dully paid member of the ConLabLib/dum mob who doesn’t want the mangy underbelly of Westminster investigated at all!

  • HookesLaw

    Its not clear to me the public elect MPs expecting them to be paragons of virtue. Should someone who has an affair or gets divorced be recalled? how easy is it to cast blame in these matters? The general public – the voter themselves – are not immune. Should their be similar restrictions on those who vote?

    Recall is all very well and interesting in theory, but the present furore points to how it can be misused. We also see in acceptance hearings in America how they end up being used for political reasons.
    Just how many people have been recalled anywhere by anybody in places where they have it.

    Mr Silvester has his own axe to grind – if his concerns are so big then why not let him demonstrate his perfection by standing for parliament and trying to contribute his vast abilities.

    • Will

      Divorce and Affairs are one thing, domestic abuse is another.
      When the MP who has admitted the crime has also worked on the Policing Committees in Parliament it’s doubly offensive.

      And as a constituent of Ruffley, he must go immediately, not just in 9 months time.

      • HookesLaw

        I agree domestic abuse is another. But he has not been charged, personally I do not know if he is now separated or what his wife wants, I do not know if he has a drink or psycological problem. I and you know nothing of the circumstances.

        When someone has been elected then it is quite something to start trying to force them out. There are without doubt many perfectly sane and virtuous MPs in Westminster who are totally useless, but they have been elected.
        No one says democracy is perfect – it is riddled with imperfections. Hard though I try I can’t think of anything better.

        • Alexsandr

          a police caution is given instead of a possible prosecution. You are given a choice, but to be eligible for caution you must admit the crime.
          if you accept a caution when innocent then you are daft.
          a caution goes on your criminal record and comes out on crb checks.

          if someone is honourable and has been naughty, they should resign. like profumo did. but they have no honour today
          rt hon? dont make me laugh.

          • Tom M

            “…like Profumo did….” Well eventually he did.

            • gunnerbear

              Yeah but wouldn’t you have been tempted by Christine K. and MR-D?

      • Colonel Mustard

        “When the MP who has admitted the crime has also worked on the Policing Committees in Parliament it’s doubly offensive.”

        Yes, one would expect him to know how dodgy the whole procedure of the police caution is and to have resisted accepting it. But I expect he was coerced into doing so and thinking of his position and the shame of being prosecuted. Not because of the court case but because of the inevitable Trial of Tory by Mob and Media which has now happened anyway.

        • Wessex Man

          it’s not often I disagree with you Colonel but now after the revelation that there was no letter from his ex, I expect he took a caution rather than be charged and hoped in the rathe bovine behaviour of Westminster hoped it would all blow over!

    • Wessex Man

      it’s not clear? you can be dense at times. Fights in the subsidised bars, a MP assaults his girlfriend get a caution, he then lies that he has a ‘letter’ from her saying that they are friends again when nothing could be further from the truth, another MP ends up in Jail along with his ex-wife for a criiminal offence, his ex is now the wifes of another jailed MP, not to mention all the jailed MPs and Lords over expenses.

      No we don’t expect them to be paragons of virtue, juast as honest as 90% of the people who elect them!

      • gunnerbear

        And don’t forget the Lib Dem MP who was doing the ‘horizontal two-step’ with a Russian spy.

        And the MP who ended up in jail, way back, after his ‘sword of truth’ sort of rusted way.

  • monty61

    Seems a bit ridiculous that David Laws is in Government where this chap has been hounded out without a proper hearing.

    • HookesLaw

      Did Laws receive a police caution? Laws broke no (no pun intended ) laws.
      Laws did not cost the taxpayer a penny – indeed he saved them money. He was quite entitled to claim money for renting a room – which is what he did. Once he moved to renting a complete flat, which parliament regulations demand, he is now costing us more.

      • Alexsandr

        i think laws was lucky not to be prosecuted for fraud.

      • Wessex Man

        Oh my word things must be bad at Tory High Command, they’ve told Hooky babe to defend a Lib/dum expenses fiddler!

  • Denis_Cooper

    Agreed, and as a demonstration of the principle won’t somebody in his constituency start a petition through which voters could call for Ruffley’s immediate resignation, even though at present that would have no legal force?

    • telemachus

      Ruffley was out of order as Yvette eloquently said yesterday
      Gove in the very first thing he ever got right in politics did the correct thing
      However we do not want delegates and cannot let any Tom Dock or Harry decide to get rid of their MP for possibly nefarious reasons

      • Alexsandr

        He he is so whiter than white, why not resign and fight a by-election.

        • Emulous

          And give UKIP their first seat.
          Splendid idea.

  • Peter Stroud

    How can we trust MPs to judge whether crooked, or grossly inefficient colleagues should be sacked? Just remember how Cameron, the Chief Whip and most Tory MPs supported Maria Miller in her bid to remain in the cabinet.

    • HookesLaw

      Miller was not found guilty of anything – she was just rude to the committee.
      You make a fool of yourself.
      But you do indicate how ‘recall’ can be misused by people who just have a prejudice.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        This example of David Ruffley is exactly why we should not have recall. He has been interviewed by the police and admitted that an incident took place but was not prosecuted. In the eyes of the law he has committed a lesser offence even than speeding. Its been reported and blown up for political capital.

        What happens in a marginal seat after an election? Lets say its won by Labour, but the Conseratives have enough support to activate a recall. It would make a mockery of the democratic system.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Yes, “coincidentally” just as Yvette Cooper gives a speech about “domestic abuse” heavy with prejudice and assumptions. The left wing really have got the exploitation of outrage down to a fine art.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          No, in your example, the Conservative Party would have made a mockery of the democratic system, not the recall process.

          • fundamentallyflawed

            So the Labour or Liberal Democrats do not want and would not ever use a recall system? They would not make the smallest political capital out of minor issues and demand use of the recall system?

            I merely used the Conservatives as an example.. I suppose on this forum I should have just blamed Labour like everyone else (not named Telemachus)

            • the viceroy’s gin

              I don’t know what strawman you’re building with the 2 questions in your first paragraph, lad. I’ll ignore them because they don’t seem to have any relation to my post.

              You can substitute whichever political party you’d like in your example… they’d be the ones to blame for making a mockery of the democratic process, not the recall process.

              • fundamentallyflawed

                My apologies I thought you were singling out the Conservative Party because of my example.
                You are correct that the people misusing the Recall process would be the ones to blame, not the process itself. However I believe the process itself lends itself to this sort of abuse so it would become a circular mockery. To activate the recall it would take public organisation and who would organise this? Whichever groups would benefit from a by-election.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  A few rabble rousers can initiate the recall effort, but they’d still have to get enough supporters to force the recall vote, and they’d still have to convince +50% of that vote to swing their way and eject the MP. I don’t see a “circular mockery” in this, whatever that is.

                  If interested parties are seen as forcing unnecessary elections and recalls, I don’t think the constituency would take kindly to them. That would limit the number of these recalls, as is seen elsewhere.

              • gunnerbear

                Exactly. And knowing how great and fair the Great British Public can be, I suspect that if Party ‘A’ was seen to be s**t-stirring for no good reason against an MP from Party ‘B’, then a huge block of votes would vote for the Party ‘B’ MP anyway, if only to smack Party ‘A’ right in the mouth.

        • Wessex Man


          • fundamentallyflawed

            Have you not had your pills this morning? Since I am stating an opinion on the recall option in what way am I lying

  • agneau

    Couldn’t agree more. I would urge everyone contribute to the 38 degrees fund to pay for legal expertise in crafting a proper recall bill.

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