Posted tagged ‘consent’

Debating Referendums

September 26, 2011

Have I seen this picture somewhere before?

Last week we wrote a piece decrying the Government’s ludicrous idea of giving local residents the power to call referenda but then not make the result of that referendum binding. As mentioned, this is sort of the equivalent of giving people money to go out and buy as many cakes as they want but then not letting them eat any of them.

Flippin ridiculous!

However, the twitter response to our post was not about the idiocy of the Government’s response but actually about referenda themselves. One of our favourite critics, Paul Evans was particularly exorcised, signing off with one of my favourite debate enders ever:

Direct Democracy is just poison.

It was sort of hard to know what to say to that really; so I bottled out and pledged to spend a bit of my weekend mulling why exactly I was defending referendums and whether the plural or referendum was referendums or referenda. (Paul got me on that one too!)

Before I continue I should urge you to read Paul’s piece on why Direct Democracy is a really bad idea. It’s available here and lays out, in more detail than I’d ever manage, the reasons that referendums are not a good idea.

Rather than refute each of Paul’s points, which would be pretty dull and often not possible due to the quality of some of his arguments, I decided to try and develop a coherent vision of when and why referendums might be a good thing. It was a lot more tricky than I originally thought.

We should not get caught up on the principle of the issue but it is worth saying that it is profoundly democratic to let people have an un-weighted one person one vote on an issue that directly affects them.

As Paul points out the problem here is that the way we set up referendums in this country. In general we usually set them up for a limited number of questions and usually one where all nuance is stripped out of the debate. The referendum regarding the voting system is a recent and prime example.

However, just because we mis-used a referendum to decide our electoral system does not mean the whole system is bad; or does it?

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Rough Sleeping and the Big Society

March 4, 2011

Caught in the cross fire of local politicians and the Big Society

Westminster Council announced earlier this week that they were going to be:

consulting on plans to ask CLG to approve a bye-law that would outlaw rough sleeping and soup runs in a wide area that includes Westminster Cathedral piazza and the department’s Eland House headquarters.

Now there is a very easy response to this announcement and it goes something like this:

WTF!!!!

I’m well aware that this is not a simple issue. Apparently, the charities Thames Reach and St Mungo’s support the move, but other groups such as Housing Justice voiced their opposition. If I’m totally honest I really don’t know who’s right and a flippant response of WTF seems a bit cheap.

Anyway, I’m being distracted.

The interesting sub-point of this story is what it says about the Big Society.

In my mind the charities that hand out the soup and other food in Westminster Borough could definitely be described as part of the Big Society. These are charities that often have volunteers working for them. They have identified a need in society and have set out to solve it in their own way.

However, the local politicians who represent the voice of the wider population (or at least I assume they do) are in the process of passing a law that says that the charities, acting in their role as part of the Big Society, are not acting in the best interests of the whole community.

In effect the problem here is one of who is right? The citizens of the ‘Big Society’ soup runs or the elected politicians of Westminster council?

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Decentralisation 2 – The 4 Cs

September 21, 2010

Same picture again: Laziness or thematic???

I promised recently that I would continue writing about decentralisation after my first post served as really a long introduction. If you haven’t read it yet you can do so here although the summary of it would go as follows: the Government are really keen on decentralisation and it poses a real challenge to local authorities.

As much as the Government’s position provides a profound challenge for local authorities I would argue that the challenge is actually shared between policy makers and the local authorities themselves.

Therefore, in the spirit of the Big Society I have decided to offer my thoughts on the four main challenges policy makers need to address over the coming months. Oh, and in the spirit of making it easier to remember (for me) I’ve labelled each of the four challenges with the letter C. (more…)