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?

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