21 October 2014

Today the Recall of MPs Bill will be debated in the House of Commons. The Bill reflects a general dissatisfaction with the ability to get rid of MPs who lose the trust of their electorates. The purpose is to enable constituents to petition for the removal of an MP who has received a prison sentence or who has been found by the House to have committed “serious wrongdoing”.

Critics believe the effect will be quite different because the requirement for the agreement of the House means that MPs may be reluctant to hold their colleagues to account. It isn’t just a case of a constituency having a recall referendum if enough people sign a petition.

Fewer than 25% of respondents to a recent YouGov survey indicated that they trusted their MP (a similar satisfaction rating to UMR survey results in New Zealand). This suggests that there is a general frustration with politicians and arguably a need for voters to be able to petition for a recall when there is a substantial loss of confidence. Politicians have a different perspective about themselves. In another survey 86% of British MPs showed that they believe that they are trusted by their constituents.

A reaction to the self-interest of Members of the European Parliament led to the launch last week of the EU Integrity Watch database (www.integritywatch.eu) which will publish information about the interests and incomes of MEPs. Data is now available showing that there are 175 MEPs earning at least 500 euros per month from outside activities on top of annual salaries that exceed 120,000 euros.

Transparency International has commented that as more than half of MEPs have business interests outside of the European Parliament, it is important that voters know exactly what those private interests are. “To restore trust in Brussels, the Parliament must impose meaningful checks and balances.”

The database will identify differences between countries, political groups and national parties, and enable monitoring of conflicts between the private commitments of MEPs and their public duties. It allows MEPs to be ranked by the number of outside interests and the (declared) income derived from these activities.

These conflicts are no longer to be given a blind eye. This victory in sinking European aspirations is perhaps fitting on the anniversary today of the Battle of Trafalgar!