Lib Dems are trembling over NUS plans to recall MPs

by Denis MacShane

The president of the NUS, Aaron Porter, wrote a strongly worded email to all MPs on Friday. In it he said that students would seek to use the proposed Lib Dem law on recall to put pressure on MPs over tuition fees.

The recall mechanism – also advanced on Newsnight on Friday by the thoughtful Tory MP, Robert Halfon – is not yet a draft law so no-one knows exactly how it will work. Halfon was critical of the notion that judges should overturn election results on account of what was printed in leaflets.

In the Woolas case the judges were apparently unaware that there was a local election the same day so the struggle was never going to get above the gutter politics which Lib Dems have for a long time specialised in when it comes to local contests. But Halfon said that, in his view, Woolas should be allowed to contest this seat again.

Now it must be the turn of Lib Dem MPs to tremble as the NUS awaits the new recall ideas becoming law.

In 2005, students angry about Iraq and Labour’s modest tuition fee proposals turned Labour seats like Manchester Withington and Cambridge into Lib Dem seats. But students will be the first to use a recall system to target Lib Dem seats following Nick Clegg’s decision to dishonour the solemn public pledge he gave to the NUS before May.

Calling their opponents liars used to be a Tory speciality. (“How do you know Harold Wilson is lying? His lips are moving” was a favourite Tory remark). Accusing Blair of lying – “Bliar” – was normal discourse. But no-one in politics can recall quite such a spectacular untruth as Clegg’s signature on an NUS pledge poster which we now learn from the Guardian he was planning to betray before the election.

So the Lib Dems’ passion for recall may turn out to be a boomerang. It is also a gift to the BNP, UKIP and other single issue groups who can throw everything at raising the required number of signatures to force a recall election.

How long would Tony Benn have stayed an MP at the height of the media hate campaign against him in the 1980s? MPs like Chris Mullin who bravely defied conventional opinion on the issue of IRA terror bomb convictions could easily have had a recall petition run by the Sun or Daily Mail with a coupon on its front page.

Recall is an expression of the new populism in politics which should raise concerns. The Lib Dems who are experts at local populist propaganda are likely to be hanged by their own dishonesty.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Labour minister.

2 Responses to “Lib Dems are trembling over NUS plans to recall MPs”

  1. james says:

    Denis, the “right to recall” will be meaningless if it is means only those found guilty of breaking the rules can be recalled by petition.

    I don’t think that either Benn or Mullin would have been unseated by a recall challenge – though I’m sure that such a challenge would have been attempted.

    The alternative to recall would be shorter parliamentary terms. Despite the attention the Tories have given to the Chartist demand for equal-sized constitencies, I can’t see there being much support in parliament for that other unachieved Chartist demand, for annual parliaments…

  2. Mark Stockwell says:

    As your Great Leader might say, ‘come off it’ – most Labour politicians have (until their recent ‘discovery’ of the Lib Dems’ tendency to mendacity) been practically incapable of uttering the word ‘lie’ without prefixing it with ‘Tory’ (or vice versa, for that matter). And as a former inmate of the Conservative Research Department, my how we used to chuckle as our work was routinely condemned from the Labour benches as the product of ‘the Tory Lie Machine’.

    For goodness’ sake, now it turns out you lot even lie about who accuses others of lying …

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