Sluggish Peers threaten the future of direct democracyPosted on January 1, 2011
The AV referendum is incredibly important for British democracy – not so much because of the actual question on the table but because the way it runs will heavily influence the future of direct democracy in this country.
I, like many others, want to see a lot more referenda in Britain. We deserve votes on the EU, on any constitutional changes and on local tax rises, to name but a few. Ideally citizens should be able to initiate a referendum on any issue of their choosing via a right of initiative.
The chance of that happening rests largely, though unofficially, on the AV referendum. If it becomes a farce with a tiny turnout, then there is a risk that it will discredit the idea of asking the people about anything – the defenders of the Westminster elite will crow at any and every opportunity that people just aren’t bothered.
But if the AV vote does turn out to be an absurd waste of time, it will not be because the people aren’t interested in being consulted on things.
For a start, AV is in itself a boring and obscure system which is a peculiar choice of referendum topic. That puts this referendum at a disadvantage in terms of turnout.
To counteract that, campaigners and politicians have a serious responsibility. The Yes and No camps must run active, interesting and exciting campaigns to ensure that people are exercised about the topic (difficult as that may be). I think they have both got off to a pretty good start on that front.
The real weak link in the chain at the minute is in Parliament. The BBC today reports that Labour Peers are blocking the Bill to such an extent that it may not go through in time to actually hold the referendum on the planned date of May 5th.
If they persist in their delaying tactics and the date does have to be moved, it would be a disgraceful disservice to democracy. Allowing campaigns to get up and running only to delay the vote will turn this referendum into a farce and further confuse and alienate the public.
I don’t like AV, so I don’t think it would be a missed opportunity on that front, but if this harms the prospect of future referenda on things that actually do matter, there should be hell to pay.