Today all three parties are either promising or seeking to avoid referendums, notably on whether or not to join the Euro, change the the electoral system or remain in the European Union.
Referendums are an unsuitable for making these decisions for the following reasons:
- they do not decide issues "once and for all." Whoever loses continues to pester for another referendum until they obtain the result they want (as we see on the issue of membership of the EU)
- it is almost impossible to phrase a neutral question. "Do you think that Britain should remain in the European Union?" and "Do you think that Britain should leave the European Union" are both more likely to get positive rather than negative responses
- it is difficult to ensure fair and equal funding and publicity for all sides of the question. Those disgruntled by the 1975 decision on Europe have a legitimate grievance on this score
- the electorate are highly likely to vote on some issue other than the question asked; usually to take a swipe against the government (eg France on the EU Constitution and Ireland on their first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty)
- some issues, such as the nature of the electoral system, are too complex to be reduced to a "Yes/No" answer, or even a series of options.
- referendums are more often than not chosen by governments when they want to shirk the responsibility for making a decision.
It can be argued, however, that MPs cannot be trusted to decide how they should be elected, since they will choose the system that best suits their own interest. Hence MPs elected by" first past the post" will naturally prefer that system.
In that case, the decision on the electoral system should be made by a Citizens' Convention