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David Burrowes MP has published the results of his unofficial "referendum", designed to gauge public support for the Enfield Council's proposals for cycle lanes along the A105.  Of the votes cast, 76 per cent were against the proposals, 18 per cent were in favour and 6 per cent were partially in favour.

In his commentary about these figures on his website, Mr Burrowes says that "I will be meeting with Boris [Johnson]  this week and will be telling him that the majority of my constituents need to be listened to."  He then makes two claims about what the "majority of my constituents" think:

"75% of my constituents have said no to Cycle Enfield along the A105."

"It is clear that there is overwhelming opposition to the A105 Cycle Enfield scheme."

Neither of these statements is supported by the poll results.

Mr Burrowes has around 65,000 constituents.  In his poll 1,973 people voted "No".  This equates to approximately 3 per cent, so it is untrue to say that "75% of my constituents have said no".

Even taking the poll on its own (very unsatisfactory) terms and dividing the number of "No" votes by the total number of voting cards sent out (17,000), 1,973 only amounts to 12 per cent, so nowhere even remotely near a majority.

So the poll results do not indicate "overwhelming opposition".  If the opposition were really overwhelming, many more people would have taken the very quick and easy action of ticking the "No" box and posting the card back.  The only reasonable conclusion we can  make about those who didn't vote (the actual "overwhelming majority") is either that they aren't interested or that they prefer to leave judgements about complex and important matters to those people who, under our system of representative democracy, have taken on the responsibility of making such decisions.

Another leading Save Our Green Lanes member has claimed that "The People have spoken".  Well, actually, an overwhelming majority (83 per cent) of those People who were asked had absolutely nothing to say.

And, of course, fewer than half of the relevant People had a vote, because only one card was sent per "household", regardless of the number of people of voting age living in it.  While one might regard some of the policies pursued by the party of which Mr Burrowes is a member of taking us back to before the Second World War, we have not yet returned to the situation before the 19th Century Reform Acts, when only householders were entitled to vote.  By allowing only one vote per address, Mr Burrowes has ignored a fundamental principle of modern democracy.

So what conclusions can we safely reach? 

I think that we can disregard the "votes" for and against both in both Mr Burrowes' "referendum" and in the consultation results that the council announced last year.  In both cases the response rate was too low to be meaningful in terms of For or Against.  It would have been a different matter, perhaps, if nine or ten thousand people had taken the opportunity to vote "No" in the "referendum" - but they didn't.

In my view, the Council should not have released the headline For and Against figures in the way they did, because by doing so they gave the impression that this was a suitable matter to be decided by a popular vote.  They should have first collated and analysed all the comments they received, then carefully considered whether any showstopper objections had been raised, which necessitated abandoning the plans (and even if 99 per cent of the population were in favour, one sufficiently serious flaw in the plans should be enough to kill them off).  They should then have looked at other, less fundamental issues identified by respondents and considered how they needed to modify the plans in response.  Which is presumably what they've been doing since October and which  they will bring to next week's meeting of the Enfield West Partnership Board.

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Adrian Day's Avatar
Adrian Day posted a reply #1938 14 Jan 2016 09:23
A very sensible piece, Basil
Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #1939 15 Jan 2016 09:30
Yes, hard to fault the logic. It made me reflect on some of the “referendum” input issues leading to the outputs being questioned.

Was this a “referendum” on the A105 Green Lanes Cycle Lanes or Cycle Enfield? The letter and reply card, as well as the subsequent call to decline the £30m Borough wide investment targeted towards all its 320,000+ residents, suggested the latter; only a small font sub-heading on the reply card actually mentioned the A105 Cycle Lanes, the heart of the chosen electorate.

This confusion carried through to the two guiding attachments: that of the Supporters was cycling generic, mostly taking a high level view, at orbits at times above even Enfield, looking at London, UK and even EU aspects; whereas the Opponents attachment was very A105 Green Lanes issue specific with its various opinions and assumptions.

Any holistic Cycle Enfield wide view addressing this locality would have usefully positioned Quieter Neighbourhoods into the mix. These core elements of the overall programme seem to have extremely strong interest based on their own consultation and workshops. The “referendum” was silent on those. The same applies to public space enhancements on the A105 Green Lanes shopping stretch, which we know from earlier research, would be welcomed locally.

And as for the Supporters attachment I found its bold heading, “How on earth are we spending £30m on cycling?” confusing. Was that a mistaken positioning from the Opponents attachment I wondered?

But whatever an individual’s take of all this, just what scheme were they voting on: the original bid concepts; the A105 scheme, which at the time of the “referendum” hadn’t been tabled in its post-consultation form; all of Cycle Enfield, itself subject to a multitude of ongoing consultations and inevitable refinements; or some other? Who knows, certainly not the electorate from what was supplied and actually available to comment on at the time. A generalised survey at best it would seem.

Inevitably, as with most things, if the inputs are very suspect, so will be the outputs.
Tom Mellor's Avatar
Tom Mellor posted a reply #1940 15 Jan 2016 12:32
Karl your suspicions are correct in that the 'supporters' piece was written by Burrowes himself ( or at least he compiled various documents made by supporters). No supporter wanted to be associated with this survey, so he couldn't directly take one written by them.