UK Politics

UKIP backs direct democracy and use of referendums

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Media captionNigel Farage: "What UKIP are going to propose... is something radical"

Nigel Farage has said UKIP wants to give people direct democracy - with referendums to decide some policy.

He said giving people the power to block housing, environmental or transport schemes would be one of UKIP's priorities if it does well in next year's general election.

National referendums would be a "safety net" when the political class are out of touch with the public, he said.

UKIP has no MPs but topped the European elections in the UK last month.

Mr Farage told the Institute for Government that there were grounds for greater "direct democracy", including referendums on major issues and a system for voters to recall corrupt MPs between elections.

Referendums in the UK have been largely confined to constitutional issues, such as the future of the voting system, the creation of national and regional assemblies and whether to have elected mayors.

Under rules introduced by the coalition government, a referendum can be held if a local authority proposes to increase council tax by more than 3%.

Analysis by Ross Hawkins, BBC Political Correspondent

Nigel Farage, scourge of the establishment, is probably a traditionalist. At least that was how he described himself addressing a Westminster think tank.

His headline proposal - referendums to stop governments acting - threatened to let the public veto military intervention.

But many of his other suggestions - powers to sack MPs, a cull of quangos, targeting NHS middle managers - were well within the political mainstream.

Cutting back on outsourcing, another of his ideas, could lead to bigger government departments and more civil servants.

His opponents reject the idea that Mr Farage - for years an elected politician - is any sort of outsider.

The policies he adopts between now and the election will illustrate just how radical he and his party seek to be.

While greater use of referendums would be a radical step for the UK, Mr Farage said many European countries - particularly Switzerland - already had such an approach.

Asked in what circumstances he envisaged a referendum being held, the UKIP leader said people should be able to call a vote "to stop something from happening" that they objected to, whether it was overseas military action or the further expansion of onshore wind turbines.

Although the details of how this might work would be spelled out in the party's election manifesto, he suggested a referendum could be triggered if 5% of the electorate - about 2.3 million people currently - signed a petition over a fixed period of time, such as four months.

There would have to be a "big diversion of views" on a major issue for there to be a referendum, he added, to ensure that a vote was not called frivolously "every Thursday".

'Empowered'

Such a move, he added, would force central government "to look over its shoulder more often" and was part of a shift in power he wanted to see from Brussels to Westminster and then onto local communities.

"I see direct democracy working as a valuable safety net when the political class have got too far out of touch with political opinion," he said.

Giving people more say in decision-making, he added, could restore faith and trust in the political system which was "breaking down in a very serious way".

"By giving people the chance to call a major national referendum or sack a rotten MP, people might feel more empowered and more favourable to government and what they are doing."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Referendums are rare in British politics

On recall, Mr Farage said the "bar would have to be set at the right level" for a by-election to be triggered for a sitting MP to ensure that any process was not "open to abuse".

Earlier, UKIP communities spokeswoman Suzanne Evans told BBC Radio 4's Today her party wanted the government to recognise that it it is "the servant of the people and not the other way round".

"People feel disconnected from governments - you only have to look at the poor turnout in elections to see how democracy is no longer of interest to very many people," she told Today.

"Why not have referendums on issues such as major planning developments in local authorities that will significantly change the whole feel and style of the area?"

Ms Evans conceded there would have to be a mechanism to rule out "frivolous or silly" poll suggestions, but there were "many, many serious issues... that people ought to be having a say on".

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