Wednesday, October 31, 2007

People's Veto and ID Cards

When I first heard of Chris Huhne's plan for a People's Veto my initial instinct was that he had gone absolutely mad. In this hysteria-filled media misinforming technological age, how on earth could you ensure the veracity of a petition against a piece of legislation to start with? We should surely place greater store on our Parliamentary democracy and seek to strengthen that rather than give credence to what looks on the face of it like populist pandering. You only have to look at what goes on the ballot in American elections to see how discriminatory, prejudiced laws are passed. In fact, the Bush campaign in 2004 was instrumental in using referenda against gay marriage to ensuring people came out and voted for their candidate.

The issue Chris mentioned was the Iraq war. It's clear that although Pariament voted against it, a huge number of people in the country opposed it. However, with the best will in the world, even if you count the most optimistic assessments of the numbers who came on to the streets do not account for more than 3-4% of the population with the rest not really bothering to engage in the process.

What would happen, if Chris were PM and a vocal minority wanted to ban homosexuality? We have no need to kid ourselves that there are probably enough people who feel that way to at least equal the number who opposed the Iraq war on the streets. Would he let "the people" veto a freedom and a core principle that we hold so dear? I can't imagine that he would, but he needs to answer the question. I can see how the idea might engage people in the political process but the laws that Parliament pass might well become bland and inoffensive when they need to be more radical.

When I heard Nick's refusal to have an ID card, I jumped up and down with delight. This is more like it. Our leader would defy the law like an old fashioned radical Liberal. At the moment he has 8.5 years left on his passport. What happens when it comes to May 2016? Is he seriously going to restrict himself to these shores when he has close family in other parts of the World? If so, I applaud him. But has he really thought this through? The framework for ID cards is in place. Much as I would like to see the whole infrasctructure overturned, realistically we have to face the fact that it might not be and I suspect Nick will be enjoying holidays in the UK for a long time to come if he honours his pledge.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you've got the wrong end of the stick - what Huhne is proposing is that 2.5% of people can insist on a referendum to block a new law.

So your example simply wouldn't come about, unless of course an illiberal government passed anti-gay legislation, in which case it would be up to us liberals to get the signatures to call a referendum!

Caron said...

But technically the anti gay lobby could force a referendum on, say, civil partnerships legislation. What happens if the subsequent referendum is in favour of repealing that progressive legislation?

The idea is not entirely without merit but we do have to be careful with it. I think 2.5% is probably too low.

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