Time to recall this government!

This logo image consists only of simple geometric shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of originality needed for copyright protection, and is therefore in the public domain. Although it is free of copyright restrictions, this image may still be subject to other restrictions. See WP:PD § Fonts and typefaces or Template talk:PD-textlogo for more information.

Two by-elections are scheduled for 15 February 2024: one (in Kingswood) triggered by a member of parliament resigning, and the other (in Wellingborough) as the result of a recall petition – to succeed, such petitions have to be signed by more than 10 per cent of eligible voters. Constituents have the right to ‘recall’ their MP if they are guilty of some misdemeanour, specifically if they are:

  • convicted of an offence in the UK and receive a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) or are ordered to be detained, other than solely under mental health legislation;
  • suspended from the House of Commons for 10 ‘sitting’ days or 14 calendar days; or
  • convicted of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

Is it not time to consider suitable conditions allowing the electorate to recall a government if specific conditions are met? I have never known such a chaotic, unpopular and – in many ways – downright dangerous government than the one we have at present. How much more harm can our economy, our democracy, our public sector and our international reputation be expected to take before the public have an opportunity to vote for a change? Unfortunately, however, only the prime minister has the right to decide a date.

Those of us who are unhappy with the current shower would be delighted if unpopularity alone were sufficient reason to call a general election – it is more than two years since the present incumbents came close to their nearest rivals in opinion polls; but governments are often unpopular, so (even though it grieves me to say it!) that should not suffice. Instead, someone with a greater knowledge of constitutional politics than I, might be tasked with identifying specific instances in which the electorate should be given an opportunity to vote on whether a general election should be called.

Instead of 10 per cent of voters in a constituency signing a recall petition, a higher percentage of the whole electorate would be needed, perhaps encompassing a specified minimum number of constituencies.

And what circumstances might be pertinent for such a recall petition to be triggered?

As in the case of constituency MPs, the equivalent ‘criminality’ issue for a whole government to be recalled would need to exclude minor misdemeanours: but what if a government breaches some significant national or international law, for example? We seem to be for ever hearing warnings from international bodies about how perilously close to the wind the government is sailing, if not actually breaking the law.

And what of our internal laws and regulations? If a constituency MP is, effectively, disciplined at their place of work (the House of Commons), they risk being recalled. Yet this government repeatedly flouts parliamentary procedure – most recently, even using secondary legislation to pass an addition to protest laws that had previously failed a vote in the House of Commons.

An MP guilty of fraudulent expenses claims can be recalled – yet there seems to be no official mechanism whereby a whole government that has created mischief or a financial meltdown can be forced to go the electorate. The House of Commons did act when former prime minister Liz Truss caused massive damage to our economy, but voters had no say.

Which brings me to another recurring bugbear. How come the electorate has no influence over a change of prime minister? Our system only elects MPs; in turn, they choose their ‘executive’ – our government, including the prime minister. But if it is necessary for a governing party to change their leader, and therefore our prime minister, surely there should be a rule that specifies a maximum time, following the change, before they call a general election? An election immediately after a change of leader might be destabilising, but legislating that an election must be called within, say, 12 months of appointing a new PM would be good for our democracy, as well as reducing unnecessary jockeying for position within the ruling party.

At the moment, all we can do is hope that Prime Minister Sunak decides soon that the country really needs a change, and that it is high time that he went to the country.