UK Politics

Zac Goldsmith demands 'genuine' MP recall powers for voters

The government must "honour its promise" on giving voters the power to recall MPs accused of wrongdoing, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has said.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg wants voters to be able to call a by-election in their constituency - but only if the Commons first agrees that their MP is guilty of serious wrongdoing.

Mr Goldsmith argued that this would not constitute a "genuine recall system".

His own Recall Bill was backed in the Commons by 127 votes to 17.

It would trigger a referendum if 20% of all eligible voters in a constituency sign a petition demanding one.

The referendum would be asking whether there should be a by-election in which anyone, including the sitting MP, can stand.

'Kangaroo court'

Although MPs backed the bill at first reading, its initial parliamentary hurdle, it stands little chance of become law without government support.

"Under the government plans, an MP could fail to refuse to perform any one of the functions required of an MP and still not qualify for recall," Mr Goldsmith told MPs.

"It's true of course that there could be vexatious attempts to collect enough signatures to get rid of a decent MP, but in the average constituency the threshold would be around 15,000 voters.

"It's worth pointing out that recall already happens all over the world, this is not a novel idea... and nowhere as far as I'm aware are there any examples at all of successful vexatious recall campaigns.

"So in truth the arguments against genuine recall are, when you boil them down, arguments against democracy itself."

Ahead of the Commons debate, he had said his plans, in contrast with the government's proposals, were "obviously in the interests of voters".

"It is also in the interests of MPs because I think it would go quite a long way to restoring the relationship between people and power. No self-respecting MP is indifferent to the current contempt with which this House is held by so many members of the public," he added.

"Ultimately, the government made a promise and it needs to honour it. If it tries to slip through a pretence at recall, people will smell a rat and it'll do our reputation collectively even more harm.

"People will feel they have been hoodwinked and they will recognise very quickly the government's recall is about as far from genuine recall as it is possible to be. That will damage all of us."

In June, Mr Clegg argued that Mr Goldsmith's proposal was not "without its problems".

The government's priority, Mr Clegg continued, was to "strike a balance, give voters, the public, a backstop reassurance that if someone commits serious wrongdoing and they're not held to account that they can be held to account by the public".

He added: "Equally I think we shouldn't introduce a proposal which would in effect become a kangaroo court."

More on this story