Paisley’s political plight spotlights a recall process which NZ could adopt

The Electoral (Integrity) Bill, designed to prevent MPs from switching parties and one of Labour’s concessions to NZ First in the coalition talks, is being examined by a select committee which is due to report back to the House by July 30.

The bill amends the Electoral Act 1993

“ … to enhance public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system by upholding the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined by electors”.

But it has been widely denounced.  This critique at The Spinoff, for example, said:

It demonstrates how far our political parties in Parliament have wandered away from us, the voters in the electorates. In a system where party loyalty reigns supreme, what is left of our representative democracy?”

The Law Society argued it imposes significant limits on MPs’ constitutional rights and may have a chilling effect on MPs’ freedom of speech inside and outside Parliament.

Law Society spokesperson Jonathan Orpin-Dowell said the Law Society agreed with the Attorney-General that MPs’ freedom of expression would be significantly impaired by the bill.

“The bill empowers political party leaders to cause MPs to vacate their seats, and amends New Zealand’s constitutional provisions by changing the circumstances in which MPs can be removed”, Mr Orpin-Dowell said.

Events in Britain have alerted us to a process that would – hurrah! – enable the voters to require delinquent MPs to vacate  their seats. It could be applied to local government, too.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 in the UK provides a mechanism to recall Members of Parliament.

An MP will lose his or her seat in the House of Commons if a petition to recall them can gather support from at least 10% of the electorate in the constituency. The MP will lose the seat and a by-election will be triggered. The recalled MP can stand as a candidate at the by-election.

Arguments for recall legislation were accepted by all the main political parties after the expenses scandal, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg pledging to introduce the legislation in their 2010 Coalition agreement.

The concept received widespread support from the public but MPs struggled to agree where the line for recall should be drawn. If it was too easy to recall an MP, the system might be open to abuse; if it was too difficult, it would offer no meaningful check on elected officials.

In the upshot, the UK Government – no surprises here – essentially accepted many of the concerns about the dangers of having a low bar and the 2015 Act has been criticised as close to toothless  in an article by Stephen Bush, special correspondent at the New Statesman.

He cites the sanction of Ian Paisley Jr, the DUP MP for North Antrim, as an example.

Paisley has been found to have accepted hospitality of the Sri Lankan government, failed to disclose the interest and then lobbied on the behalf of the government. He has been suspended by the Committee on Standards, which means that recall proceedings will be brought. But the path to recall is not clear: to trigger it, opponents would have to collect more than 7,500 signatures. For context, his nearest opponents in North Antrim, Sinn Féin, only got 7,878 votes. While it is plausible that recall could be triggered, it is not especially likely, and this is in circumstances where the MP has been clearly found to have behaved badly.

SINN Féin and the SDLP have called on Paisley to resign over his failure to register two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government estimated to be worth £50,000.

In last year’s General Election Paisley polled more than 28,000 votes, nearly 20,000 more than his nearest rival.

In this country, recall legislation has been proposed but John Key, then PM, said he thought recall legislation was too hard.

At Whale Oil, Cameron Slater was in favour, arguing:

Recall legislation exists in many jurisdictions and it gives the people a decent chance to rid themselves of dud politicians.

If we had recall legislation, at the very least at a local body level then the power hungry despots like Len Brown and the ratbags at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council could be tipped out.

Recall has been successfully used in the US, especially by the NRA in order to remove ratbags who support impinging on constitutional second amendment rights.

Though John Key thinks it is all too hard perhaps he should have a chat to his besty in the UK, David Cameron, who is bringing in recall legislation as we speak.

In 2009, an article posted at Stuff was headed Voters need the power to recall MPs.

The author said it had become too easy for MPs to apologise for bad behaviour and then expect the public to accept them back into the fold.

The public have their say only once every three years when they can vote the MP out. This leaves voters effectively powerless for most of each parliamentary term. Surely something can be done to prevent or at least lessen such errant MP behaviour. Otherwise so much of what passes for political debate is simple a long-running sideshow.

I’ve previously argued for voters to have the ability to recall MPs who are not behaving the way they should or are not following policies on whose basis they were elected. It would be the NZ equivalent of the US impeachment process for presidents.

If a petition of 10% of voters in an electorate demands the recall of a member of Parliament then that could set in motion a recall vote of all in the electorate. If the MP is recalled through the vote then a by-election would be held.

I wouldn’t imagine such a recall happening very often but the mere existence of such a recall mechanism would help focus MPs more on public service than personal sideshows.

Maybe, although politicians typically have a prodigious prowess for circumventing measures intended to make them compliant to the will of the people.

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