David Cameron promises direct democracy - Power to the People!
From Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard:
David Cameron has unveiled plans to ensure that any petition of 100,000 people would be eligible for debate in Parliament. Any petition with 1 million signatures would result in a bill being tabled in Parliament.
Sounds like innovative, direct democracy.
But what if the public back issues that are either distinctly un-Cameroonian or potentially divisive for a Tory government?
There is the return of capital punishment (surely that would easily get a million signatures?), but also a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Sun's own referendum got 100,000 votes as I recall.
Heck, this could even be a UKIP wet dream. Imagine a simple "In or Out of Europe" referendum bill. Despite Mr Cameron's enthusiasm for more 'power to the people' today, the party business managers may suddenly find that there is not a lot of Parliamentary time for such a troublesome item.
Even with a three-line whip to vote against, many Tory backbenchers (and a few Labour MPs) would be tempted to back such a bill.
EU Referendum and Capital Punishment aside (though the latter could not happen unless the former preceded it and resulted in an 'out' vote), it strikes Cranmer this that is a petard by which Mr Cameron may be hoist throughout his entire term in office, for every Government Bill may be challenged with an equal and opposite Bill: Labour and the LibDems would easily be able to muster a million supporters to confront and counter any Conservative proposal. Of course, the tabling of a Bill does not mean that it would become an Act of Parliament, but where is the Parliamentary time going to be found to draft all these Bills and give them a First Reading, steer them through Committee Stage, give them a Second Reading, etc, etc.
It is an opportunity to filibuster and entire system of government.
On the face of it, the proposal is a God-send for democrats, but it is a Parliamentary nightmare which could undermine centuries of evolution of our system of representative democracy (if it is not already fatally undermined). What if a million votes were found for a David Cameron Must Resign Bill after he had irritated and alienated about 30 of his own backbenchers?
Does not this proposal effectively give the people the right to demand a vote of no confidence?
Or what about a We Want an Immediate Dissolution of Parliament Bill?
Or an Abolish the Monarchy Bill?
The last example would be interesting, insofar as there would be a Bill before Parliament the very debating of which would cause every MP to contravene their Oath of Allegiance. It is not clear at all what would happen to Bills which would contravene EU law which is superior to national law.
So what Bills can we look forward to?
An in/out EU Referendum Bill
A Capital Punishment Re-introduction Bill
An Immediate Cessation of Immigration Bill
A Scotland Indepedence Bill (with a very easy million signatures)
A United Ireland Bill (again, with a very easy million signatures from Northern Ireland's nationalist community)
A Ban the Pope's State Visit Bill
A Ban on Mosque-building Bill
There may be more than a little regret that this particular Pandora's Box had ever been opened.