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Comments

Les

Now that we have the technology to make this possible, I think that 'cutting out the middle man' on major issues is a good step forward.

As Jonathan says, MP's are elected on a specific set of policies (where the parties essentially decide among themselves what to argue about) but are called upon to address a whole range of other issues during their term of office.

This proposal would be essentially the same as running a business where the owners allow their managers a high degree of autonomy within agreed guidelines but take a more active role where major policy decisions are required.

I don't think that we would have ever been drawn into the Iraq war if the owners (that's us) had been consulted by the employees (that's the MPs).

As the web site of the same name suggests - they work for us.


Yet Another Anon

If MP's decide to introduce a form of Capital Punishment they can vote for it without the need for a referendum, I rather suspect that they are no more likely to vote for a referendum on it than simply vote to pass it straight into law, no doubt those opposed would oppose a referendum, however if passed it might prevent a succeeding government from scrapping it, but surely governments are only ever going to put to referenda things on which either they as a government are divided, or they are frightened of what the electorate might think and would rather see something they support be shot down than have to persevere until public support for a successful measure emerged, or that they hope and believe a measure will be rejected so it can be ruled out for some time, or because they are convinced that it will be passed anyway.

Matters of fundamental importance to the country are more important than democracy, equally if control of things is to be put out to members of the public it can be done through creation of boards at arms length from government, or co-operatives, private charities limited by guarantee or public limited companies.

Les

Yet Another Anon says

it can be done through creation of boards at arms length from government, or co-operatives, private charities limited by guarantee or public limited companies.
-------------------------------------------

All examples of bureaucratic bodies subject to political appointments and 'agendas'.

As I understand it, this proposal is intended to bypass all of these anti-democratic road-blocks.

Father Brian

The proposition has merit but it must be remembered that the great unwashed have little or no interest in running the country. Recall how Tony Benn's 1970s workers' co-operatives failed. All they wanted was to get their wages for as little effort as possible, the wider issues were of no interest.

Parliament is unlikely to enact anything that would dilute its own authority and power. See how long it took to get the referendum on EEC (as it was) membership, and then only when the result was a foregone conclusion. I remember hearing from the "great and good" that referenda were a foreign concept. "We have parliamentary democracy!" (said in that old Colonel Blimp plummy voice).

The last thing we need is more quangos, boards, commissions, etc. stuffed with the usual assortment of MPs' wives and girlfriends. If as a nation we want big government, we should continue to vote Labour.

Mark Wadsworth

YEs (or more like "Oh, go on then"). But what happens if, by referendum, people vote against further referenda? In answer to the direct questions, no, yes, two years, very badly.

Opinicus

@Yet another anon
That govts are unwilling to concede referendums is a given - hence this policy. Essentially it will be the opposition that asks for a referendum in the face of a govt's refusal to allow one or to do something eg refuse an EU treaty
Also the provision allowing ordinary voters to petition for a referendum gets round this objection. At present I see no other way we are ever going to get an English parliament, with all three parties firmly opposed. And that is just one example from many e.g. human cloning, capital punishment, hunting

Richard

This really ought to put the cat amongst the pigeons! The downside is that people may vote for things we don't approve of such as ID cards. Still, that's democracy!

Angelo Basu

Why not just abolish Parliament entirely? 80%+ of legislation is too dull for the public to have any real opinion on (sadly not necessarily the same 80% that has already been seceded to the EU) so you could just let the civil service run things according to high level instructions from referenda, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis. These could look like opinion polls. Perhaps they could have prizes attached for those who fill in the bit at the bottom with good answers to "In 25 words or less suggest a new referendum topic for next month". You could keep say 21 elected representatives (elected by PR) to work as a committee to agree the winning questions for the following month's referendum.

Why not go a bit further and have referenda to decide contentious court casee? If 12 jurors can sometimes get it wrong and send poor farmers to prison for shooting retreating burglars in the back, just think how much better it would be if you could call on millions to decide!

Sorry, getting carried away. Perhaps there might be some merit in a formal power to call for a referendum on the basis of a large popular movement- eg 1 million signatures- but the proposal goes too far in stripping our elected representatives of any power in respect of the big issues. Maybe a better thing to do would be to have a recall power as with the gubernatorial elections in California where the electorate had the power to petition the Queen to seek a dissolution if the elected government was not doing what was wanted.

Denis Cooper

I would very much like to see a "recall" system for elected representatives at all levels. Obviously there would have to be restrictions, such as that constituents could not force a new election within one year of the last election, and it would need to be decided what fraction of the registered voters would need to sign the requisition for a fresh election. For a Westminster constituency I'd say that if the organisers could collect the signatures of at least 10% of the electorate, ie about 7,000 people, over 3 months then that should be neither too easy nor too difficult. I wouldn't expect this too happen very often - maybe half a dozen cases during the course of a Parliament - but that would be enough for MPs to have it in the back of their minds that their constituents do have a mechanism for removing them without having to wait until the next general election.

I would also like to see a Treaty Act which stated that any international treaty or other agreement which could potentially have a significant impact on domestic law would have to be approved in a national referendum before it could be ratified by Parliament. A bench of three High Court judges should examine every treaty after signature but before ratification, and decide whether it could have significant implications for British law, or would only require trivial or technical adjustments which would not materially affect the laws under which we must live. There should perhaps also be a route for those opposed to the treaty to appeal to the Supreme Court if the High Court judges refused a referendum.

If that meant a referendum every month, so be it. It would be a good idea if the people of this country got used to the idea of helping to govern it.

Yet Another Anon

For a Westminster constituency I'd say that if the organisers could collect the signatures of at least 10% of the electorate, ie about 7,000 people, over 3 months then that should be neither too easy nor too difficult.
Think that might be making it to easy, could easily backfire with Labour and the Liberal Democrats having campaigns to collect signatures, I think a higher proportion at least to start of with, say half the number voting in total in the previous election and that could apply at all levels and there could be a permanent list with people able to add or remove their names from the list and when a certain minimum number was gathered a recall would occur, this could go all the way to a full General Election.

Maybe there could be petitioning to call for the execution of any convict in the UK by name bypassing the judiciary and government could provide lists to help increase the number of prison places available. Maybe locally people could petition for local troublemakers to be granted ASBO's where the police and courts had not taken action and to detain suspected terrorists where the courts had rejected their detention?

Angelo Basu

Why not just abolish Parliament entirely? 80%+ of legislation is too dull for the public to have any real opinion on (sadly not necessarily the same 80% that has already been seceded to the EU) so you could just let the civil service run things according to high level instructions from referenda, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis. These could look like opinion polls. Perhaps they could have prizes attached for those who fill in the bit at the bottom with good answers to "In 25 words or less suggest a new referendum topic for next month". You could keep say 21 elected representatives (elected by PR) to work as a committee to agree the winning questions for the following month's referendum.

Why not go a bit further and have referenda to decide contentious court casee? If 12 jurors can sometimes get it wrong and send poor farmers to prison for shooting retreating burglars in the back, just think how much better it would be if you could call on millions to decide!

Sorry, getting carried away. Perhaps there might be some merit in a formal power to call for a referendum on the basis of a large popular movement- eg 1 million signatures- but the proposal goes too far in stripping our elected representatives of any power in respect of the big issues. Maybe a better thing to do would be to have a recall power as with the gubernatorial elections in California where the electorate had the power to petition the Queen to seek a dissolution if the elected government was not doing what was wanted.

Gordon Layton

Good grief. I despair. What's our response to Mr Munday's excellent and innovative proposal, based as it is on the sensible and successful Swiss model?

"Matters of fundamental importance to the country are more important than democracy"

"The proposition has merit but it must be remembered that the great unwashed have little or no interest in running the country"

- and some Tories wonder why the public sees the party as 'out of touch', 'elitist' and 'not interested in people like me'...

I give up.

Londoner

I'll need 24 hours to recover from the affront in the headline to this piece to get round to reading it.

"Referendums" - please no. I know the Editor is keen on the US but can we stick to English here please?

And, in case anyone mentions it, I know that the 1998 Act on Scotland and Wales said Referendums but that was because all the senior civil servants at the time were trying to disguise from their New Labour masters that they read Greats at Oxford and perfectly well knew what the plural of referendum was.

Denis Cooper

For a Westminster constituency half the votes cast in the last election would be too high a barrier, YAA, so high that there'd be no point in having a recall system.

If we were back to turnouts of 80% plus, as we should be, the organisers would need to collect around the signatures of over 40% of the electors, which would be around 30,000 signatures, plus they'd need several thousand to spare because inevitably it would turn out that some of the signatories were not on the electoral roll for that constituency. That would be too difficult for a group of citizens acting on their own initiative, at their own expense and without any prior organisation.

Still, details like that could be sorted out once the principle was accepted.

Opinicus

@Londoner

The following is an extract from the CD version of the Oxford English Dictionary in relation to this question -

referendum ([email protected]"[email protected]). Pl. referendums, -enda.
[L., gerund or neut. gerundive of refer to refer.]
1. The practice or principle (in early use chiefly associated with the Swiss constitution) of submitting a question at issue to the whole body of voters.
In terms of its Latin origin, referendums is logically preferable as a modern plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural); the Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning 'things to be referred', necessarily connotes a plurality of issues. Those who prefer the form referenda are presumably using words like agenda and memoranda as models. Usage varies at the present time (1981), but The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (1981) recommends referendums, and this form seems likely to prevail.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing
Drink deep or touch not the Pierian thing"
Alexander Pope

Sam Tarran

Doesn't this sort of thing just remove the responsibility of leadership in government?

Denis Cooper

No, but it gives power back to the people for more than one day every five years.

Opinicus

Ahem Pope wrote and I meant "spring" above

Yes it removes the responsibility from government but the question is do they deserve to have it removed; over the last several years have they earned the right to keep it? If we have PR referendums would be the only way to get a radical, right wing proposal into law or to act as a counter-blast to any cross-establishment view.

Londoner

Jonathan quotes the OED: "In terms of its Latin origin, referendums is logically preferable as a modern plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural); the Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning 'things to be referred', necessarily connotes a plurality of issues." Of course I know lots of people say referendums but that does not mean I have to like it.

But surely we are talking in this proposal about referenda on a plurity of issues, rather than referendums all on the same issue? So I don't think the OED is the knock-out blow you clearly think it is. It might conceivably get the mandarins off the hook if they felt that the Scottish and Welsh Referenda were on the same issue. Anyway, one really should not take anything associated with Oxford as gospel you know. How many Nobel Prizes have they got compared with Cambridge?

As you are so learned, please tell the others who might not know what the difference is between a gerund and a gerundive.

Yet Another Anon

If we were back to turnouts of 80% plus, as we should be, the organisers would need to collect around the signatures of over 40% of the electors, which would be around 30,000 signatures
Have a permanent record where the voter registrations are held, they record all kinds of other details - higher turnout probably means more general enthusiasm and more organisers, anyway it isn't something which should be happening all the time, better to introduce it at a high level and see what effect that has and the level can always be lowered later, rather than having constant recalls organised by what is a vociferous organised minority - I'm sure the USSR would have loved such a system to be in place with a low threshold - they could have caused havoc with agent provocateurs organising recalls and so could other organisations such as Sinn Fein, in many areas under your suggested system there could end up being annual recalls.

Things such as having requirements for people to meet in terms of participation in debates and votes to be an MP or face disqualification might be an idea as well.

Kerri Parish

It is a difficult one. I am against the idea of rule by referendum as I do not see how it will be possible to engage the population on many issues. However, I support the idea for constitutional matters that are really important to the average citizen, potential serious infringements of our civil liberties, or votes of no confidence in the government.

Opinicus

Gerunds are neuter nouns of verbs and have no pleural in Latin eg swimming, gardening
Dum di do the gerunds go
Gerundives are formed from verbs and imply must. Delenda est Carthago. English gerundives most typically imvolve leaving the EU
In answer to Sir Humphreys famous question "Which university did you go to?" Both.

Denis Cooper

YAA, I would do it the other way round - start with a low threshold, and then if there's significant abuse of the system push the threshold up a bit. Voters aren't keen on what they perceive as unnecessary elections - for example I think that when a narrowly defeated candidate challenges the result and insists on a fresh election then he usually gets beaten more decisively the next time. There would have to be a high level of general discontent with the sitting MP before a group could get even 7000 voters who were prepared to demand a new election. If a party kicked off that process not because the MP was a bad MP, but because they calculated that public opinion had now shifted enough for them to win back the seat, then they could well find that the public refused to support them.

Tom Horrocks

I think this is an excellent idea - and similar proposals are bring pushed by the our say campaign (www.our-say.org) and the Power Inquiry follow up (www.makeitanissue.org.uk). Not sure any Party will ever vote to give up their own powers though.

Sean Fear


An excellent idea, in principle, although the details need to be worked on.

I think the Swiss and American models of referenda/ ballot initiatives work very well.

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