Value sovereignty? Then forget referendums.

Parliamentary sovereignty works and we should continue to have faith in this system which still is the envy of the democratic world.

The envy of the democratic world?
Alexander Stafford
On 24 October 2011 14:50

Today sees the vote on whether or not we should have a referendum on our relationship with the EU. This backbench motion has caused much furore amongst Conservative backbenchers as well as a few junior Ministers and PPS’ with the Cameron administration likely to face a heavy rebellion.

With the whipping in place by all three main parties it is almost impossible for this motion to go through.

Regardless of the outcome, this motion does set a very dangerous precedent aimed at the very heart of the democratic system we have in the UK.

The argument at the core of this motion is sovereignty. Referendum advocates argue that a referendum is needed to let the people decide; to maintain, protect and enact our country’s sovereignty.

By not holding a referendum we are supposedly ignoring the wishes of the people and thus neglecting sovereignty. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Whether you are pro or anti the EU this motion harms the very sovereignty which it claims to maintain.

The UK has a constitutional monarchy backed up by the belief that parliament is sovereign. This arrangement has protected our country for the last four hundred years from dictators, civil wars and large scale civil unrest.

Almost uniquely in the world, the British parliamentary democratic system is tried, tested and proven. It therefore should be protected, maintained and upheld.

Referendums by their very nature make parliament redundant. Rather than reinforce democracy they can undermine it.

Thatcher famously said that referendums are “a device of demagogues and dictators”. Whilst this is overstating the case, we do elect MPs on a whole range of issues but ultimately we give them limited power over five years to vote as they see fit for us.

We often disagree with the way they vote and act but if we don’t like the way they behave we can, and often do, get rid of them.

Instead of judging an MP on merely one vote or a single issue they are generally judged on the entire performance of the parliamentary term. This gives the electorate a better sense of what the MP is really like.

MPs are never going to chime exactly with each and every voter’s views and it is irresponsible to coerce them to do so. Instead we should take a balanced vote and not demand, like spoilt children, direct democracy on certain issues whilst ignore others.

MPs have to vote and decide on all issues. Some subjects are naturally emotive, recent examples include not just the EU but things such as circus animals and what to do with the rioters. However most issues are incredibly mundane; think weights and measures and various bye laws.

Who is to say which issues are actually more important than others? Who can say which issues should be put towards a public vote and those that should not be? How can we make this divide?

Ultimately we cannot and that is why we need MPs to enact true democracy. We need informed people acting in our best interests who know that if they do not they will be voted out at the next election. That is rightful power to the people.

The true British way is for a free vote by MPs in Parliament about our relationship with the EU rather than emasculating them with a vote on whether or not we should have a referendum on the issue.

We should always let the people decide and in this case they did. At the last general election the only party properly calling for a referendum on membership received no seats.

Parliamentary sovereignty works and we should continue to have faith in this system which still is the envy of the democratic world.

Alexander Stafford is the North West Area London CF Chairman and ex-OUCA President. He tweets at @Alex_Stafford   

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