My faith in the radicalism of our party was rejuvenated when I read “Control Shift”, the party's green paper on localism in 2009. I was even more heartened when many of its provisions made their way into the Localism bill. Last night the LibDems eviscerated it in the House of Lords.
The removal of the clauses from the Localism Bill to allow for local referenda means that the political class, through its agents the LibDems, has scored a victory over the people. The clauses would have allowed residents, on securing a petition of 5% of the electorate, to force local referenda on local authorities which, whilst admittedly only advisory at this point, would have been one small step in putting a hand break on the excesses of elective dictatorships up and down the country. It would also have given the people the chance to originate policy rather than just be dependent on what a party puts in its manifesto.
If ever there was any doubt that we are in coalition with a bunch of statist control freaks then LibDem Lord Greaves, who proposed the amendment in the Lords last night, removed it completely. The irony of his hatchet job coming directly after a debate which bemoaned the lack of involvement of young people in politics was beyond parody.
He criticised the clauses because they “Would be open to people demanding large numbers of referendums on all kinds of things that the council would find extremely difficult to refuse to hold.” Duh! That's the POINT. If people don't want the question put or they think they've had too many already, then they don't sign the petition. If their Council is out of touch with what the people want then there will be plenty. It's up to them. The right of initiative has not resulted in vast number of questions being put in Switzerland and the states of the US that trust the people enough to have had such provisions for many years.
He went on – “Councils already have the powers to hold referendums when they choose to do so” Don't you get geddit m'Lud? What about when the people want to hold a referendum on an issue that they choose in one of the many local authorities which are one party states? Who the hell are local councillors if they are not servants of the people rather than their masters.
He was seconded by another good reason for the abolition of the Upper House, Lord Tope, who, wearing his smugness like a starlet wears a mink, said “I personally believe that there are better ways of testing public opinion fairly than using the very suspect means of a referendum” Suspect, I suspect, because they might disagree with the noble lord's 'progressive' leanings.
LibDems think their democratic credentials are boosted by their belief in PR once every four or five years at elections. They also think that the electorate are a bunch of ignorant bigots who can't be trusted to formulate a cogent opinion. Our party's credentials must be the belief in real democracy between elections. The Tory party is about liberation or it is nothing.
I'm bitterly disappointed that we didn't win this one and it will take an enormous amount of self control on my part to not spit in the eye of the next LibDem who tells me they “trust the people.”