Sunday, 22 January 2012

Total Recall?

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords finally stepped down today, triggering a special election to decide who will serve out the rest of her term. Since she was shot along with nineteen others, six of whom were killed, on January 8th 2011 she has only made one public appearance at a memorial service marking a year since the attack. Now I'm in no way saying I'm not sympathetic to this woman, I can only imagine the hell her and her family have been through over the last year, but I do truly believe she should have resigned a long time ago. As an elected official, her job is to represent her constituents and unfortunately she has been unable to do that, this basically means her constituents have been without adequate representation for over a year. While I'm sure no-one wanted to push her from her job and there was no law mandating she should step down I do think it would have been best for her constituents, and probably for her, if she had stepped down sooner. Given that her reasoning for the resignation was that she has more work to do on her recovery I don't see any justification for leaving it a year before doing so.


I understand the annoyance of having an absent elected official for over a year. Whilst Mrs Giffords had every reason for being unable to perform her duties over the last year, my ex-MP had no such excuse. During the 2009 expenses scandal it was discovered that Elliott Morley MP (Labour - Scunthorpe) had continued to claim his mortgage payments back from the taxpayer even though the mortgage had already been paid off, eventually he was found guilty of false accounting and being sentenced to 16 months in prison but not before claiming over £30,000 of taxpayers money. Instead of doing the decent thing and stepping down immediately he hung on for 12 months, stepping down at the 2010 election and thus retaining his full parliamentary pension, but kept away from the constituency as much as possible. For over a year our entire constituency had no effective representation because our MP was afraid, rightly so, of the reaction if he appeared in public. 

This is why I strongly support the Liberal Democrat policy of giving constituents the ability to recall their MPs. I wouldn't have advocated this route with Giffords, it would have been better if someone had persuaded her to step down off her own back, but with my MP I really wish our constituency could have forced a new election and I'm certain it would have fallen into the Lib Dem definition of who this would apply to.

"We would introduce a recall system so that constituents could force a by-election for any MP found guilty of serious wrongdoing."

The recall idea was debated in parliament this week with issues over the wording of the bill and possible unintended consequences being raised, Zac Goldsmith MP even argued that "the worst MP in the world" could escape the recall process. Its no great surprise that this bill is contentious and that debates are being had over the wording but it is an idea I truly believe in because I can't stand the idea that my MP was able to sit at home for a whole year, fighting off criminal charges, and leave us effectively unrepresented.

I mean recall elections in the United States led to Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming Governor of California. What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The One Left Behind: My Thoughts On Defection

A few days ago Luke Bozier defected from Labour to the Conservative Party. He got a lot of stick about it on Twitter that he almost certainly didn't deserve, he has his own reasons for defecting and I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision, but this blog post isn't really about him. It is however what prompted it. 

I had first hand experience of defection a lot sooner than most political folk; I started campaigning for Neil, my local Lib Dem PPC and the only Lib Dem on our local council, in October 2009 but within a month of the 2010 election he was the newest Conservative Party councilor. We did okay in the general election, increasing our share of the vote from 2005 but still coming in third which wasn't a surprise given we were competing in a northern steel town with Labour incumbents since 1979 and a large number of villages on the constituency fringes meaning the Conservatives are the only viable challengers. That, added to the rather small number of local activists, meant we were never going to win but I was pleased with what we managed to achieve.

5 weeks after the election I received an email saying Neil had decided to leave the Liberal Democrat party. No mention of defection. I thought perhaps he couldn't approve of the Coalition government and assumed he would continue as an independent councillor. Not only did that prove to be wrong, he didn't even bother to tell us himself that he was defecting across to the Tories, I read it two days later in the newspaper. My original feeling was anger, that he didn't tell me himself, that we ran a whole campaign against the Tories then suddenly he's one of them, but as time went on I got less angry and just don't understand. 

I know a lot of politicians go from being members of one political party at university to representing an entirely different one in the House of Commons, anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a massive fan of Chris Bryant who was a member of the Conservative Party at university, and I understand that the political views you hold as a teenager are almost certainly not the political views you have as an adult but I cannot understand someone who suddenly defects later in life and seeks to justify it as something other than a move for their career. 

One thing I hated was the treatment Neil got after he defected, I didn't agree with what he did but he didn't deserve the abuse he got. I went to the first council meeting after the move and got chatting to the LibDem PPC for the neighbouring constituency (who also lost) outside when he asked me if I was joining the protest. I didn't know there was a protest going on so decided to sit on the opposite side of the chamber to avoid being involved in what turned out to be a lot of shouting and the unfurling of a 'Judas' banner. Somehow the PPC who couldn't be bothered to turn up to his own election night vote count, choosing instead to go on a pre-booked holiday without telling anyone and leaving us to deal with press questions, thought he was in a position to claim the moral high ground.

I've blogged before on the divisions within the Liberal Democrats and I can see from the people I follow on Twitter that they aren't 100% happy with the direction of the party in coalition; they either worry about the possible loss of our social democratic commitments or they aren't happy with the strength of our commitment to economic liberalism. These debates are had regularly, almost daily in fact, but always with both sides making valid points and refraining (at least in public) from petty name calling. All in all both sides agree to disagree but stay in the party, working from within to rebuild the party in an image they want through keeping up dialogue and the formation of groups such as the Social Liberal Forum.

Leaving a party because it no longer resembles the one you joined, as was Luke Bozier's excuse, is lazy: stick around and fight for what you believe in because no-one else is going to do it for you.

You picked that party for a reason so stick with it. It might not be quick and it sure as hell won't be easy but I for one will respect you a hell of a lot more for it.