Richard North has been on a bit of a roll lately, inventing a new political concept/movement – Referism. Leaving aside the name, which bears far too much resemblance to something else (yes, my mind can plumb remarkably juvenile depths), Referism (whereby the public approves the government’s budget by annual referenda) isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound – after all, in many American states, the public already exercises a great deal of control over state finances through citizens’ initiatives.
However attractive the concept, Referism is a dog that won’t hunt – it still leaves far too much power in the hands of the political class. Sure, the public could reject a budget in a referendum, but who for a minute believes that a Prime Minister Blair, or a Prime Minister Cameron wouldn’t adopt the favoured strategy of Euro-Elites and simply put the same budget, or one substantially similar to the public again and again until they gave the right answer?
Or they could get really creative and first offer up a decoy budget, with a couple of tremendously unpopular measures that would ensure its defeat. You can imagine the media following a no vote, hysterically screaming about how the country would grind to a halt, how our poor troops were sure to suffer for lack of ipods, how we were an international laughingstock, how we needed a budget, any budget, passed now now now, no matter how unpalatable, and enough of the public would feel pressured into holding their noses and supporting the next budget, the “real” budget that the government had prepared, ready for a second try.
And of course a yes vote to the budget would actually provide the government with added legitimacy, stamped with the imprint of the popular will.
The governing classes spend a great deal of money on manipulating public opinion. They are happy to spend it because to a large degree, the spin doctors, ad agencies, pollsters, and image consultants do what it says on the box – manipulate public opinion.
The problem is our elites – any proposal that leaves them in place with any substantive amount of power is doomed to failure.
I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought these past few months to this last problem – how do we go about shifting the the corrupt cretins who are currently in charge without becoming corrupt cretins ourselves – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…” and all that. You’ll just have to keep watching this blog over the next week or so whilst I float some proposals of my own – but for now, here’s The Who in their prime performing Won’t Get Fooled Again.
Richard’s post outlining the results of previous referendums on council tax increases illustrates my point perfectly. As soon as it became clear that the public wasn’t going to vote the way the council bosses wanted them, the enthusiasm for referendums suddenly dried up. I can’t see Westminster politicians being any more keen on having their own wings clipped, so supposing Referism became the law of the land, you can be sure te government of day would use every trick to manipulate or bypass the referendum requirement.