Last night, I debated with self-styled "Home Counties Conservative" James Burdett the issue of whether MPs should be subject to the same syatem of "recall" as exists under the American system and which was famously used to unseat California's Democratic Governor and pave the way for the election of Arnold Schwarzengger as Republican Governor.
I thought then that James's suggestion (that a recall election could be held on the demand of say 10-15% of the electorate) was wrong and open to abuse but the expenses scandal has forced me to accept that there needs to be more than just the process of self-regulation that has patently failed to curb what now seem to be considerable excesses albeit within the rules as they stand.
There are currently mechanisms for the removal of MPs who flout the rules e.g: if an MP is convicted of a criminal offence or is clearly considered to be in breach of the rules of the House of Commons. In these instances, MPs themselves are judge, jury and executioner and the electorate plays no part.
Perhaps it is now time to offer the electorate the opportunity to rid themselves of an MP in whom they no longer have confidence or faith. I prefer the term "confidence" rather than "recall" which is an outright Americanism but the emd result is the same.
So, how should it work ?
A Motion of No Confidence in an MP should require the signature of an absolute majority of the electorate ie: in a constituency of 70,000 electors, the signatures of 35,001 would be required to represent a vote of No Confidence:
The reason for the figure is that anything lower would be used by rival political parties to simply force a by-election. The effort required to gather this number of signatures would require a substantial cross-party campaign and would represent a significant degree of local voter sentiment.
The No Confidence Motion would be placed before Parliament and the sitting MP would have the option of either resigning or being effectively sacked by his or her colleagues.
The sitting MP could resign and force a by-election and put his or her case to the electorate but if the MP is sacked, they would be ineligible to contest the resulting by-election though obviously their Party could put up a different candidate.
An MP, once elected, could not be sacked via a Motion of No Confidence for a period of 12 months
The democratic process has to be respected and an MP allowed time to find his or her own feet within the Commons and a 12-month period of grace seems reasonable. In addition, any Motion of No Confidence would automatically fall if the process were interrupted by either the death of the sitting MP or the dissolution of Parliament.
Could this work ? I'm not sure but we need a process that is transparent to all and fair to both the MP and his/her constituency.