Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Referendums: Parliamentary Democracy - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:31 pm on 19th July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:31 pm, 19th July 2018

My Lords, in discussing referendums we have very much to put our discussions in the context of declining popular support, in this country and elsewhere, for parliamentary democracy. It is a real problem we all face, and we see it as it stretches across the rest of the democratic world. In Britain, we have a situation in which the people—and newspapers—who campaigned very hard for the restoration of British parliamentary sovereignty have, for the past two years, insisted that the “will of the people” as expressed in one referendum must override parliamentary scrutiny and further debate. We have disillusion with elites and with the establishment—with representatives, as such—and the rise of “authentic” charismatic figures who are seen to represent the people, even though they usually do not come from the people. We see that not just in Britain but elsewhere. When I see the Daily Mail giving large coverage to Jacob Rees-Mogg attacking the establishment as a man of the people, I feel that we are almost in a surreal world. But that is where we are, and the public school-educated journalists of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph busily attack the metropolitan elite, even though they are all members if it; meaning, of course, that what they are attacking is those who think that evidence, debate and discussion are important to democratic politics and not simply emotion and gut feelings. That is the problem that faces us and into which context we have to put the future of referendums.

Membership of political parties has declined. In 1970, 5% of our voters belonged to political parties, the largest of which was the Conservative Party. In 2010, it was 1%. It has recovered a little since then, although in some unpublished figures, the Conservative Party is now the fourth largest political party in Britain after the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. It certainly ought to worry us that the governing party has become a central political machine funded by large donors without the roots it used to have among the population.