citizens' initiative and referendum

COMMENT during preparation of the direct democracy conference, October 2004, London.

Have we in Britain reached the "state of the art" in democracy? We think not. There is widespread discontent with politicians, with many of their decisions and, depending on area, with both action and inaction in public affairs. The fact that there are marked variations among the democratic systems of different countries suggests that we should at least take a closer look at what has been tried and at what is practised elsewhere.

Direct democracy means that the people decide not only upon who will represent them in parliament but also on certain public issues. Proposals made by a large number of citizens to change, veto or introduce a law can be put onto "the public agenda". Parliament may be mandated to vote on such a proposal. A large number of citizens can put a proposal to all of their fellow citizens in a referendum. Many new state constitutions of recent decades contain elements of direct democracy. Several european states have introduced citizen-initiated referendum at one or more levels of governance, from local to regional and central. The proposed "constitution" for the European Union will enable a law to be proposed by citizens' initiative.
In all of this Britain lags way behind. Some say "centuries behind".
We will present a model which integrates elements of direct democracy with our system of parties and parliament. This entails three "steps" in citizens law-making: from proposal, to public plus parliamentary debate, to -- if need be -- referendum. A presentation of this model connecting to much background information may be found at our web site http://www.iniref.org/steps.html
If finances allow we will invite people with experience of direct-democracy-in-action, from several countries, to share their knowledge and to help discuss the way forward.