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.