As has been tweeted by Aaron Porter and reported by the Guardian and announced through a new website (in a remarkably unified manner) the NUS has launched it’s campaign to “decapitate” the Liberal Democrats, by ousting leading Liberal Democrat MPs from their seats through the usage of the planned “Right of Recall” powers.
This may however prove trickier than they expect. The first issue, is that the powers haven’t actually been introduced yet. The Number 10 website, through its new transparency initiative informs any of you willing to go and have a look on the status of various elements of business. Including planned constitutional reform:
The fact that the reform has yet to begin & won’t be introduced to Parliament for a year and a half (and hence is likely not to be on the statute books for some time) would be a slight hurdle. Or so you might have thought, but apparently, that’s an area of research that didn’t seem worth doing, for when I inquired as to whether or not Aaron Porter was aware of this, I got the following reply:
You’d have thought before launching such a campaign, you’d ensure the legislation to carry it through is actually in place. But no apparently not. Now I’m beginning to understand quite why nobody was watching the anarchists on Wednesday….
The second hurdle, is actually contained in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto. When speaking of the right to recall, our manifesto had the following to say on the subject:
“Give you the right to sack MPs who have broken the rules. People have rightly beenfurious about the expenses claims of some MPs but there is absolutely nothing they cando about it. If an MP has acted egregiously and breaks the rules, there should be a mechanism by which they can be sacked. The Liberal Democrats would introduce a ‘recall’ system in which a small percentage of constituents could force a by-election for any MP suspended for wrongdoing. Power should be in the hands of voters at all times, not juston Election Day.”
That seems, to me at least, to preclude the usage of this right to recall your MP in the event that they happen to change their minds. Or break a pre-election pledge. The key segment is:
“force a by-election for any MP suspended for wrongdoing”
Or in other words, in order to try and use the right of recall, the NUS will first have to get the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to suspend an MP for wrongdoing & then force a by-election under the right to recall powers, with the caveat that we presume this is how the system will operate. Unfortunately, corroboration from the Conservative party manifesto is a little bit more tricky, as all they have to say on the issue is:
“We will bring forward legislation to introduce a power of recall, enabling voters to force a by-election.”
Slightly more ambiguous. However, it seems clear to me that in the right to recall policy, there will be safeguards to prevent people abusing the right & generally just launching spurious recall petitions, which would ultimately merely damage the system, it seems likely that the model lain out in the Liberal Democrat manifesto will be followed.
I commend Aaron Porter for his enthusiasm, but perhaps next time, he should make sure these things have been thought through, because this idea has holes in it gaping wide enough to drive a super-tanker through. It may also be worth him not aiming this attack solely at Liberal Democrat MPs. As I pointed out the other week, in order to win the votes, we’ll need MPs from all parties to vote with us, hence for this threat to be sufficiently effective, it’ll need to cast a wider net than just the Liberal Democrats in Parliament. Don’t forget, there’s only 57 of us. Aim this at everyone, because at the end of the day, everyone needs to keep to the pledge, not just the Liberal Democrats.
PS: It should be remembered that many Lib Dem MPs have said they’ll stick by their pledge, including Ceredigion’s Lib Dem MP, Mark Williams: http://bit.ly/9UgaUd