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Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Samuel English-Kershaw
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Maria Miller and the need for Parliamentary recall

‘I wish to make a personal statement in relation to today’s report. The report resulted from an allegation made by the member for Bassetlaw. The committee has dismissed his allegation. The committee has recommended that I apologise to the House for my attitude to the Commissioner’s inquiries, and I of course unreservedly apologise. I fully accept the recommendations of the Committee, and thank them for bringing this matter to an end.’

And that as they say, was that. When I first heard Maria Miller’s statement to the house I was astonished, it truly was a “did she just?” moment. It appears, from her statement at least, that Maria Miller truly believes she has nothing to apologise for, and it seems her party officials agree with her. The problem is that her constituents disagree, as a result the opinion of many, has been ignored by a few.

The fact that Miller will live to fight another day in Westminster, despite 78% of those questioned in a recent poll feeling she should resign her cabinet position, 66% feeling she should lose her responsibilities over press regulation and 68% of those questioned feeling she should be sacked is for me, deeply troubling – and it hints at an underlying problem in Parliament. The problem is that power rests with committees and not constituents.

I don’t think it is too controversial to claim that Miller’s lack of contrition in the last week will come back to haunt her at some point, be it in a reshuffle or the upcoming general election. Until that election however those who elected her in 2010 have no ability to sack Maria Miller and even then they could only do that by voting for a party they do not support! If you live in Basingstoke and want to vote Tory but feel Miller is untrustworthy, well it’s just tough you’ll have to vote for Maria Miller.  The same argument of course applies for parliamentary safe seats of all colours. This, I believe is an absurdity.

Many of Miller’s constituents have voiced concerns over her actions and, for them it is exceptionally frustrating that no recall mechanism exists. I don’t want to be misunderstood, I support the idea of parliamentary recall, but would like to add that if introduced it would of course have to be used only in appropriate situations. For the sake of clarity my point isn’t that any political misdemeanour or unpopular but understandable policy decision should lead to a knee jerk attempt to recall a Parliamentarian. Rather, my point is that in cases such as this one, where an MP has abused the powers given to them by the electorate then it would be appropriate for those constituents to have a right to recall their MP. Recall is, after all a democratic lever used in nations across the world and it was promised by all three major British political parties before the last election so by advocating it’s adoption I am being far from radical. Conservative MP Zac Goldmsmith has done an admirable job since his election advocating recall and reminding all three major parties of their as yet unfilled promise.

The scenario that has unfolded in the past week around Miller’s expenses shows exactly when recall could and would be used. The fact remains however that other scenarios would warrant the use of recall. Presently you can elect an MP only to find within weeks that they have switched to an extreme position, swanned off on holiday for years or, failed to represent you accurately. Alternatively, as in this case the MP may have violated the trust you and your fellow voters put in them. In each of these eventualities constituents are currently told that there is nothing they can do other than sit and wait for the findings of a Parliamentary committee, or the next election.

Ultimately this post is not really about Maria Miller, it is about democracy. The ‘Maria Miller show’ that has unfolded in the last week has, in my view demonstrated why constituents deserve and need more of a say in the safety of their MP’s employment. Being forced to vote for a party one doesn’t support in order to oust a duplicitous MP isn’t democratic, nor is being forced to vote for an MP one doesn’t trust in order to ensure the party one supports makes it into Downing Street. Anyone who supports democracy should be frustrated by the fact that Maria Miller has been saved by committees and party whips when so many of those she represents no longer have faith in her. If you support democracy then you should support parliamentary recall.

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About the Author

Samuel is current editor of the NUS Conference Newspaper 'The Delegate' and was formerly news editor of 'The Lion' voted one of London's best student newspapers. Samuel is currently Vice President of Heythrop College, University of London Students' Union, he lives in London and doesn't have a dog. You can find him on twitter @englishkershaw

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