In today’s Times, Hugo Rifkind draws attention to the fact that there were no referendums in the 1980s or 1990s, but in the last two and a half years David Cameron has authorised three (AV, Scottish independence and the EU).
Why this change? Because, says Rifkind, Britain’s system of government is facing an existential crisis. The political establishment has taken such a battering recently that trust in the elite – a requirement for representative democracy – has evaporated. As a result, instead of being confident enough to lead the people, politicians now feel they have to check with them whether they’re on the right track. That’s how this glut of referendums should be understood, “As the latest manifestation of a panicked system grappling with itself. Struggling to get a grip, as with soap in the bath.”