In a week when the people of Ireland have expressed their opinion on the Lisbon Treaty in no uncertain terms, and when Gordon Brown and his Labour machine has tried – unsuccessfully – to steamroller the British Judiciary, I was interested to see Simon Jenkins’ view of the electoral process in The Guardian last Wednesday. He writes:
“Have you noticed how the political establishment hates elections? It regards them as vulgar, foreign, exhibitionist and unpredictable. To those in power they are mere concessions to mob rule. If electors did not insist on them, elections would have been abolished long ago as Victorian gimmicks to appease proletarian sentiment.”
Major players including France, Britain and Germany have all but ignored the obvious will of the populations of their partner states. Make no mistake; this is dangerous territory. For those of us who spend our lives in local government, we have seen the slow erosion of real democracy for some years now. At the very time Brown’s government is trumpeting its “localism agenda” from every rooftop, the population and its elected local mechanisms have never been more emasculated. The ‘earned autonomy’ promised by Labour’s performance management initiative, (where those authorities deemed Excellent by the Audit Commission inspections) came to nothing, as none of the freedoms and flexibilities were ever clearly defined enough to make a real difference.
Mr Jenkins argues that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, in making a manifesto commitment for a referendum, have broken their promises to the country. When Switzerland’s conservative catholic governments in the 19th century overrode the will of the people, there was civil war – not to mention political assassinations and many changes of government. Finally, the old guard were driven into exile and a free constitution was developed.
That constitution today still allows for the population – both by capita and by canton in a ‘double majority’ – to express its disdain. Consequently, the five major political parties are induced to work together to produce policies and state decisions which seek to meet with the population’s approval, not to override it.
In a recent YouGov poll, the question “If Europe’s leaders do agree a new constitution for the European Union, who should decide whether Britain should sign it?” brought a reponse from 83% of The decision should be made by the people in a Referendum”.
Prime Minister Brown, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel should think carefully about their next move. There’s a lot to lose – governments have fallen for less.