Sunday, May 01, 2005

In praise of referendums

The Business today reminds us of that which most of us know already, that of the forty-four million people entitled to vote, the election this week will be decided by a mere 800,000 voters.

This rather puts into perspective the comments of Chris Patten on BBC Radio's Any Questions on Friday, when he expressed his detestation of referendums and his preference for dealing with the constitution through the normal process of parliamentary elections.

Should the mandate for ratification be given via a general election – just supposing that the electorate made this the central issue – the effect of Patten's preference would be that our acceptance or otherwise of the EU constitution would be decided by a mere 800,000 people.

That may be acceptable (or not) for the choice of government, which at least can be reversed after five years, but for something as permanent as a fundamental change in the way we are governed, such a situation can hardly be satisfactory. For all their manifest problems, therefore, referendums have their place. Putting the EU constitution to a referendum is the right decision.

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