After June 23rd: Referendums & the left

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2016 by kmflett

Referendums and the left


In the interregnum between the close of the EU Referendum poll and the first results time to ponder the matter of Referendums. I’ll leave those who didn’t attend a comprehensive school as I did to argue about what the plural is.

We do know however that Switzerland is keen on them and that while the current one was called by a Tory Government, Tories have on the whole not been fans. However in the constitutional crisis of 1910/11 they did suggest one (The Lansdowne Resolution, November 1910).

On the left the referendum was much more popular.

The view of Britain’s first Marxist organisation the Social Democratic Federation in the 1890s and beyond was that ‘issues of principle would be put to a direct vote..legislation could be drafted in line with referendum results’.

The SDF also supported the ‘right of initiative’ which meant that a ‘certain proportion should be able to refer a legislative proposal to the general vote’.

The SDF General Election Manifesto in 1895 attacked what it called ‘Fabian Caesarism’ where experts (think Sidney Webb) decided on laws rather than the masses voting in referendums.

The SDF was critical of what it called the ‘impudence of the official’ or what Michael Gove might call an ‘expert’ perhaps.

George Bernard Shaw memorably argued that referendums led to disaster but they remained the policy of the (second) Socialist International.

In 1900 it declared that socialists should ‘acquire and maintain everywhere the referendum and initiative as the prerogative of popular sovereignty’.

Logie Barrow and Ian Bullock’s book on Labour Democracy has much more. These matters were once hotly debated in the labour movement.


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