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Referendums Discredited ?

September 14, 2016

Anyone who has paid attention to the two most recent British referendums – on the voting system (2011), and on whether to leave the EU (June this year), must surely wonder whether they are a reasonable way of deciding important issues or whether to take the view of Edmund Burke who told the electors of Bristol that MPs should be representatives, not delegates; or the Athenian elite who felt that the assembly was too influenced by demagogues.

In the referendum on the voting system the totally incompetent Yes camapign was countered by a very effective fear campaign, which totally misrepresented the facts. On top of that MPs lied by saying that because voters had rejected Alternative Vote, they had rejected reform. They had not; AV is not proportional.

In the EU referendum, both sides when they were not actually lying were so misleading as to make the result unsafe. Not only that but legally and constitutionally the Brexit vote was merely advisory, and especially given the closeness of the result Parliament should make the final decision. Neither side had spelt out what Brexit might mean, and they still have not.That uncertainty is going to have cost us dearly. David Cameron’s motive for calling the referendum had nothing to do with the public interest and it is outrageous that he is able to fade from the public eye without facing severe penalties.This not to say that Brexit is necessarily wrong, but committing Britain to Brexit totally unprepared most certainly was.

There is an urgent need to reform the process for conducting a referendum, e.g.

a.The government should not be allowed to dictate the wording of the question to be put. A short list should be produced which is subject to a popular vote using AV.

b. If either side in the campaign makes sufficiently misleading claims a court should be able to stop the campaign and require the culprits to pay the cost of running the referendum.

In the meantime the liers, demogogues, and sensationalists have totally discredited the concept of referendums.

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