Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I don't recall

Of all the various proposals now being put forward for Parliamentary reform, the one I really don't get is the concept of "recall" ballots. It strikes me as both dangerous and crazy. The idea is that any MP can be "recalled" if voters in their constituency collect enough signatures on a petition. This would then trigger a by-election. It was by such a device, of course, that Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California.

So far so good. It sounds like an eminently democratic procedure which - in conjunction with more transparency over expenses - would keep MPs snouts out of the trough. But an MP is far more of a team player than a governor or a mayor. One MP's loss could destabilise the entire government. And what would there be to prevent an Opposition party from going around the country collecting signatures for recall elections on a semi-permanent basis? At the moment, for example, there are widespread calls for an election. If "recall" were in operation, a general election (in all but name) could be precipitated by the simple expedient of forcing by-elections in all the current seats. Or just in the hundred or so most marginal seats. But then the incoming government would soon find itself vulnerable to the same trick. We could end up having an election every time a government were going through a bout of mid-term unpopularity. In other words, total chaos.

9 comments:

cabalamat said...

But what would there be to prevent an Opposition party from going around the country collecting signatures for recall elections on a semi-permanent basis?

Does thisd in fact happen in places where there are recall elections? I'm not aware of it happening to Schwarzenegger, for example.

Keith said...

There is a possibility that a recall system may cause chaos, but more to the point, what is there to say that the replacement would be any better?

Rather than being able to recall unsatisfactory MPs I would like to see a system where we didn't have to elect them in the first place. At every election I have participated in during my fairly long life I have been faced with a list of three or four names, none of whom remotely represent my views or interests. I used to just chose the one I thought was the best of a bad lot, but in recent years I have taken to writing across the bottom of the ballot paper

NONE OF THE ABOVE.

I would like to see this enshrined in electoral law - a box on the ballot paper that says

NONE OF THE ABOVE. RE-OPEN NOMINATIONS

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

I see that Keith goes for the smug lazy option of 'none of the above' but wonders why he gets short shrift from the grown-ups.

If he doesn't like any of the available options then he is free to stand himself. At which point the puerile behaviour of voters like Keith might start to seem less attractive they he gets a taste of his own medicine.

Life is a compromise. Most of us learn this and get over it before we leave our teens. But clearly not everyone does.

Martin said...

What interests me is that, thanks to FPTP, a majority of voters are dissatisfied with their MP as their representative from the very beginning and candidates who have been foisted upon a constituency might have a particularly hard time. On the other hand, toppling an MP could become the new blood-sport.

In reality, I suspect that recall could only be activated in the wake of a major impropriety and would involve some kind of ombudsman. It would be less than it seems, nevertheless it is an opportunity for Clegg to discomfort Brown and Blair.

A recall law might encourage MPs to defy the party whip in favour of representing his/her constituents.

keith said...

WoollyMindedLiberal,

Perhaps that is why you are woolly-minded and I am not. I do not endorse something I do not agree with. I do not compromise. If I go into a shop and there is nothing I like I leave without buying anything - the same applies to elections.

At least I register my dissatisfaction by turning up and spoiling my ballot paper. In many constituencies most voters do not even bother to do that, and I understand why.

As to standing myself I am sure you are well aware that standing for election without party backing is just another way of paying an extra one-off bit of tax!

Andrew Fish said...

Voting 'none of the above' would be a good thing, not least because it differentiates between disinterest and dismay. A seat with a large vote for none of the above would be prime turf for a would-be political movement to canvas opinion and find out what was missing.

Recall elections sound interesting, but I'm not sure they could work on a constituency basis. There's just too much risk of anonymous political mischief. If, however, there was a mechanism for opposition to force a general election, this could be vastly more effective. An opposition that called election at the right time (such as now) would save the country a great deal of anguish, whilst an opposition who simply used election as political opportunism would see their own vote cut by an angry public.

Neuroskeptic said...

You can reform the electoral system however you want, but if voters persist in voting for people they don't actually like, because British civil society has reached the point that people are happy to moan about MPs but too lazy to actually get involved in politics and change things, noone will be happy.

Electoral reform? I want voter reform.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

keith said... As to standing myself I am sure you are well aware that standing for election without party backing is just another way of paying an extra one-off bit of tax!.

It has been done. Or maybe you could try to persuade some people to support you and get 100 to put in £10 each. But that is of course much too difficult for the lazy who just want everything to be handed to them on a plate.


At least I register my dissatisfaction by turning up and spoiling my ballot paper.

Well you certainly register something but most people will, quite reasonably, draw a very different conclusion to the one you hoped they might. Words like 'spoiled', 'brat' and 'pathetic' may well be involved.

The FPTP system results, as others have noted, in most UK constituencies being nothing more than modern 'Rotten Boroughs' that are fiefdoms of a small coterie - the party activists. The results of elections, by party, are known in most constituencies for the foreseeable future - a generation at least - so the only electorate that matters are the selection committees and local party members. We, for I am one of that tiny band of people who really matter, have already chosen your MP for you unless you are that small group of swing voters in marginal constituencies who, after people like me, actually matter. The rest of you do not : your views are utterly irrelevant I'm afraid, especially if you don't vote at all.

I am one of a small minority of people who think this is a bad idea, only around 10% ever vote for a party that supports changing it to a fair system that would take into account the views of the electorate. 90% do not - they either cannot be bothered to vote so nothing changes or they vote for the status quo.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

Neuroskeptic said... You can reform the electoral system however you want, but if voters persist in voting for people they don't actually like, because British civil society has reached the point that people are happy to moan about MPs but too lazy to actually get involved in politics and change things, noone will be happy..

If it were up to me then I would bring ballot papers into the 21st century. Literacy rates are pretty high these days so we could safely expect folk to be able to do more than just scrawl an 'X' in a box.

The best proposal I have seen is that we should have a scaled system where voters can indicate how they feel about each candidate; Strongly Dislike, Dislike, Slightly Dislike, Neutral, Slighly Like, Like, Strongly Like. This is after all the technique used by polling or marketing companies when we are actually interested in finding out what people think.