Opinion: Delivering local citizens’ initiatives

Five years ago, back in the final throws of the Blair government, when Cameron was still hugging hoodies and Ed Miliband was just a twinkle in the unions’ eyes, I worked for an organisation called Our Say.

Our Say campaigned for the introduction of citizens’ initiatives in the UK, referendums that can be instigated by a petition of a certain percentage of citizens in a given area.

The campaign wasn’t active for very long but it received cross party support, primarily from backbenchers. Overall, Conservative MPs more than Liberal Democrats or backbench Labour MPs received it better. In fact the Lib Dems’ own Susan Kramer publicly took exception to the proposal on the Politics Show, and of course the Blair government certainly weren’t big supporters!

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the reputation he has developed since, Douglas Carswell championed the issue in his book with Dan Hannan ‘The Plan’. And the policy was ultimately picked up by the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto but only applied to local government. As a result the policy went into the coalition agreement and non-binding referenda are now going to be in the Localism Bill.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto was light on direct democracy and two of our Lords were so worried about it that last week they further watered down the provisions by adding several amendments. These amendments would give councils more discretion over whether or not to hold a referendum and make it much more difficult to hold a London-wide referendum.

Whilst these amendments are disappointing for believers in more people power and have drawn criticism from some Conservatives, I still believe that we as Liberal Democrats should embrace and own this policy as part of the broader measures in the Localism Bill to devolve power.

Of course the Bill itself isn’t perfect and there are places where we would go further or pull back, but this at least is a small step towards engaging citizens more directly in decision-making and the liberal in all of us should applaud that.

* See also the post from Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy earlier in the week about local referendums.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sounds lovely in theory. However, I’m always reminded of:
    “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” – Winston Churchill

  • Tony Greaves 20th Oct '11 - 10:31pm

    For heaven’s sake wake up. These provisions were completely removed from the Localism Bill at Report stage last week as a result of 18 successful amendments in the name of me and our team leader Lord (Graham) Tope. I am delighted to report that the Liberal Democrats removed this expensive and potentially dangerous nonsense from the Bill.

    Tony Greaves

  • Unfortunately this post was originally planned to appear a week earlier and apparently I didn’t do enough due diligence when updating the article to appear when it has. I still think these proposals would have been a great way for local people to engage with local government and I am disappointed that they have been removed by Liberal Democrats in the Lords.

    The progress of how we do democracy in the UK is lagging behind advances in almost every other area of public life and I hope this isn’t the last we will see of these proposals.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAndy Hinton 24th Aug - 5:51pm
    Paul Barker is right; the true argument for HS2 is nothing to do with journey times or "bridging the north-south divide", it is about freeing...
  • User AvatarTom Harney 24th Aug - 5:50pm
    As far as I can see from the links provided the plans for an alternative to HS2 are simply lines on a map. How about...
  • User AvatarTom Harney 24th Aug - 5:29pm
    The poll accurately reflects the current position in the country in my opinion. To translate it into votes at a General Election requires resources. There...
  • User AvatarPeter Wrigley 24th Aug - 5:27pm
    Our MPs are not delegates but representatives. Their duty is to use their judgement and vote for whatever they understand to be the long term...
  • User AvatarDavid Allen 24th Aug - 5:26pm
    Typo in my last paragraph - it should read "to put the first A50 on hold in a “temporary” way" - Sorry
  • User AvatarNonconformistradical 24th Aug - 5:25pm
    @Joseph Bourke "the Japanese, like the British, were city dwellers and had a similar seasonal climate to the UK, if a little hotter during the...
Sat 24th Aug 2019
Thu 29th Aug 2019
Mon 9th Sep 2019