Allow the public to shape policy through ‘citizen initiatives’

Too often the views of ordinary Londoners are not heard above the din of party politics. It is not enough that the electorate have a say only once every four years – the Capital needs more direct democracy. Specifically, what London needs are ‘citizen initiatives’.

These initiatives would be based upon provisions in the USA that permit ordinary citizens to shape the policy of the day – they would in essence allow voters to impose binding propositions on the Mayor. These would take the form of an e-petition that, if they receive signatures from 10% of the London electorate (roughly 600,000), would trigger an automatic referendum on the subject in question.

These propositions could not be flippant or satirical, and the must relate directly to Mayoral functions. Areas that these could apply to are affordable housing requirements, planning applications and regeneration funding.

To keep the costs low the subsequent referenda would be scheduled at the time of the next ordinary elections and would use the electoral machinery already in place. Additional costs would be for checking the petitions, an extra print run of ballot papers and the additional time for counting. For London, this would amount to about £3 million per proposition.

These ‘citizen initiatives’ go much farther than the e-petitions organised by Parliament, which instigate a non-binding backbencher debate if 100,000 signatures are achieved. And there is a long history of such initiatives having a tangible impact on policy in the US, where most states allow referenda on policy issues.

Proposition 2½ reduced auto-excise duties in Massachusetts; Proposition 13 limited increases in property taxation in California; and Initiative 424 repealed burdensome affirmative action legislation. Allowing similar initiatives in London would better hold the Mayor to account and ensure Londoners get the Mayoralty they deserve.

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