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Direct Democracy: Do the Candidates Know What They are Talking About?

Do the Members Know What They are Voting for?

Leader: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

Direct Democracy: (also known as pure democracy) is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly. This differs from the majority of modern democracies, which are representative democracies.

After years of ‘representative’ Government where, as Nigel Farage used to say, you couldn’t put a fag paper between the major political parties and where it took fear of UKIP to get the referendum on EU membership –  after years of a cabal at the top of UKIP becoming ever distant from the grassroots – after a rudderless year where, never mind humble branch members, even MEPs were excluded from vital decisions like the 2017 manifesto, it is no surprise that leadership candidates and members are looking for change.

Several of the candidates are proposing, to a greater or lesser degree, some form of direct democracy (DD). With his slogan ‘Be the Government’ John Rees Evans would take DD right to national level. At the London ‘Question Time Session’ (see here), the candidates present were asked their views on DD. One difficulty was whether to address the issue at national or party level, although Ben Walker stated clearly that his enthusiasm didn’t extend beyond the party.

DD is as old as the Ancient Greeks (literally) and as modern as 21st century electronic communication and voting. It is worth looking up DD on Wikipedia for the multiple variants – even between Swiss Cantons – and noting the number of political parties set up worldwide on the principles of DD, particularly electronic DD (EDD)

UKIP already has – or perhaps that should be had – policies to bring greater accountability back to the electorate with binding local referenda on, for example, significant planning decisions, right of recall and more decision making at local level: the antithesis of the wholesale handover of governance to Brussels!

My District Council is about to embark on its third public consultation on a flawed local plan. The first two were so complex and verbose that ordinary residents could not be expected to plough through the hundreds of pages of documents – a fake consultation. Cynical and disillusioned residents are convinced the council has already made its mind up. We certainly won’t be getting a referendum on where, let alone if, we want a so called ‘garden village’ of 4,000 houses built on the Metropolitan Greenbelt. Consultation then may not necessarily be democratic, it certainly isn’t in Tandridge.

Switzerland has a long history of DD at Canton level with regular referenda; Swiss citizens are accustomed to the system. With turnout in UK local elections typically at 30-40% and often much lower in ‘out of season’ by elections, how representative would DD be here? How long would it take to engage sufficient numbers of voters for a meaningful result? And – most critically of all, how would we prevent hi-jacking by groups with an agenda? Some of us are old enough to remember the tactics of Militant Tendency – keep the meeting dragging on until only the activists are left, then, when all the moderates have given up, take the vote …!

As for EDD, something that can hardly be representative while there are still voters who ‘don’t do the internet,’ we can already see this happening, as anyone who still hasn’t blocked 38 Degrees or Avaaz will know. Then there are those ‘polls’ on social media, how easily and with little forethought it is to just click – and to vote more than once if you have more than one Twitter account!

I would like to see UKIP fighting for genuine local accountability but even for that small step on the DD road we need councillors – we won’t get those with a leader who hides a lack of direction under a cloak of DD: he, or she will be quickly found out.

Well, what about within the party? We are told that the current, broken, structure was designed to prevent a leader becoming an autocrat: look where that has taken us! In the last 12 months we in the branches have had less communication, less dialogue with the executive than ever before.

With Labour, Conservatives and Brexit on the rocks and another general election looming there is no time for DD. We need a leader who is not afraid to lead, to take command, to take back control from those who have either through incompetence, or with malice aforethought, brought our party to the laughing stock it is today. Lead us first, then engage with us at grassroots level – for our country’s sake!

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About Helena Windsor (2 Articles)
Helena Windsor is the Chairman of UKIP Surrey

10 Comments on Direct Democracy: Do the Candidates Know What They are Talking About?

  1. Referendums are an excellent idea. I am surprised that someone connected with UKIP – of all political parties – should question the value of referendums. There is no way we would have got as far as we have done in gaining our independence from the EU without the mechanism of a referendum.

    Referendums, whether used in national politics as in last year’s EU referendum, or internally within policital parties or movements to settle policy, are the only way populist movements can counter the inevitable oligarchical and elitist trends in contemporary politics and modern political parties.

    People are far too ignorant of Robert Michels’ “Iron Law of Oligarchy” (of which, by the way, the current UKIP organisational structure seems to provide a textbook example).

    The proponents of internal party policy referendums (or referenda if you prefer) have done themselves no good by adopting the opaque expression “direct democracy” rather than the plain English “referendums”. Everyone knows what “referendum” means – nobody is quite sure what “direct democracy” means: this gives anti-democratic, oligarchic elements the wriggle-room they need to obfuscate the issues.

    Last year’s unexpected referendum result was a small, but very, very welcome, victory for populism against elitism and oligarchy. But if the elitists and oligarchs have their way last year’s referendum result will be ignored and frustrated. I would like to see UKIP foster and develop populist politics. But to do this it must be seen to be sincere and not just preach populism but also to practise it.

    Of course, referendums are not suitable for all issues. Some issues are too small or too technical for public consultation, and too many referendums would lead to voter exhaustion. But on major constitutional issues such as leaving the EU or revoking the Refugee Convention they are the only way people power can break the hegemony of the LibLabCon cartel Uniparty.

    With respect, one fallacy in the above article is that because voter turnout is sometimes low in representive democratic elections voter turnout will also be low in referendums. Voter turnout is low in representative party elections because voters correctly understand that how they vote often makes little difference – because the LibLabCon Uniparty always gets in. But in a referendum, in which every vote counts, and in which the vote will (or should) determine the substantive issue in question, voters are much more engaged and turnout is higher, as we saw both in the EU and Scottish independence referendums.

    • PurplePottymouth // July 25, 2017 at 11:01 pm // Reply

      Question the value of referenda? Oh no I am not! And I make it quite clear that I support our policy of binding local referenda. Our UKIP town councillor was instrumental in the town council organising a referendum, some years ago, on a development. Turnout was pathetic but then it wasn’t binding – in fact the result was ignored by the borough council (what a surprise) No doubt if at some future date people can have a genuine input that will change. My article was directed at the current debate on DD in relation to the new leader. Until we have leader who is in command of the party and can turn our poll ratings round it’s not the main event. Within the party yes, we need better communication and opportunities for members to share talents and be properly consulted – DD can be part of that but the normal chains of communication,used as they should be are just as important

  2. I do despair of the disrepute our party suffers from. Some potential leaders seem to think it does not matter, we must be extra radical and not take into account the realities of the electoral system or the deeply held objections to extremism of the average elector.

    I see this problem daily. By a fluke, I am a vice chairman of one council, where I was elected as an independent and a member of another as a UKIP councillor, for the same ward. My electorate know this perfectly well but the difference in attitudes and perceptions is remarkable. We need to be and appear to be reasonable, fair, inclusive and electable, right now we don’t. Only the ghastly performance of Mrs May at the GE prevents us from being a laughing stock.
    Given the right leader we can recover, select the wrong one and we are toast. Think very carefully before you vote, do you want to be a protest group or a viable political party. There are no prizes and little influence in losing elections and to get change we need elected representatives.

    • Which is why we must lead with the economy and the things it pays for, Icini

    • My understanding is that the only time UKIP made an impact with the voters and had electoral success was when UKIP were radical on the EU and arguing for the UK to return to being an independent nation. When we strongly challenged the establishment. What our opponents called being ‘little Englanders’. There is still much to be done to achieve those objectives.
      We are the anti-globalist anti-new-world-order party that stands up for the principle of the nation state being sovereign in all internal matters.
      Opposing the principle of Europe being a continent of independent nation states are the existing mainstream parties, media, UN, EU, corporate interests, the main world religions, many of our ruling class and intellectuals, etc.
      The policy of phasing out the nation state is impacting our education system, economic policy, defence policy, etc. Being radical is unavoidable if we are to challenge all this.
      Standing up for Britain does mean providing a challenge to the status quo and attempting to lead the electorate. The electorate have been exposed to decades of globalist propaganda and UKIP need to counter that with our own wall of information. I would have thought an outspoken leader is needed for this.
      Here on UKIP daily we are carefully considering the leadership decision and the future for UKIP. This debate we are having is essential. Good to get this thoroughly discussed.

  3. I agree, Helena, with your conclusion. John Rees-Evans is a gent and an asset to the Party, I believe he could, with others, put in place a great online site for UKIP and involve YI in this, their area of expertise.
    But, while DD within the Party is, I believe, a good idea – I simply cannot see that the public would embrace it or understand why they need it, and, as you say, there are enormous problems with it being hi-jacked.
    I asked Anne Marie what she thought about DD – her reply, necessarily brief on Twitter was ‘I agree with it as a concept, but the ordinary man and woman just want to know their children will be safe’. I agree, from education to housing, health, jobs and terrorism, all most people want, is that.

  4. What is a party but its members?
    If party leadership and membership drift apart, and/or there are competing camps, how else are major differences to be resolved, democratically?
    Perhaps more frequent leadership elections could be used to do just that, but what would a cynical public make of that?
    It cannot be beyond our wit to devise a system where at least something of JRE’s principle isn’t given some leeway.
    It might make for some ‘division’, but a party claiming to be democratic must allow its members meaningful say. We can them all move forward together.

    Nationally, of course there should be more referenda. They might be cumbersome, but it’s the only way to actually get opinion properly tested. Manifestos – especially Tory ones – have become largely meaningless. The Tories rarely do what they said they would do, and often do what they didn’t say they would.
    And whoever agrees with everything in a manifesto anyway – even our own?! British politics is a farce.

    People must be made responsible for their own decisions. We might then learn to get them right more often.

  5. Totally agree.
    Went to hustings in Torquay yesterday.
    The only candidate with vision and passion is AMW.

  6. Thanks. John Rees-Evans’s plans are with the NEC Technical Sub-Committee, and we look forward to his response to our queries.

  7. Good to see an intelligent article on DD.

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