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Amazingly, the Tory party and Con-Libdems in coalition have opened up a debate about improving democracy-by-the-people, providing a range of opportunities for those who may wish to kindle public, professional and private reform-debate.
What are we talking about? For instance:
1) For the “local” level there is a proposal to introduce the citizens’ proposition (“initiative”) and referendum, which can be started by a minimum of one in twenty voters.
2) The coalition states, “We will give residents the power to veto excessive council tax increases.”
3) The new government has announced a referendum plan for village housing schemes with a ‘Community Right to Build’. Overwhelming support for a housing scheme must be shown in the referendum, with a hurdle of 80 or 90 percent approval.
Proposals “2″ and “3″ have already evoked heated comment by local authority representatives and interest groups, reported in news media, including BBC.
4) There is a clear commitment to “The Recall”, albeit in a watered down form. Coalition: “We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by l0% of his or her constituents.”
5) There is the promised referendum about electoral system with which the right of the electorate to decide constitutional matters is implicitly acknowledged. Coalition: “We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, …”
6) Obligatory referendum promised on Europe (no such guarantee in sight for constitutional change at home): Coalition: “We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that treaty – a ‘referendum lock’.”
7) Even at the national-level there’s a hint of direct democracy. Coalition: “We will ensure that any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be eligible for formal debate in Parliament. The petition with the most signatures will enable members of the public to table a bill eligible to be voted on in Parliament.”
Separately all of these proposals are weak and mainly unsatisfactory for democrats. Together they show a small but seismic shift in reform potential.
This is a moment of great opportunity for supporters of citizen-led democracy. Campaigning must be stepped up in order to mobilise articulate opinion for improvements rather than token gesture changes in our democracy.