Douglas Carswell

21 MAR 2017

Give voters the right to sack MPs

Like so much of what the House of Commons does these days, yesterday's debate on MPs double-jobbing was mostly virtue signalling. That's because MPs don't like the real solution: recall elections.

In the United States, representatives can be recalled by their electorate. If enough local people sign a petition, they trigger a by-election. Voters then decide whether or not to renew their representative's mandate at the ballot box.

We could have had the same system here. In 2014, a Recall of MPs Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech.

But the title was misleading. Under the final legislation, voters can only trigger a by-election if a committee of grandees – or a court of law – has first found an MP guilty of wrongdoing. Rather than put voters in charge, the Bill let MPs act as a self-serving cartel.

Indeed, the government made sure Zac Goldsmith's amendments to the Bill – which would have led to a real right of recall – were rejected.

Now we see why. Would the former Chancellor would have taken on so many roles outside Parliament if a recall election in Tatton were a possibility?

The debate about MPs taking jobs outside Westminster in any case misses the point. The most common form of double-jobbing is the appointment of MPs as ministers. Voters should have a say on that too.

Until a century ago, they did. Prior to the Re-Election of Ministers Acts (1919 & 1926), MPs had to face ministerial by-elections to join the Cabinet. They could only become ministers with their constituents' consent.

Consent wasn't always given. Between 1895 and 1926, there were 127 ministerial by-elections. On eight occasions, the ministers-designate lost.

The way to keep MPs in check isn't to empower a toothless regulator. It's to let their constituents hold them to account.

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