Apparently referenda are bad because… the wrong ideas might get votes

Philip Johnston in unconvincing form on referenda in the Telegraph:

In a speech to the Commons in April 1975, Margaret Thatcher asked what exactly was meant by “the full-hearted consent of the people”.


She added: “Referenda for every important piece of legislation? If this was the case, we would have no Race Relations Act, immigration would have been stopped, abortions would still be illegal and hanging still be in force. I expect that that is what we shall move to if we have the first referendum without considering the consequences that every piece of legislation will require full-hearted consent, which normally means consent exercised through the House.”

This is supposed to make us doubt the wisdom of holding a referendum? Really?

No Race Relations Act? Great.

No immigration? Hooray.

Abortions illegal? As someone who’s undecided on this, that doesn’t strike me as obviously wrong. And these days there’s no way in the world that abortion would be voted down in a public referendum anyway.

Hanging still in force? The only problem with hanging for me is the possibility of hanging innocent people, so I’d probably vote against, but the death penalty has never freaked me out like it does to progressives.

You’d also have to say that parliamentary democracy (which Johnston is now all for) has produced some utterly dreadful legislation all by itself. So sure a referendum could produce some awful result, like a 90% rate on the highest tax band. But that’s what the UK had in the 1950s and 60s, because of… parliamentary democracy.

At least Johnston doesn’t agree with David Cameron’s mentor on the wisdom of having a second referendum (but that only because he’s against referendums in principle now):

The Oxford academic Vernon Bogdanor wrote recently that “the dilemma, created by the people via the referendum vote of 2016 and again in the general election of 2017, can only be resolved by the people through another referendum.”

Bogdanor’s view makes no sense. If the problem was created by having a referendum, how can having another one solve it? If the ruling class refuse to implement the results of the first one, why wouldn’t they also refuse to implement the results of the second if didn’t go their way again?

Johnston again:

Are we to have political decisions taken at home by phone-in, like Strictly Come Dancing? Some people might like the idea; I don’t.

The Australians have always had occasional referendum for important matters, and it doesn’t cause any crisis for their democracy, and doesn’t in any pressure to hold referenda on absolutely everything. The Swiss also do all right.

We are supposed to be a parliamentary democracy, not a glorified game show. Our flirtation with referendums has been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s never have another.

The referendum wasn’t a disaster at all, as most of the media is now trying to make out. What’s been a disaster is the ruling class trying their best to overturn the result. But even that has its upside, because it has spectacularly revealed the contempt which the new aristocracy has not just for the common people, but for anyone who doesn’t share their strict tribal views. It’s also revealed to many people just how thick and incompetent that ruling class is. And as it’s that ruling class that’s sleepwalking us to a PC disaster in the years ahead, they needed unmasking.

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2 thoughts on “Apparently referenda are bad because… the wrong ideas might get votes

  1. But you can’t leave the EU because Barnier personally wrestled Hitler to the ground and arrested him, thus stopping World War II and III.

  2. A couple of years ago we (NZ) had referendums on a flag change. First one to choose a preferred alternative from a number of designs, then a second a few weeks later to see if we would actually go for it (we didn’t). Our Prime Minister was gracious in defeat (he was keen on change). Cost a bit but it has been a very effective way to make that ongoing debate go quiet for a while.

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