The flaws of the NUS's "right to recall" campaign

The right to recall will not apply to those MPs who break election promises.

Those Liberal Democrat MPs who, in defiance of their election promises, are planning to vote to triple tuition fees, deserve to be punished by the electorate. But I'm not convinced that the National Union of Student's new "Right to Recall" campaign (launched today) is the best way to achieve this.

The campaign is an ironic attempt to use the Lib Dems' own weapon against themselves. The NUS notes that the party promised to use a new "right to recall" procedure against MPs "who break promises or are found guilty of impropriety". Once the "right to recall" becomes law, the union promises to force pro-fees MPs to face byelections.

But the Lib Dems never suggested that MPs who break their promises should be targeted, merely those who "break the rules". The "right to recall" initiative was specifically designed to respond to the extraordinary circumstances of the expenses scandal. The Liberal Democrat manifesto was clear on this point:

[We] will give you the right to sack MPs who have broken the rules. We would introduce a recall system so that constituents could force a byelection for any MP found responsible for serious wrongdoing.

We can debate whether voters should also have the right to recall those MPs who break election promises, but for now the entire NUS campaign is founded on a false premise. There is no prospect of any MP being recalled for anything other than illegal behaviour.

It's also reasonable of anti-fees Lib Dems such as Evan Harris (who topped elections for the party's federal executive) to point out that the NUS never suggested voting against, "let alone recalling", Labour MPs who broke their promise not to introduce top-up fees.

The NUS will not target anti-fees MPs such as Tim Farron, the party's new president, but for the rest, "decapitation", not recall, looks like the best bet.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.