Maine chance for direct democracy

Next month I’m off to Bournemouth for Lib Dem party conference. One of the many things I like about our conferences is that the members who attend really make policy – it’s not just a rally. So it’s appropriate that the very first motion for debate is all about improving direct democracy at national level.

Two of the most interesting proposals are for People’s Bills and a People’s veto.

With People’s Bills, the idea is to let the voters set the agenda. The six legislative proposals that received the most petition signatures from registered voters in any given year would be guaranteed a second reading debate in the House of Commons. It doesn’t mean the law would necessarily get passed – that responsibility would still sit with MPs – but it does mean that ideas can get a real chance to become law even if they are not on the Government’s legislative programme.

What’s more if Government legislation is unpopular, citizens could apply a People’s Veto. If one million registered voters petitioned against an Act within 60 days of it being passed, a referendum
would have to be held on whether or not to repeal it.

This process might not have stopped the Iraq War (no legislation there) – but it could potentially have reversed such controversial measures as the poll tax or the Dangerous Dogs act, Section 28 or the hunting ban. And it could ensure a real public debate on issues like nuclear power, ID cards, or a third runway at Heathrow.

Even if the results in terms of legislation implemented are not dramatically different, the impact on the process of having people – and politicians – aware that they can really influence the agenda between elections could be revolutionary.

A similar process already works in the US state of Maine. Their state motto is Dirigo (I lead). Where they lead, perhaps we should follow.


  1. […] a lot to Bridget Fox for kickstarting the debate, both on her own blog and at the Guardian, over the motion “Giving Citizens a Voice in Parliament” which […]

  2. IandR said

    Hallo Bridget, James:
    The idea of citizens’ initiative and referendum is popular with voters (especially so with people who abstain from voting, according to the Power Inquiry) so if included in an election campaign could help to win votes.

    What about local government? More and more local initiatives in recent years have tried to use the Parish Poll, showing the (potential) popularity of citizens’ direct democracy. The LibDems could take a lead by offering to reform the scope and regulation of parish, town and district democracy. We at I&R ~ GB could advise 😉


  3. […] Lib Dem Motions (pdf), page 11 (discussion here). […]

  4. […] big afternoon debate was on direct democracy, something I’ve blogged about before. The proposal for people’s bills was passed. The […]

  5. sandrar said

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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