Francis Maude’s description of community in the autumn Prospect magazine is revealing. He focuses on local referenda as a way of involving people. Referenda are a dangerous distraction. Likely to divide communities rather than bring them together, be abused by pressure groups, focus on short-term solutions without regard for the more difficult longer-term picture. Above all they’re open to manipulation by the media at a national and local level, with all the misrepresentation of policies and people that can entail. In a perfect world with a balanced availability of opinions and a careful consideration of the long as well as the short term by voters then they might just make sense. But democracy, and direct democracy especially, is a dangerous instrument wrongly used. National and local government elections are far from perfect and open to the many of the criticisms above, but they respond to a long-term debate and reflect four or five years evidence of performance.

All the bigotry and misrepresentation that was fostered by the rightwing in the Swiss minaret referendum is a good example of what can go wrong. Not refreshing as a Telegraph columnist opined. Worrying that anyone can see good in bigotry.

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