Friday, 20 April 2012

Not another referendum...

We are 1 year on from the disastrously pointless AV referendum that, so far, has dampened the electoral reform movement (as expected) and allowed the public to choose to restrict it's own power over parliament, it's representative body. Now, in a cruel and ironic twist we're hearing many of the voices that stood against an AV referendum, are now willing to put the lives of critically ill babies and soldiers going out to Afghanistan in danger in a way they were certainly opposed to last year.

The reason is that a Referendum, constitutionally ambiguous as it is in this country, and so ill-used that the public do not know how to interact with one as standard, is a tool to get what you want while saying you want the opposite.

For example, Tory MPs are saying that they want a referendum...the implication is they think the public should have a say, democratically, in how we're governed. Sure, except these same MPs DON'T WANT REFORM. They hate the idea of a more democratic second chamber, and so are using the illusion of democracy to get what they want... no democracy for the Lords.

And then there is Ed Milliband, now supporting his party's manifesto pledge for Lords reform. 15 years after they won an election by a landslide with the promise of reforming the Lords (sans referendum), and did precious little to make it more democratic, they have finally found the balls to stick to a manifesto commitment. Good on them, it's just a shame that it's not out of principle for sticking to their manifesto, and more to do with the fact many Labour MPs and Lords don't want the reforms either.

Labour MPs and Tory MPs are all the same, they like the system they've got, they find it comfortable and amenable to their interests. Ed knows he's got a real internal fight on his hands, and that ultimately the best thing for his party is to just keep quiet and let the Tories destroy themselves. Hence the support for a referendum. He can stand proud saying he supports Lords reform and then, like with AV, do nothing to support that campaign.

Ed will, like with AV, help to deliver the opposite result to the one that he says he supports, and the result that will appease his party's members, by doing nothing and fading once more in to the background.

Like it or not the public showed that they don't know how to deal with referenda. We are not versed in it, we don't do it enough. The public did what they do at elections and swallowed media soundbites and biased party leaflets full with lies and misconceptions during the AV referendum (on both sides, though clearly more from the No campaign), and then topped it off by using it not as a vote on the issues, but on a vote against the Lib Dems. Since there are so little opportunities for the public to show their distaste in politicians it was a perfect proxy, they'd rather shoot themselves in the foot through ignorance and "sending a message". That is if they even turned up to give their opinion at all.

If we had a culture where referenda was more binding constitutionally, and it was regular and accessible enough that people knew that they needed to take the time to consider the full facts of the matter, the consequences of each result, then I might have a different opinion...but so far the evidence in the UK is that this kind of direct democracy is barely fit to be called "democratic" at all.

This isn't to say that I'm sitting here saying the public shouldn't have a say, this is a huge constitutional change and to omit the public from the process would be scandalous. People aren't as stupid as the public (as a group) can be, and there is no reason to seek active consultation. Citizens Jurys have been mooted before, and are a great idea to get people to engage, get informed and give important feedback on what needs to be done. Other more basic consultation models would also provide (hopefully) a consensus of ideas.

Let's do this reform right, all three parties over the last decade and a half have made it clear that voting for them is a vote to reform the House of Lords. Let's take that a start point, that the country is ready to evolve, and engage the public respectfully to find the best option to take forward. Then just do it. No more excuses, just do what we've already said we would do time and time again, and join the modern world of representative democracies.