Zac Goldsmith – recall proposals ‘are regressive’
Appearing before the political and constitutional reform select committee today, Zac Goldsmith criticised the government's proposal for recalling MPs. Under government plans, a by-election would be held if 10 per cent of an MP's constituents sign a petition calling for one. But that petition would only be valid once an MP was sent to jail or if a Commons committee decided the MP's behaviour warranted it. Goldsmith explains to Total Politics why he objects to this parliamentary interference in the process.
Proper recall [in which voters alone decide whether or not to recall an MP] breaks the stranglehold of safe seats completely, and ensures that all MPs remember, at all times, that the only 3-line whip that really matters is their constituents. MPs would be more independent, more likely to hold government to account, and more responsive. Genuine recall would electrify politics.
Should it deal only with flagrantly negligent and dishonest politicians or be something broader?
The threshold to trigger a recall should be high, and the decision should be left with voters alone. Parliament should have no involvement at all. I understand that some MPs fear vexatious campaigns by the ‘mob’, but that is really a fear of democracy itself; where recall happens, there is no evidence that it leads to perverse results.
You support recall at all levels of government. Do you think people are sufficiently interested in local government for recall to keep councillors on their toes in the way it would MPs?
People may not care about political parties, but they care about political outcomes, and if they become aware that their representative – in councils or Parliament – is failing to properly represent them, then they will take action. If they don’t, then at least they can no longer complain that their political leaders aren’t listening; they will have only themselves to blame.
Do you think you benefit from being a comparative outsider in Westminster politics?
I benefit from not seeking promotion. I am a Conservative, and my default position is to support my Party, but not where that conflicts with my conscience or constituents.
If the government’s proposal becomes law and recall polls only happen if a committee of MPs agrees, will we be left with a damaging illusion of greater accountability?
I believe the proposals are regressive and I will oppose them as they currently stand. Recall is about handing power to voters, not to obscure parliamentary committees. I can see this version of recall disempowering rather than empowering voters, because there may be a temptation to throw inconvenient or troublesome MPs to the wolves.
You’ve described British democracy as “utterly dysfunctional”. What reforms other than recall would improve the system?
Recall would be a major step in the right direction, but on its own, it’s not enough. I support Douglas Carswell’s campaign for the use of open primaries to select candidates, and I am also campaigning for the use of referendums to resolve contentious local and national issues.