The Government is today publishing a consultation paper in which is outlines plans to require local councils to "respond" to any petition they receive which have been signed by 250 people or more. This is a fairly limp response to the movement for more "Direct Democracy", which I broadly support. There will be no requirement for a council to do anything other than acknowledge receipt of such a petition, so far as I can see.
This is a major opportunity for the Conservatives to steal a march on the government. They have already published plans to intriduce binding referendums on Council Tax rises, but I think they could go much further and look at the Our Say proposals, where there would have to be a local referendum on ANY issue if enough signatures are obtained from the local population. Such referenda could then be held each local election day (ie every May), rather like they do in the USA. Each district council area has a population of around 100,000, so I would suggest a ten per cent threshold might be appropriate. This really would give power back to the people. Or do you think that local councillors are elected to represent their constituents and should be left to do so without interference from referenda?
I am still a believer in representative democracy but now that we have the means to consult people in a more meaningful way, surely we should use all the means at our disposal? The big questions is, what happens next? Should a local authority be mandated to implement whatever the local populations has voted in favour of, or should they be required to take notice of it? One thing is for sure, if it's the latter, it would be a brave council which totally went against what its local population had voted for.