Recall of MPs Bill – My Views


Lots of local people have written to me about the Recall of MP’s Bill, which is currently being considered in Committee Stage in the House of Commons.

I absolutely support the principle of right to recall when an MP has done something wrong. I think it would be really important for strengthening our democracy – and may go some way to help to restore public trust in politics. I do not believe the Bill that the Government has brought forward is strong enough – which is why Labour is seeking to widen the scope of offences in which and MP could be recalled, and reduce the number of days of suspension which would trigger the recall process. As a Party, we have long championed the right of recall – and it was in our last Manifesto.

Many people contacting me over the past week have asked me why I did not vote in support the amendments tabled by Zac Goldsmith and other MPs. I could not support these because I do not believe would be in the interests of our democracy. The reason I say that is that I believe that it is important for MPs to feel able, without fear or favour, to oppose established views, orthodoxies and sometimes even their own Party’s position where they genuinely believe it is the right thing to do.Obviously, all of us are accountable for taking such positions – and electors must always have the have the right to kick the MP out if they fundamentally disagree with what he or she has been saying or doing in Parliament.

But my concern  about linking objections to an MP’s political decisions, rather than their misconduct, is that it would give a lot of scope to well-funded lobby groups to try to influence MPs’ decisions in ways that would be simply beyond the reach of most ordinary people. You could end up in a situation where such groups are constantly threatening MPs with campaigns to petition for their recall as a way of persuading them to take up a particular issue or, conversely, not to. Over the years I think we have seen in aspects of the US political system the power of money exerting too much influence over political decisions. It sometimes happens here, but much more rarely. I don’t think anyone wants to create a situation which would make it more, not less, likely.

I do not think these concerns are only theoretical. In my own work, I have always tried to be an independent minded MP and that has sometimes led me to take up issues which can attract very extreme reaction from organised groups who take a different view.  Those reactions can and do sometimes take the form of threats – personally, reputationally and electorally. I have little doubt that if some of those who have threatened me in these ways had the power, influence and financial backing to organise a recall campaign, they may have done so.

There is nothing wrong with an MP having to defend the positions he or she takes on an issue – we should all have to do that. However, there are big dangers if we end up making MPs more answerable to those with the means to organise recall campaigns than we are to those without those means. Some of the changes which are today accepted as having made our country a fairer and more equal place were far from universally accepted when they were first suggested, and faced massive opposition from vested interests at the time. It has been at times like these that it has been important to have MPs who were prepared to stand out from the crowd. It is really important that any recall process does not inhibit this in future.

I’m always interested to hear the range of views that my constituents hold on political reform – so please do get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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