Why I’m not keen on referenda

24 January 2013

It did not, in the end, take very much to outfox Ed Miliband. You wonder what he had been expecting the Prime Minister to say about a referendum on withdrawing, or otherwise, from the EU. As it was, Ed floundered, and felt obliged to say that Labour would not be promising a referendum – that will lose him even more votes to UKIP. Later ex shadow cabinet and existing shadow cabinet members had to defend this position, which they did by stating that this was Labour’s intention ‘at the moment’. Great.

There’s increasing evidence that UKIP is taking more and more votes from the Labour Party, whereas once they thrived on disgruntled ex Tory votes. This is particularly the case in the north of England, where it is less opposition to the EU than opposition to immigration which drives Labour voters – especially older labour voters – over to UKIP. Nigel Farage, of course, would say that these two oppositions are one and the same, of course, and he would have part of a point.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll suggests that people would vote to stay IN the EU. This is one of the reasons I’m not keen on referenda; the public mood is perpetually shifting, always volatile, dependent upon vagaries and caprice. Also, it means people like Sarah get to have a say in what the country should do, regardless of whether she’s taken her Xanax or not.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786


  • ANDY private sector worker

    gay marriage,not important,chris hunhe,not important,EXIT EUROPE.HEALTH,ECONOMY,CRIME,IMMIGRATION very important.Please can someone give me the address to the planet where MPs and the BBC journalists live,it seems to be a very cosy bubble

  • Druth

    If we had a proper Representative Democracy instead of the current oligarchy then we’d have no need for a referendum because we’d have been out years ago.

  • Daniel Gallotti

    There is 2 jews as leaders of the UK main political parties, Rothschild is pleased.

  • Dogsnob

    Tell you what, he’s looking a bit rough on that photo is Camo. Could do with holiday.

  • David Ossitt

    I do not trust the politicians, nor do I trust opinion polls particularly when they tell us things that are pleasing to or agreeing with all of these Europhiles.

    Rod has titled this piece “Why I’m not keen on referenda” neither am I, however I am of the opinion that holding a referendum on an in/out question will be the only way that we can rid ourselves of the pestilence that is the EU.

    Somewhere out there in the ether is a map of the UK showing the results of the AV referendum, this was a sight to gladden the heart from memory those electoral wards that voted NO were all coloured in blue and those voting YES in red or possibly white, what was so heart-warming was that with just a few exceptions the entire map was blue.

    From memory only Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge University wards and three or four adjacent wards in north London gave Clegg their support, I hope and strongly suspect that an in/out referendum on the EU will have a similar map showing an overwhelmingly OUT vote.

  • Eddie

    Sorry to be a pedant, but there has never been any such word as ‘referenda’ in Latin – ever. Really. Not in ancient Rome. Not in the Church. Not in pubic and grammar schools.
    That is why I wince when I hear the word ‘referenda’, and prefer the plural to be referendums or referendum – a stylistic, rather than a grammatical, choice. ‘Referendum’ is not a regular Latin neuter noun at all. I always feel very smug when some BBC public school totty gets that one wrong and I tut at the TV screen in the manner of the Roman soldier in Life of Brian!
    And besides, all words from Latin that are in common usage in English should, in my view, take the English ending, not the Latin one (so ‘stadiums’ not ‘stadia’). Technical and scientific words take the Latin endings. It’s all about style really.
    I shall now duck as Rod chucks his invisible Latin primer at me as he tries to break my Roman nose…

    • Daniel Maris

      The best thing about English is that it is anarchic. For me, it’s more a matter of music – a “dums” ending sounds stupid, diddums. And a straight “dum” plural ending is just too bloody ambiguous for a plain dealing Englishman (sheep is bad enough). So I prefer referenda. Not least because for us the Latinesque ending does suggest new territory with which we are unfamiliar, as indeed we are.

      • Eddie

        Yes, for me too – but ‘referenda’ sounds wrong, and is clearly the product of those uneducated in Latin pretending to be more educated than they are (but at least they got the neauter gender right, I suppose).
        The plural should be ‘referendum’, in my view – no diddums there. Referendums is OK too – it’s an everyday word, not technical, so in my view it sounds better not to use Latin declensions for such words.
        However, I think I am in a minority here – because journalists think they sound clever by using a big old Latin plural (they can pretend they got BBC jobs because of their talents, not their croneyistic contacts or skin colours or gender).

      • Eddie

        Referenda makes me think of pudenda.

    • FrankS


      But, just for the record, what is the correct Latin plural of referendum?

      • Eddie

        They never used it, apparently. Think of our ‘people’ (the main usage as a plural noun). Sort of like that. Apparently.
        We should use ‘referendum’ to the plural, I think.

  • TheOtherTurnipTaliban

    Referenda in this country are an absolute menace:

    The EU funnels enormous amounts of money towards Yes votes whenever a country deigns to give its proles a vote on anything EU-related. It’s far more insidious than invading or something bonkers like that.

    They also sway votes by buying off the political and media classes of the target countries and create astroturf support (as opposed to grassroots support) via funding for NGOs that – in order to keep the funds flowing – must remain pro-EU.

    Nor is such craftiness limited to ‘charities’, they also draft in the assistance of private enterprise by using the threat of anti-trust fines, as was the case with Intel and the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2008. If you recall, Intel was subject to a 1.45 billion Euro anti-trust fine, Intel put money into the Yes campaign and miraculously this fine was reduced.

  • sarah_13

    I’m assuming you are referring to a different Sarah?!! I agree with you, but it’s referendums not referenda!

  • Sarah

    “Also, it means people like Sarah get to have a say in what the country should do, regardless of whether she’s taken her Xanax or not.”

    Unlikely. I expect I’ll be writing my sequel to my book on rape culture at the Spectator. From Italy.

    • Noa

      Respect, Sarah!
      We didn’t know you were a ‘Wellies’ girl, into agriculture and its literature!
      Perhaps we can expect the odd post from Piedmont, advising on your manuring and crop rotation preferences!

    • Noa

      You are an writer on agricultural matters!
      What are your views and advice on Italian crop rotation and manuring practices?

      • Eddie

        Crops like wheat are long and thin – so are obviously phallic symbols of patriarchal oppression by the sexist, misogynist manure-based culture created by men for men and thus always inherently hateful of women.

        Potatoes (as well as turnips and the rest) are obviously just offensive orchidatory symbols which, together with the testicular totalitarianism of patriarchal plums, were created by the the same misogynist patriarchy specifically to create a rape culture to oppress women and make them slaves of the phallic hegemony, thereby stopping them from inventing stuff, running fast or learning how to catch a ball or read a map properly.

        Rod’s mention of her is Sarah’s claim to fame. The poor poltroon-ess works part-time for a women’s mental health charity, so by ‘Italy’ I think she means the Costa coffee she visits once a week as a treat, or when she goes to our for a pizza at Winterval…
        Let her have her fantasies about rape and Italy, Noa? What else has she got?

        • Noa

          Eddie, Brilliant!
          There’s more than a grain of truth in there. In fact, what about a joint literary effort from you both?
          ‘Pulses and Pulchritude in an Umbrian Field’

          Could it not be the making of the both of you!

          • Eddie

            Just to show that real life is actually beyond parody and stifles all my attempts at extreme satire, take a look at this (from Wiki entry on ‘Ecofeminism’):

            ‘Ecofeminism describes movements and philosophies that link feminism with ecology.[1] The term is believed to have been coined by the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book, Le Féminisme ou la Mort.[2] Ecofeminism connects the exploitation and domination of women with that of the environment, and argues that there is a connection between women and nature that comes from their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal Western society.

            Vandana Shiva claims that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions with it that has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes.” However she makes the point that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth.”[3]’


            I wish I were ‘recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm’. Can I apply for membership? Is there a fee? Can I get a council grant for it if I give myself a PG Tips tan and put on a frock?

            • Noa

              The truth. it’s definitely stranger than fiction….

  • Daniel Maris

    I strongly favour referenda but ideally they need to form part of a popular democratic structure as in Switzerland. One referendum every 30 years is not the way to do it.

    There is certainly no reason why referenda shouldn’t decide big social and constitutional issues like gay marriage and the EU – as well major political ones like immigration policy, key tax rates and so on.

    Referenda need to be built into a proper legal structure which ensures that framing of questions and campaigning is subject to democratic accountability. Ideally they should relate to draft legislation. There should also be provision for people to obtain referenda – to take it out of government monopoly.

  • Noa

    Cameron doesn’t like referenda either. Which is why he’s not actually committed to one!

  • ShoeOnHead

    deep fried hogwash.

    (shoe on head)

  • Noa

    If they were taking part in trials for the NFL Cameron would have got the ticket for the longest kicker over his fellow invertebrates. Five years there goes the EU ball, sailing off into that long grass so infested with dangerous loonies, bigots and Nigel Farage.
    Or perhaps not. Events, dear Rod, events!

    As for the polls we know they change a lot for all sorts of reasons. Let’s see how the change with more Poles, and a million or so Roumanians and Bulgarians coming over to vote in the.

    We’ll all be sharing Sister Sarah’s xanax by then.

  • David Barnett

    Trust the politicians, not the people.

    • James Strong

      Can you clarify, are you serious that politicians are to be trusted or are you taking the piss?
      I suppose it might be possible to argue that politicians should be trusted, but I don;t think it’s something that can just be asserted and accepted.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I’m keen on a choice but the LibLabCon club aren’t keen on offering one.

    Problem is, is that to make a choice one needs information. That is something that BBCLibLabCon have worked ever so hard over 40 years to make sure that we get in only very restricted and adulterated amounts.

  • David Lindsay

    I am not keen on them, either. All that we really need is primary legislation. But imagine, just imagine, that Cameron pulled this one off. Imagine that we arrived at a point where the two options on a ballot paper were a renegotiated settlement acceptable to his lot, and outright withdrawal.

    It would unite the Left on the EU like nothing since a section of it first inexplicably decided that “Europe” was a bulwark against Thatcherism (several years later, Thatcher herself even more oddly seemed to begin to agree with them), much as there have always been a few people on the Old Right who have thought of it as a bulwark against Americanism.

    For if the only alternative were whatever could be sold to the remains of the Conservative Party, then the only viable option would be whatever else was on offer. Namely, withdrawal.

    As would then be advocated in the strongest possible terms by the whole of the Left. It would be the Thatcherites who would be campaigning to stay in. Well, of course. It was ever thus.

  • humeanbeing

    I think this is one of those posts where it doesn’t do to take Rod too literally…

  • Youbian

    Didn’t yougov change the question format for the latest poll? In which case there has been no opinion change. The Uk still wants out.

  • Augustus

    As a promised referendum appears to be some years down the road I don’t think Sarah need worry her head about it just yet. But someone’s got to take the knife to this EU political pipe dream which has turned a common free trading partnership into a supra-national poiltical monstrosity led by aggressively socialist and egocentric bureaucrats. As for the Labour Party, they simply aren’t in the business of letting the people have a say in their own freedom. And what do they know about delivering prosperity anyway?

  • In2minds

    So Rod Liddle doesn’t like referenda because he thinks the plebs are too
    thick to make the right choices unlike journalists who are totally
    reliable. What if we had had a referendum on the Iraq war? On
    immigration levels? On the Climate Change Bill? Does he prefer the
    decisions made by our ‘intelligent, well-informed’ political elite in
    these instances?

    Another example – I asked my Labour MP for his views on the Snooper’s Charter
    – he said he didn’t have any but referred the letter to the
    Conservative Home Office who cut and pasted from their website. And
    these people are meant to represent us!

    • Daniel Maris

      Quite. There is absolutely no evidence that the Swiss populace make bad choices in referenda. No one knows the future for certain and a people who make the choice themselves, at least know it is their mistake if they make it.

      MPs basically just sit around drinking and chatting all day. Their secretaries (lovers or spouses) or their interns (unpaid slaves) actually answer the letters. Many few of them are “hard working” in the way normal people understand the term – but they have an inordinate capacity to (a) stay awake through the most boring meetings and (b) talk at length on anything at all.

      Time for direct democracy!

      • ADW

        The Swiss voted against Minaretes, because they didn’t want to live in an Islamic society (they had no problem with a minority of muslims joining their society). Instead, they preferred Switzerland as it had evolved over centuries with its own culture and values. Have to say I’m with them on that one – unless someone is going to argue that Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be an improvement on the Swiss …

  • Robert Taggart

    The referendum – Cameos PLEBiscite ?!

  • Dicky14

    There isn’t going to be a referendum – just the impression that there may be, at some point, after pointless negotiation from a different government. Fair play to Lynton Crosby but….meh.

  • FrankS

    Re your final sentence – that’s the trouble with Trollocracy!

  • mhjames

    How about general elections? Are you keen on them? After all, the public mood is perpetually shifting, always volatile, dependent upon vagaries and caprice.

    • Ali Buchan

      The difference is that elections give mandates to govern, make decisions etc (taking into account manifestos and election promises). A referendum, meanwhile, gives us, the ill-informed, decision-making powers on what tend to be important single issues.

      None of us has the time, the inclination and often the intellect to understand the issues at stake. We vote on the back of visceral, self-serving, apercus, which bear little resemblance to what’s really at stake. The accompanying political advertising and campaigning, as Noam Chomsky frequently points out, only serves to pander to our prejudices and encourages us to vote irrationally.

      The Euro is a great example. When there was talk of a referendum on that issue, there would be ‘opinions’ expressed such as “I wanna keep the Queenzed on my money”. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of joining, at the time tremendously complex economic arguments, I do not want a person like that having any kind of say.

      That necessarily means that my opinion must be excluded, too. And I will accept that gladly, in the knowledge that our politicians and civil servants have the time, access to expert advice and (sometimes) understanding to make an informed decision.

      Yes, party politics, future elections and other factors will come into it, but that’s better than letting us, the ill-informed, decide our relationship with a continent on the basis of xenophobia, national pride and self-interest.

      • Hugh

        “None of us has the time, the inclination and often the intellect to
        understand the issues at stake. We vote on the back of visceral,
        self-serving, apercus, which bear little resemblance to what’s really at

        And how do you think the majority of MPs vote on issues? They might have access to civil servants and expert advice but I tend to notice they vote according to party lines or according to self-serving apercus, which bear little resemblance to what’s really at stake.

        • Ali Buchan

          The corollary of that point of view, however, is that the ideal democratic government – bearing in mind that this could never be pragmatic – would offer referenda on large numbers of issues, in the knowledge that the public’s majority decision is the correct decision. Parliament is, therefore, merely a pragmatic expression of the ‘will’ of the majority and various tributary majorities, and the point of a politician is to faithfully regurgitate certain proportions of public opinion.

          It’s certainly a defensible point of view, but it’s one with which I disagree. I believe that governments and their ministers should be making decisions for us. Yes, often in consideration of and in response to majority opinion, but with the potential to decide and implement what’s best for us, even if, and often especially if, we don’t know what that is or think the opposite.

          • Hugh

            That’s not a corollary of my view at all. My view is simply that the superiority you suggest in our legislators’ decision making is largely fictitious.

            As it is, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that in general leaving it to Parliament and the government is a good idea but on questions of very significant constitutional importance a referendum is a sensible and appropriate tool to use.

            • Ali Buchan

              Only as a safety-net for use in sentence such as, “You, the public, voted for it, so it’s not my fault that it proved to be the wrong decision.” That’s not leadership, it’s the palming-off of responsibility, which helps to create something resembling Nietzsche’s tyranny of mediocrity.

              Look at our most popular newspapers, for example. The Mail, The Sun, the old NOTW…we, as a public, are ludicrously stupid, bigoted, ill-informed, irrational and so on. We are “people like Sarah”. Why would you want “Sarah” to have a direct impact on a major constitutional decision?

              • Hugh

                Speak for yourself.

        • DougS

          Quite so Hugh.

          467 lunatics voted for Ed Miliband’s egregious 2008 Climate Change Act – with only 3 against!

          If that’s not No 1 proof positive that parliament is populated with thick sheeple, then I await a better example.

      • stickywicket

        And politicians in Parliament don’t vote on the back of visceral, self serving opinions? Does the whip’s office not exist?

      • Bluesman

        “I will
        accept that gladly, in the knowledge that our politicians and civil
        servants have the time, access to expert advice and (sometimes)
        understanding to make an informed decision.”

        Early doors round your way then?

      • mhjames

        Against Rod Liddle, I suspect the voters put more thought into more thought into referendums than into general elections. At referendums they have a single issue to consider, whereas at elections they have to vote on multiple issues bundled for them randomly by parliamentary candidates. In safe seats their votes count for nothing, whereas in referendums all votes have the same weight.

      • Curnonsky

        And the political class is free of “self-serving apercus” (whatever they may be? The referendum is necessitated by growing popular disgust at the self-serving permanent political class – elected or career – that has driven integration with the EU for decades, strictly in their own self-interest. What a preposterous fiction that the duck-house and moat-owning mob is somehow and elite brotherhood of philosopher-kings!

        Noam Chomsky, by the way, frequently points out the deficiencies of democracy in order to highlight the superiority of authoritarian socialism. He is probably not keen on referenda either.

      • Kron Hjon

        Abolishing our democratic rights for our own good. Isn’t that always what they always say? I’d rather roll the dice with the ill-informed public.

  • Robert Taggart

    The referendum – bring it on.
    RoddyL, if Sarah takes Xanax – what do you take ?!

    • Sarah

      Rod’s a giver, not a taker.

  • HJ777

    “This is particularly the case in the north of England, where it is less opposition to the EU than opposition to immigration which drives Labour voters – especially older labour voters – over to UKIP.”

    I was under the impression that the vast majority of immigrants head for the South and Midlands, not the north of England.

    • Shazza

      Not those from Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh………..

    • teledu

      Try a holiday in Blackburn or Halifax. But make sure you find out where the no-go areas for whiteys are first though..

Can't find your Web ID? Click here