Stephen Pound: Direct Democracy

As an exercise in direct democracy, in late 2003 BBC's Today program asked its six million weekly listeners to propose a new law. Labour MP Stephen Pound was drafted to front the bill.

More than 10,000 new laws were suggested, of which five were short-listed and voted on by email and telephone. The results, as one wag remarked, "blew up" in the face of Today's producers.

Clearly expecting a sensible law mandating stricter emissions standards or renewed efforts to protect endangered species, the organizers were aghast when the winner, with 37 percent of the vote, was a law (now known as "Tony Martin's Law" after the Norfolk farmer who spent four years in prison for killing one burglar and was sued by a second whom he merely injured) allowing homeowners to use "any means" to defend themselves from intruders.

Pound was also horrified. "The people have spoken," he remarked, "the bastards."

[Though Radio 4 later insisted that the remark was a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase of Mark Twain, Pound insisted that his enthusiasm for direct democracy had been damaged by the experience.]

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