Parliament will today debate Gordon Brown’s proposals to hold a referendum on voting reform. In 1975, Callaghan described the referendum on EEC membership as a “rubber life raft into which the whole party would have to climb”. Perhaps Gordon Brown thinks that he can craft his own lifeboat with electoral reform, reviving his chances at the polls.
But is it good use of parliamentary time? Other legislation currently going through Parliament may be sacrificed for it, yet ask the average voter about voting reform and he/she will probably conclude (unfairly) that it doesn’t matter how we elect them, they’ll all be on the make anyway.
Whenever a referendum is suggested, I am baffled. Election turnouts are depressingly low. Why demonstrate further the disengagement of the electorate by asking them to vote on something they either don’t understand to a level of detail that enables informed choices or, more likely, don’t care about?
In this case, I suppose it’s about demonstrating democracy. Giving the people the chance to vote on how they can vote. A democratic double whammy!
Faced with this democratic gambit, David Cameron has responded with… er, petitions. The Conservative leader has said that under a Tory government, any petition signed by more than 100,000 people would guarantee a debate in the House of Commons. One million or more signatures would win you the right to put a Bill before Parliament. UKIP must be licking their lips.
I fear that the idea may have been prompted by Facebook groups (“If 100,000 people join my group MPs must decide who is hotter: Kylie or Danni”*). Petitions will simply encourage further trivialisation of politics and waste even more parliamentary time.
We have a parliamentary system quite capable of delivering good government. What we lack is the public’s trust in that system or in politicians. Cheap imitations of democracy won’t change that and, worse still, is a waste of our time and of Parliament’s time.
* The answer is Kylie.