Monday, April 23, 2012

No to a referendum: Parliament should decide on Lords reform

Mark Thompson says Liberal Democrats should not fear a Lords reform referendum. Richard Morris goes further and makes the case for holding one.

Well, I don't fear a referendum, but I don't want to see one held.

As I argued in Liberal Democrat News last year, the way that our relations with the European Union - which should have been one of the great issues in British politics for the last 20 years - have been taken our of electoral politics has been harmful to the standing of Parliament:
Why should voters feel enthusiastic about Westminster when their representatives avoid talking about one of the most important issues facing the country?
So it seems wrong to me, when faced with an important issue like Lords reform, to hurry to remove it from the jurisdiction of Parliament.

Britain is a representative democracy and that is a system that allowed democracy to survive here throughout the 20th century - quite an achievement when you look back at the history of that period. We should be wary of undermining it in this way.

If MPs duck out of taking important decision then the dreary charges that they are only in it for themselves or are all the same will only gain volume. Worse than that, supporters of parliamentary democracy will begin to suspect there is something in them.

The principle that there must be a referendum whenever constitutional change is proposed is a modern invention and it has not been applied consistently. Not every city that has opted for an elected mayor has had a referendum first.

You could, I suppose, argue that a referendum campaign would interest the public in Lords reform, but that did not happened with AV. If anything, the campaign spread ignorance and confusion while, as Willie Whitelaw would say, stirring up apathy.

Margaret Thatcher was fond of quoting the words of Clement Attlee: "plebiscites are the device of dictators and demagogues". He was right and we should be wary of undermining parliamentary democracy by rushing to hold another.

1 comment:

An English European said...

Referendums are not about a way for parliament to avoid an issue rather they recognise the fundamental democratic sovereignty of the people and the need to secure their consent. As a political liberal, how can you disagree with that? Be careful with short-term expediancy in sacrifice to principle.