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Monday, 6 November 2017

Sexual harassment, Ministers, MPs and resignation or removal from post

The sexual harassment scandal has led to a great deal on ill-informed nonsense being talked online and in the media, not least by professionals who are paid to know better. So let’s get a few things straight, in what is probably the vain hope of changing that. Let’s start with MPs …

Westminster MPs – Members of Parliament
(I addressed a few aspects of election of politicians and role of political parties and parties in government in a December 2014 blog – after the Independence Referendum and less than six months before the 2015 General Election.

1. Our UK democracy allows the citizen to vote for a candidate for the Westminster Parliament. Any citizen qualified by law (not by party!) may stand for Parliament.

2. A candidate may elect to stand under a political party labelif that party agreesor stand as an independent. If the candidate stands under a party label, the party is identified on the ballot paper.

3. Political parties must have processes to identify potential candidates, nominate them for assessment, assess them, and decide if they are to be adopted as a prospective Parliamentary candidate.

What this means is an elected MP is either a party MP or an independent, i.e. they have either agreed to take the party whip and be bound by the rules and voting instructions of that party (except on free votes; so-called conscience votes) or they are an independent and may vote as they choose. Either way, they have been elected to Westminster by the voters, not by any party - and can only be removed in special circumstances under tightly-defined law as applied to Westminster MPs or by personal resignation

 An MP cannot be removed by a political party, nor by a Government, nor by voters. At the next election voters may choose not to vote for their former sitting MP if he or she is standing as a candidate – that is not sacking them but simply declining to vote for them. (At the time of the general election they have ceased to be an MP, as has every other MP.)

There are, of course, mechanisms by which a party can shows its displeasure or rejection of an MP who takes the party whip so they can no longer be seen as sitting as a member of their party. They can simply remove the party whip, which effectively means that they are still an MP, but not a party MP.

In such cases MPs might decide to offer themselves to another party and take their whip, or sit as an independent. A political party might or might not expel an MP from the party at the point they remove the party whip. In the latter case, the MP may either retain membership of the party or resign his or her party membership.

Constituency parties can refuse to nominate the candidate in the next election.

An MP at any time may resign, either completely voluntarily or under pressure to do so and to save face. But there is a quaint twist involved here – MPs sitting in the UK House of Commons are technically not permitted to resign their seats. But they have a typically ‘British’ escape mechanism …

Once upon a time, appointment to an office of profit under the Crown disqualified an individual from sitting as an MP, so the hell-bent-on-resigning MP – or coerced MP! – acquired a very temporary office of profit by being appointed to either the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead or Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. If more than two MPs are trying to resign at the one time (as has happened, e.g. 1985 walkout of Ulster Unionist MPs) they are appointed, then fired from office two at a time till they’re all out – a typically British Whitehall farce …

For what offences or behaviour can an MP be removed by law?

Since I am not a lawyer and have no legal qualifications, I can only suggest that readers refer to either Wikipedia - The Recall of MPs Act 2015 - or a legal text book – or a lawyer, if they feel so inclined, to anwer this. Suffice to say, it has to be something pretty damn serious, as the Expenses Scandal showed, not just something somebody or some group finds distasteful behaviour. In very serious cases, read Misconduct in Public Office. (Note that dependent on the offence, this can mean life imprisonment!)

The reason it’s so difficult – and should be difficult – to remove an elected member of Parliament is that removal of a representative of the people of a state, duly elected, is a very serious matter indeed, one subject to serious abuses, ones that  can threaten the democratic process, as the behaviour of banana republics or states metamorphosing into autocracy, dictatorship or worse throughout history demonstrates.

(Current events on Spain over the Catalans’ bid for independence should give us all cause for pause, especially in Scotland.)

Removal of Government Minister from office

The difference between removal of government ministers from office and MPs who hold party posts but are not MPs in the Government and removal of a sitting MP from the Commons and stripping them of their MP status should be blindingly obvious to our media pundits, political journalists and even politicians. But quite patently it is not, hence the proliferation of nonsensical staement like “If he can be sacked as a minister, why is he still an MP?

A UK government minister, a prime minister or a party leader functionary is either appointed unilaterally by another politician or politician group, or by election by members of a political party by processes which have a kind of democracy, often a very dubious one. They are not elected under the law and constitution of the UK state by an electorate comprised of all eligible UK voters in a constituency of that state, as a member of the Westminster Parliament is.

This Daily Politics exchange on Monday exemplifies the specious rubbish talked on this subject – although they began to almost get there near the end of it …


UPDATE : They're asking the same stupid question again at FMQs today. Read my blog, guys!