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New book on referendums calls on politicians to be bolder
01 March 2006
Southampton, University of
A lively critique of the role of the referendum in modern British politics which calls for politicians to be bolder in their decision-making will be published tomorrow.
The Referendum Roundabout by Dr Kieron O’Hara from the School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton, published by Societas, is a witty account of the 1975 referendum and the sometimes bizarre and strange decisions of the politicians of the day.
As well as telling amusing stories about politicians, Dr O’Hara includes tables for all the principal players and rates their good and bad points including how interesting they are and even how mad.
On a more serious note, Dr O’Hara examines the events of the single national UK referendum in 1975 and their historical context and poses advantages and disadvantages of the use of large scale referendums in the narrow context of the UK.
He asks: ‘Was 1975 a high spot for inclusive, democratic politics? Did the arguments shine through the rough-and-tumble? If not, then surely the proponents of referendums have a lot of explaining to do, however polished their arguments are in the abstract.’
The book is a combination of historical narrative, and constitutional description and theory. Under the first heading he discusses the development of the EEC, and the repeated attempts of Britain to join it, the two coalitions of campaigners which assembled in 1975, the conduct of the campaign, and the post-1975 history of the European question.
Under the second heading, he discusses the use of referendums in Britain and elsewhere prior to 1975 and their use after the 1975 experience.
Dr O’Hara commented: ‘In my book, I reaffirm my belief that politicians of all parties belong to a much-maligned species, which (at least in Britain) does a creditable job, under conditions of uncertainty and rapid change, with remarkably little corruption, in return for comparatively low recompense and outrageous intrusion into private life.
‘I would not want this book to be seen as part of the general trend towards distrust of and disillusion with politics. Indeed, an important part of my thesis is that politicians should be less wary of taking decisions, at least when bold decision-making is required.’