The two silliest reactions to the scandal of MPs' expenses were to reduce the number of MPs and to institute a recall system if their electorates felt that their MPs were not doing what they, their electorates,wanted. The first is, I believe, already law, and I suppose it won't do too much harm as, with modern communications, constituencies can afford to be somewhat larger than in the 18th century. Unfortunately it does seriously reduce the number of MPs available to subject the government to effective scrutiny, which is their real job.This is particularly serious now that so many MPs on the government side, as ministers or their acolytes, are on the “payroll vote."
Happily there is still time to stop the "recall" proposal. The arguments against it are ably expressed in the following letter, written by my friend Michael Meadowcroft to someone trying to whip up enthusiasm for the proposal:
This is a campaign which risks seriously undermining representative
The concept of electing an individual to represent one in parliament
for a set period of time is crucial to the whole concept of
government. Politics is about judgement and, when he or she believes
the circumstances require it, the Member of Parliament has to be
able to make decisions on difficult issues early in the life of the
parliament which at the time may well be highly unpopular, but which
the MP judges will be proved right before having to face re-election.
If the superficially attractive but highly flawed concept of recall
were to be implemented it would force MPs to concentrate on taking
decisions that were invariably popular with his or her electorate
whether or not they were what the country or the constituency really
It is bad enough now with twenty-four hour media attention and
constant questioning and analysis - including impugning motives - and
to give the additional leverage of recall would be disastrous.
Whether or not one believes that the measures being taken to deal with
the economic crisis are individually justified, it would be well nigh
impossible to take any action which involved painful cuts if the MPs
were vulnerable to recall.
It is no accident that in a number of countries, including France and
Russia, MPs are more accurately called Deputies and are elected for a
set Mandate, thus underlining the point that the citizen elects a man
or woman to "deputise" for him or her in political decision making for
a set period, at the end of which - and not before - the Deputy is
held to account.
I suggest that you abandon this populist, superficial and misjudged
Let's hope this inappropriate import (from California?) somehow gets lost in the legislative maze.
Monday, 11 April 2011
Posted by Peter Wrigley at 06:55
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On the subject of the reduction of the number of backbenchers to hold the government to account:ReplyDelete
I wonder if we have been part of an unfortunate set of events which have led to this problem:
- Thatcher was elected in 83 and 87 with landslide majorities of over 100, with which there were sufficient backbenchers for an increase in the payroll vote to be justified. Thatcher's centralisation policies meant that there was also more for ministers to do.
- Major was elected in 92 with a very slim majority, and saw the higher proportion of the payroll vote as to his advantage.
- Blair was elected in 97 and 01 with huge majorities again, and his Thatcherite policies led to a continuation of the same problem.
Hopefully, if greater localism comes from the coalition government, we might see Whitehall with a bit less to do and maybe a few fewer ministers?