Disgruntled at Gordonâ€™s Brownâ€™s failure to hold a referendum on the new EU treaty/constitution, residents of a small village in Dorset took matters into their own hands and voted on the question of whether or not to hold a referendum. The pro-referendum party won overwhelmingly, and now the village of East Stoke in Dorset is committed to holding a referendum.
This was no idle publicity stunt, but rather a proper vote based on a (previously) little-known clause in the 1972 Local Government Act: that a district council is obliged to hold a poll if 10 or more local people vote for it. Other villages are now looking into this and are planning to hold their own polls.
It is great that people are getting involved in local democracy, and I do think that there should be a referendum on the constitution, as the Labour party promised it in their manifesto on which they were elected. Any talk of there being significant differences between the â€˜constitutionâ€™ and the â€˜treatyâ€™ is just plain wrong.
However, I am more sceptical about the value of referendums in general. Representative democracy is heavily criticised by all sides, but the problem with referendums is that once you have one, how many more should you have? Should they only be on constitutional matters, or on war, or on immigration, and so on? If a party is elected on the back of a referendum-promising manifesto, that is one thing; but I prefer to recognise that complex issues cannot be distilled down to a yes or no vote. Do they have a place though?Â
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