Giving voters the right to “recall” MPs will allow wealthy pressure groups to control British politics, a North East MP has warned.
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, hit out at proposals to allow local voters to force a by-election if they lose faith in their MP.
But he found himself under fire from the Conservative MP pushing for the change - who claimed Mr Jones had contempt for his constituents.
Zac Goldsmith, Conservative for Richmond Park in London, said on Twitter: “This Labour man’s (Kevan Jones) case against recall is simple - a contempt for and an absolute terror of his voters.”
In response, Mr Jones said: “No just not prepared for the super rich like you dominating politics in UK.”
Mr Goldsmith is the son of billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith, who died in 1997.
The row came as MPs threw out proposals to let local voters force a by-election between General Elections.
Giving voters the power to “recall” MPs was promised in the Coalition agreement signed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in 2010, as part of an attempt to improve trust in Parliament following the expenses scandal.
But there is disagreement about how any new system should work.
A Government Bill backed by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, and also by Mr Jones, would allow a by-election only if the sitting MP is guilty of serious wrongdoing. This would mean they were sentenced to more than 12 months in jail, or banned from the Commons for more than 21 days.
But critics such as Mr Goldsmith says this is does not really hand power to voters.
He proposed an amendment to the Bill which would trigger a referendum if 20 per cent of all eligible voters in a constituency sign a petition demanding one. The referendum would then ask whether there should be a by-election.
Mr Goldsmith told the Commons that he wanted “a genuine voter-led system of recall with tight caps on spending and a high enough threshold to prevent vexatious abuse” but the Government scheme was “a bogus system of recall that is possible only in the narrowest of circumstances.”
Mr Jones argued that this would take the UK down the same road as America, which allows many elected officials to be recalled. In some cases, well-funded and organised pressure groups begin campaigning for a recall as soon as a politician was elected, he said.
He said: “The idea that the Bill is an extension of democracy to the average elector is complete rubbish. It will limit what we in this House can do, and put control of the agenda in the hands of well financed individuals.”
MPs would be scared to take controversial or unpopular stances if it meant they faced the threat of recall, he said. Giving an example, he said: “There was a very courageous Labour Member of Parliament called Ann Cryer, who represented Keighley. In the face of a great many personal threats and a great deal of local hostility, she argued against forced marriages and highlighted the issue of birth defects in the Asian community.”
Mrs Cryer also spoke about abuse of white girls, Mr Jones said. “She was very unpopular in the constituency.”
Most Labour MPs in the North East joined Mr Jones in voting against Mr Goldsmith’s proposals but Labour MP Grahame Morris, who represents Easington, voted in favour. Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick-upon-Tweed, voted against, as did Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham.