How the mechanics of this new process work
The Commons Research department has just issued a new paper on how recall petitions actually work. This is now an integral part of the electoral process and there a strict rules for their operation, campaigning and spending limits.
The returning officer for the constituency involved is deemed the “Petition Officer” and follows a strict set of instructions. This is, of course, a process that could involve an incumbent MP being forced out retaining their seat and so impacts on the Commons. The Commons Research paper notes:
“Once a notice has been received from the Speaker that a condition has been met, the petitions officer must “as soon as reasonably practicable,” designate up to ten places where the petition may be signed once the petition has been opened…
The petitions officer must also designate the day on which the petition will open. This is the 10th working day after the receipt of the notice..
As soon as practicable after designation of the signing places and designated day for opening the petition, the petitions officer is required to send a notice to all eligible voters telling them that a petition is to be opened in their constituency. If there is more than one signing place, eligible voters will also be told their designated signing place…
A petition remains open for signing for six weeks. The petition must be available for signing Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, except bank holidays. The petition officer must also make must make reasonable provision for the availability of the petition for signing at other times…
A person is eligible to sign the petition if they are registered and eligible to vote in a Parliamentary election in the constituency on the day after the Speaker’s notice is given.
People registering to vote while the petition is open will not be able to sign the petition.
For me what is striking about the process is that each elector receives the equivalent of a voting card to tell them that this is taking place where to go to sign. There are provisions for things like postal, proxy voting,and spending limits on campaigning. This is totally about turnout, getting 10% of electors to actually sign, and all these elements should help those wanting the recall.
What is expressly banned by law is electors being asked whether or not they have actually signed. This effectively prevents any polling and also hinders media coverage of the process.
It strikes me that the six week period seems incredibly long and maybe there’s a case for that being shortened. We also don’t know in Peterborough how easy and accessible the places where you can sign will be.
This is the first time this process has operated in Great Britain – there is a different set of rules in Northern Ireland where the first recall attempt, in North Antrim, last year failed by 0.6% to reach the 10% target.
The big difference between Peterborough and North Antrim is that no party dominates in the former in the way that the DUP does in the latter. At GE2017 Ian Paisley jr had a majority of 20,643 while the winning margin in Peterborough was 607.
I’d bet on it succeeding.