The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Come The Revol… Referendum

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 3, 2010 @ 09:34

Stolen from the Electoral Reform Society's website. Not that it's anything interesting to look at...

For us young un’s, especially if we’re English, we’re not used to being consulted on things. Sure, we vote in local and general elections, but they’re about a huge ball of issues, entangled, intertwined, whatever. More often than not we base our votes on silly little things that don’t matter, like whether so-and-so “looks like a Prime Minister”. Wot?!

So with the good news that we’re going to be consulted on one very specific issue – voting reform – it makes me kind of excited. But then, I am a political nerd. Then again, perhaps you are too. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Admit it.

The last, and first, all UK referendum was in 1975. Given that you had to be 18 to vote in it, that means that everyone born since 1958 has never once been consulted in a British referendum. Have there really been no issues of major national importance in all that time?

Of course, the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been slightly luckier, getting referendums for their new Parliaments and Assemblies. And more are on the horizon. London got one too, and though it was asking 6m people, it was still a “local” issue, regarding a mayor that has barely any powers to speak of.

Politicians generally don’t like referendums, because they don’t really want to have to get the backing of the public again after all that general election fuss. Opponents say they are only ever used when government or opposition is divided. There is some truth in that in Britain, but the worldwide story is far more mixed.

But this referendum is going to be very different. Yes, the government is divided, but so what? Once more we’re going to get, from the coalition, a remarkable demonstration of grown-up politics. People agreeing to disagree, and instead of bitching about it in Cabinet or in the corridors of Westminster, they’re going to take the argument to the public for a decision that will shut both sides up for at least a generation.

That idea is revolutionary for British politics. It worked over Europe for Harold Wilson (though maybe it’s time we were consulted again) and there’s no reason why it won’t work again.

And, in the worst nightmares of all strident anti-referendumistas, once you pop, the fun don’t stop.

It’s too long between elections anyway, and it’ll only get worse if we get five year fixed terms.

But maybe it’ll stem the endless legitimacy drain from a government if there are national referendums at least once a parliament.

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