Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Referendums: What are they good for?

After their AGM last night, the Hansard Society held a panel debate with the above title. A full report should be published on their website shortly http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/

Five people sat on the panel - Dr David Butler; David Curry MP (Cons); Chris Huhne MP (Lib-Dem); Clare Short MP (formerly Labour); and Steve Richards of the Independent. Mr Curry described referendums as "clumsy, inefficient and imprecise" - and as the 'landfills of politics' - the dumping ground for embarrassing issues. Clare Short took the opposite view - and spoke of historic examples which had resolved difficult issues successfully. Chris Huhne argued that referendums could be a check and balance against legislatures, which could help reconnect the people. Steve Richards sought to dispel two myths about referendums - that they settle issues after a healthy campaign; and that they generate debate. In fact, he argued, the opposite was true.
Dr Butler gave a valuable overview of referendums - and noted that there had been about 1000 national referendums in history - half of which occured in Switzerland.
A lively question time followed. As ever, a Hansard Society event which was both enjoyable to attend - and gave those who attended, much to go away and think about.

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