MPs who switch parties could be forced to fight by-elections, under Tory MP’s proposals | The Independent

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MPs who switch parties could be forced to fight by-elections, under Tory MP's proposals | The Independent

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MPs who switch parties could be forced to fight by-elections under proposals being put forward in parliament by a Conservative MP this week.

Anthony Mangnall wants legislation to trigger a recall petition automatically whenever an MP crosses the floor, with signatures from one in 10 constituents needed to force them to seek re-election.

He has secured time on the floor of the House of Commons on Wednesday to make the case for a bill to extend recall provisions, which currently allow a petition only if MPs are jailed, suspended from parliament for 10 days or more or found guilty of expenses fraud.

Some 17 MPs quit their parties to join another group or go independent last year, surpassing the tally for the previous two decades combined.

The defections convulsed Westminster, seriously undermining Theresa May’s efforts to force her Brexit deal through parliament and raising questions over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour.

But none of those switching sides stood down to fight a by-election under their new party colours. And of the 11 who went on to fight the December general election, not a single one kept his or her place in parliament.

The best results were achieved not by those who defended their existing seats in the hope of capitalising on local popularity, but those like Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Phillip Lee who chose to fight new constituencies.

Mr Mangnall himself secured a seat in the House of Commons in December by defeating Sarah Wollaston, who had represented Totnes in Devon for Conservatives since 2010, but quit over Brexit to join Change UK and then fought the election for the Liberal Democrats, limping in a distant second.

The Tory MP told The Independent that last year’s election made clear that voters have little time for MPs who change their party colours.

“My bill is about restoring faith in politics, encouraging transparency and making people feel that their vote matters,” said Mr Mangnall.

Sarah Wollaston (front left) was among 11 MPs who quit their parties to form the Change UK group in 2019 (PA)

“As MPs, we are the representatives of a constituency but we should not forget that we are elected because we stood on a party manifesto, using party emblems, party support and party values.

“I’m not saying that people should be any less independent. Every MP has the right to speak freely.

“But if you have been elected on the basis that you represent one party and you now want to join another, you should give your constituents the opportunity to decide if they want to be represented by your new party.

“If you really feel you have been elected entirely on your own merits as an individual, that should pose you no problem.”

Mr Mangnall said he had received support from parliamentary colleagues, including several of the new MPs who, like him, arrived in Westminster after taking a former defector’s seat.

And he said the question was a big issue in Totnes during last year’s campaign, with many constituents voicing anger that they had been denied a by-election when Dr Wollaston left the Tories, who had previously held the seat and its predecessor South Hams since 1924.

Mr Mangnall’s proposal for a Recall of MPs (Change of Party Affiliation) Bill has little or no prospect of becoming law without support from the government, but he said he had not yet had discussions with ministers over whether he will receive their backing.

Only two MPs have faced recall under existing rules, introduced in 2015. Former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya stepped down after a petition forced a by-election in Peterborough following her conviction for lying about a speeding offence, while Tory Christopher Davies lost Brecon and Radnor in a by-election triggered by false expenses claims.

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