Supply Side Politics: How Citizens’ Initiatives could revitalise British politics

Matt Qvortrup, with a foreword by Saira Khan

In the early 1980s, policy-makers spoke of supply-side economics. According to this law of political economics, a ‘supply side creates its own demand’.

Professor Qvortrup, acknowledged as “the world’s leading authority on referendums”, argues that what was true for economics may also be true for democracy: a greater supply of democracy could create a demand for political participation – and thereby address at least some of the malaise afflicting British politics today.

The Citizens’ Initiative is an integral part of the Swiss and US political life (where it is in use in 24 of the 50 states). This form of direct democracy has also recently been introduced elsewhere in the world particularly in the new democracies of Eastern Europe. Major issues such as tax reduction, education policy, healthcare reform and environmental questions have been put on the ballot.

The empirical evidence presented here suggests that – contrary to what opponents claim – the Initiative does not result in populist legislation and ill-considered laws. Indeed, the reverse is true.

In Britain, at a time of widespread disenchantment with the political process, the introduction of the Citizens’ Initiative could help to re-engage a greater number of the electorate.

As Saira Khan, who chairs the OURSAY campaign for Citizens’ Initiatives, notes in the Foreword:

“The use of Initiatives leads to greater participation and interest in politics and could therefore be an important step in restoring faith in British democracy.”

Supply Side Politics

Matt Qvortrup - Tuesday, 27th February, 2007