Douglas Carswell

28 DEC 2010

A step towards Direct Democracy

The government has said that if over 100,000 people sign a petition, it could lead to a debate in Parliament

Good.  Instead of having to hope that someone in the Westminster village shares your concerns, you now have a formal mechanism to get them to respond to issues that matter to you.

Our Parliamentary system evolved in an age when the fastest thing in the country was a horse.  Democracy meant deferring to elected representatives, who would head off to Westminster to make decisions on their electorates behalf.  It is absurd that in the age of YouTube we should have no more say over how we are governed than the right to vote every five years. 

When Edmund Burke defended representative democracy on the basis that folk in Bristol could not possibly have heard the debate that took part in Westminster, he could not have imagined a world in which the radio or internet not only allows people hundreds of miles away to listen, but to actually take part.   

"But surely direct democracy would lead to populism?" mutter the grandees.

If by populism you mean politicians addressing the concerns of the voters, then indeed.  But is that so wrong?  It is worth remembering that in the last Parliament - the rotten Parliament - MPs spent far more time discussing how they might exempt themselves from their own Freedom of Information law and their expenses, than they did on topics that really mattered to most taxpayers.

What direct democracy would not do is lead to mob rule.  If you give adults responsibility, they tend to behave not only responsibly, but in a fair-minded, liberal way.  It is worth reflecting that the death penalty has more often been abolished by plebiscite, than it has been introduced.

My only concern with today's announcement is that it does not go far enough. 

So what if 100,000 people force MPs to debate an issue?  Perhaps what we really need is the kind of idea Dan Hannan and I put forward in our book, The Plan, which called for popular initiative to force Commons votes.  Those half dozen or so People's Bills with the most signatures should be included in the Queen's Speech.  MPs would be free to vote for or against popular Bills, but would be forced to address the concerns of the people. 

If people had a direct input into the content of the Queen's Speech, Parliament might be more a place of purpose, as well as pageantry.  

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