Mark Lancaster MP’s column: ‘Taxi scandal shows public should have power to recall councillors too’


With much concern locally about the ability to ‘Recall’ Councillors who refuse to resign despite overwhelming pressure to do so, this week has seen Parliament discussing legislation to ‘Recall’ MPs.

Currently despite views to the contrary, MPs can be sacked between elections if they go to prison or become bankrupt.

The Recall Bill which was within the Conservative manifesto will give the general public the power to recall MPs under other situations as well and whilst some have shied away from it, I’m all in favour and as recent events in Milton Keynes have shown not just for MPs, but councillors too.

I look at the issue of recall from the starting point that General Elections are precious events that should not be readily undermined.

Over the centuries men and women have fought, and sometimes died, for the right to vote.

The Great Reform Act (1832) and the suffrage movement were examples of two great democratic struggles of the 19th and 20th century.

While sadly many people today don’t bother to vote, this shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the fact that it is through the ballot box that we choose who governs us.

In order to protect our democratic process from corruption, undue influence or discrimination we have, over decades, passed strong laws to protect the conduct of Election Day.

Whether it is election funding laws or identity requirements, all efforts are focused on ensuring the maximum amount of people can vote without hindrance, regardless of race, colour, gender or political belief. The ballot must, in my view remain sovereign to all other considerations, as it expresses the will of all the people.

But whilst the General Election remains the cornerstone of policy ‘recall’ for MPs and Government, I and many others are not content that we have sufficient power to remove errant MPs between General Elections.

Too often in politics those who organise the best or shout the loudest get the attention, irrespective of the merits of the argument.

Thankfully a secret ballot, open to all, still manages, just, to cut through the hype and media of today.

Some argue that Recall should be limited to misconduct, opposing ‘pure recall’ where MPs could be recalled on any matter, including policy because of a fear that it will be abused by opponents simply to re-run a General Election because they didn’t like the result.

They argue there isn’t a single constituency in the country where more than 50 per cent of the people eligible to vote actually did, so any incumbent is running the risk of recall at any time.

This is of course a risk, but I believe the general public would see through such a wheeze and should be trusted as such.

Having stood on a manifesto commitment to support recall, I was pleased that the Government introduced a Bill to do just that, albeit limiting the extension of power to misconduct.

It was a pretty good start but this week I decided that I wanted to go further which is why I supported Conservative MP Zac Goldsmiths amendments for ‘full recall’ which could be triggered by just about anything providing sufficient numbers of local constituents supported it.

On balance, I believe that if we are to restore trust in politics and politicians then we must empower the public. In this amendments case just 5 per cent of constituents could trigger a formal petition for recall, then if a further 20 per cent signed the petition, a local referendum would be held which if 50 per cent of people supported then the MP would be recalled and a by-election held.

In the end the amendment was lost but what we have left is a Government Bill that goes further than ever before by empowering local constituents to remove their MP if there is sufficient support to do so.

It is a good start and unsurprisingly in light of local events and having hopefully set the example through my voting in Parliament, I’ll be pressing for it to be extended to local councillors as well.