Tuesday, 19 July 2011


In Comparative Government and Politics, Hague and Harrop review Referendums:
"On the plus side, referendums do seem to increase voters' understanding of the issue, their confidence in their own political abilities and their faith in government responsiveness. Like elections themselves, referendums help to educate the participants.
"But there is a reason for caution. A surfeit of referendums can tire the voters, depressing turnout."
This last comment hits against Interactive Democracy, which proposes frequent referendums, but if the system automatically transfers inactive votes to the local MP (or other approved person), then everyone remains represented whether they are engaged or not.
Hague and Harrop go on to say that "In addition to these difficulties, referendums can easily be hijacked by:
  • Wealthy companies waging expensive referendum campaigns on issues in which they have an economic interest;
  • Government control over wording as well as timing;
  • Intense minorities seeking reforms to which the majority is indifferent."
The last point is addressed by the transfer vote I just mentioned. The second point loses veracity when an effective Parliament agrees timing and wording, and the electorate can recall Parliament or express their ire at the next general election. And, is the first point any worse than what we have today, when politicians can be secretly manipulated by vested interest groups: Interactive Democracy makes wealthy campaigners contribute to the debate, not politicians' coffers. Furthermore, by having a structured system that rationalises the debate, both money and emotion become less powerful than a good argument.

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