Guardian newspaper sceptical about referendum reform and localism bill

A REPLY TO The Guardian on:
The UK’s current heady fling with referendums, on AV and potentially scores of lesser issues under the localism bill


The Con/Libdem coalitioners in the Localism Bill propose that a referendum can be triggered by at least one in twenty residents. This appears to apply to all local authorities, an improvement over the present state of affairs because “parish polls” cannot be held in many places and apply only to the least influential “lowest” level of government.

A major democratic deficit of both the proposed local referendum and the old parish polls (incidentally, many dozens of these have been held) is that the result is and will not be legally binding. Nevertheless a local authority might find it politically difficult to reject a voters’ decision if backed by a strong majority.

Parish Polls run under the 1972 Local Government Act can be very easily triggered by just a handful of voters. This may seem “democratic” but it has disadvantages. The vast majority of citizens may not learn about the issue involved. Turnout for ballots has often been very low indeed. Having a higher threshold means that the proposers have to approach many more people, a richer public debate can be expected to develop and reasonable turnout at the ballot is more likely to occur.

The coalition proposes to reform the rules for Parish Polls: our group submitted suggestions about how to do this, see Letter to Communities ministry re. “state of the art” local democracy

I&R ~ GB Citizens’ Initiative and Referendum
Campaign for direct democracy in Britain


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