Following in the radio footsteps of "Boris from Islington", Nick Clegg received a phone call from one "Zac from Richmond" on his weekly LBC phone-in this morning. "Is that THE Zac from Richmond?" the presenter wondered. It turned out that yes, it was indeed Richmond's Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, whose chief contact with Clegg in this parliament has been pestering him over the coalition's stalled proposals for introducing a power of recall.
So it proved this morning. "It's the one reform I can see promised by the party that would genuinely empower voters," Zac explained earnestly. "I think it would strengthen the position of MPs, because under a system of recall we'd all have implied mandates."
Zac's problem is the coalition's initial proposals have proved a bit of a damp squib. Rather than putting all MPs on their toes, the government put forward a system which would only set up the possibility of a by-election for incredibly badly behaved MPs. They'd either have to go to jail for under 12 months (over a year means they're automatically kicked out of the Commons, anyway) or the Commons' shady standards and privileges committee, an opaque body, would have to judge their sins sufficiently heinous for a recall petition to even become possible.
"There's quite a lot of debate about what exactly the triggers are and how much you have to first prove serious wrongdoing in parliament," Nick told Zac.
"You take a view there shouldn't be many steps before people can trigger a by-election. A lot of other people think you can't turn this into a kangaroo court, otherwise everyone's going to try to recall everyone else."
This view is frustrating for Zac, who is convinced the system wouldn't descend into pesky demands for recall at every turn. "There's no examples where it's been abused by vexatious campaigners," he complained. When MPs don't bother to do a single surgery in a year, for example, they're allowed to continue in their job until the next general election regardless. "What voters would regard as serious wrongdoing would not be regarded as wrong by the committee."
In response to which, Clegg shut down the discussion: "I fear we might start losing listeners if we get into the undergrowth of all this."
Indications emerging from the Cabinet Office have been thoroughly unclear recently. The draft bill put forward was lambasted by the Commons' political and constitutional reform committee, and there is starting to be a time factor approaching. "I can certainly assure you I want to see recall provisions on the statute book during this parliament," Clegg said. Does that mean a full-blown bill will be introduced in the Queen's Speech next month?