It was in the House Commons on 11 November 1947 that Winston Churchill, made his classic observation about democracy: ‘No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ Understandably, people at times feel marginalised by the representative democracy that operates in Western Democracies and that the party system forces people to vote for parties that offer certain policies they want but have others imposed on them they object to.

Issues that transcend party divisions are at times subjected to a referendum where people can vote on a specific issue uninfluenced by party loyalties. Moral issues such as legalizing divorce and abortion saw referenda held in Ireland and Italy. Some countries like Switzerland and the USA at state level make regular use of referenda. In 1962 France decided by referendum whether the president should be directly elected whilst it was a referendum in 1934 which gave Hitler full political power by merging the posts of president and chancellor.

The United Kingdom have rarely resorted to referenda though it did so in 1975 when a referendum was held asking whether Britain should remain in the EEC, and in 1979 in Scotland and Wales over devolution. In 2004 it was intended to hold referenda to elect three regional assemblies in the North: North East, North West and Yorkshire & Humberside. When the North East heavily rejected the proposal the other referenda were postponed and then dropped. In 2011 one was held on whether to adopt the alternative vote system and in 2016 on whether to remain in the EU. Between 1997– 2010 five such referenda were held on devolution.

In relation to Leeds we have included here: the 1946 Sunday Cinema Referendum, the 1975 EE Referendum, the 2012 Directly Elected Mayors’ Referendum and the 2016 EU Referendum. For convenience we have also placed here the first election of the Leeds School Board, though this was more correctly a vote than a referendum and the 1935 Peace Ballot which was in fact an opinion poll.


1870 First School Board

1935 Peace Ballot

1946 Sunday Cinema

1975 EEC Referendum

2011 Referendum on Parliamentary Voting System

2012 Directly elected Mayors

2016 EU Referendum