#LordsReform – Let the People Decide

From the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/lords_reform_let_the_people_decide

Sortition certainly sounds good to us – but how do we get from here to there?

#LordsReform Let the People Decide

The Sortition Foundation has released a Draft Strategy Document outlining some ideas. The first campaign proposal is a call for a Citizens’ Parliament on House of Lords Reform (http://www.citizensparliament.uk/). The campaign, to be officially launched later this year, will call on the UK government to constitute and empower a 650-member, random though representative sample of ordinary citizens to consider, research, deliberate on, and then make a House of Lords Reform proposal, to then be put to a national referendum. You can already sign the open letter calling for a Citizens’ Parliament on Lords Reform.

If successful, such an event would demonstrate that randomly selected citizens can tackle highly politically-charged topics and it would provide an important example of sortition in action.

But how would it work? The Citizens’ Parliament would be a stratified random sample selected from the electoral roll, ensuring that half of the participants are women, and half men. Many of them would be young, and some old, there would be one from every electoral district, and their educational levels would also match the census data. In short, it would be a mirror of our society.

Then, over the course of a year, in a respectful setting, with expert facilitation and access to balanced information, these people would deliberate on various options for House of Lords Reform and make a proposal in the long-term interests of the country. A referendum would check if a majority of citizens agree with them.

Why a Citizens’ Parliament? Because they work. Because people trust the decisions they come to. Because they come to decisions we all would come to if we had access to balanced information and the time to deliberate on options together with a diverse group of people. Because the many are smarter than the few, and ordinary people are free from the constraints imposed on today’s politicians. Find out more in the Citizens’ Parliament Frequently Asked Questions.

And who knows? Perhaps the Citizens’ Parliament will recommend that the House of Lords be replaced by a Senate selected using sortition? That would be the next campaign. If you are interested in getting involved please get in touch, or come along to our Strategy Workshop to be held in April:

Citizens’ Parliament on Lords Reform Campaign Strategy Workshop

Where: The Meeting Room, Level 1, 88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH

When: 1-4pm, Wednesday 6th April

RSVP: through our contact page.

If you also want to see a Citizens’ Parliament on House of Lords Reform, please sign the open letter now.

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8 Responses

  1. Brett,

    You can’t have it both ways, on the one hand you want to leave it to a representative sample of the people to deliberate freely, on the other hand you want to preempt the outcome by campaigning for a Senate selected by sortition.

    “The Citizens’ Parliament would be a stratified random sample selected from the electoral roll, ensuring that half of the participants are women, and half men. Many of them would be young, and some old, there would be one from every electoral district, and their educational levels would also match the census data. In short, it would be a mirror of our society.”

    It would only be a mirror of our society with respect to the demographic factors that you choose for your stratification criteria. If participation is voluntary (bearing in mind that the BC constitutional convention had an opt-out rate of 96%) then the sample would be highly atypical in that it would be heavily biased in favour of activists and political anoraks. Although the participants would look like ordinary people, they would in fact be highly atypical.

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  2. Brett,

    Like many of the citizen jury proposals this seems problematic because this is a high-stakes, one-off situation where all would depend on various details that would be determined outside of the public debate. Putting up allotted bodies in an ad-hoc manner as add-ons to an elite dominated system is not a promising way to apply sortition as a tool of democracy, I think.

    In general, we must be careful about what we advocate and how we spend our energies. Specifically, pushing for permanent allotted bodies with long service terms and paid positions is the effective way to go forward, IMO.

    Sutherland,

    Advocating for a particular decision making procedure and advocating for a particular decision is not “having it both ways”.

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  3. >Advocating for a particular decision making procedure and advocating for a particular decision is not “having it both ways”.

    True, but my understanding of the kleristocratic deliberative model was that proposals should be generated endogenously — that they should emerge from the internal debate as opposed to adopting the policy proposals of external elites (such as the Sortition Foundation).

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  4. Presumably the proposals of Sortition Foundation will not be treated in any privileged way. “Generated endogenously” doesn’t mean generated in a closed room. Like any other person and any other group, Sortition Foundation could advocate for their preferred outcome and they would have political impact to the extent they manage to convince the allotted decision makers to adopt their ideas (either before or after they are allotted).

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  5. Yoram,
    While I agree that there is some danger of relying on one-off mini-publics with agenda, rules and procedures dictated by elected authorities, don’t you think that some high-visibility and successful one-off implementations are likely a necessary awareness-building steps before anyone will even entertain the idea of creating any permanently institutionalized bodies? I think this could be a major advance for sortition if it could happen.

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  6. Yoram:> Like any other person and any other group, Sortition Foundation could advocate for their preferred outcome and they would have political impact to the extent they manage to convince the allotted decision makers to adopt their ideas (either before or after they are allotted).

    Yes indeed, but the ability to convince will depend on other factors than the persuasiveness of their arguments. Well-resourced external advocacy bodies (Brett’s not being a good example!) will find it easier to convince than others if decision makers are also mandated to engage in speech acts after they are allotted (and might well offer their services to the highest bidder). You have a surprising faith in the free market for the exchange of ideas, without the need for exogenous regulation to ensure an equal playing field. Another problem is that this sort of body relies on regular “independent” advisory staff, facilitators etc and if the body who established the constitutional convention were also the one advocating a permanent solution (sortition) such people could hardly be described as impartial or independent.

    Terry,

    Such one-off ventures have never been successful in the past, so why do you think this would be the exception? This is particularly the case as constitutional considerations are about as far removed from the quotidian experience of most citizens as one can imagine. Regular legislatures deal with things like the price of bread and whether or not to send their children off to fight wars, so are likely to be more successful than constitutional conventions.

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  7. I agree with Terry that having more one-off mini-publics is a necessary step, and am following the path of the newDemocracy Foundation in Australia which has now held 15 or so such events – all of which have been successful (at least by my terms!). They too have a long term goal of instituting permanent sortition bodies and see their one-off mini-publics as a step in that direction.

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  8. Terry and Brett,

    I think that one-off bodies are a distraction, and could even be counter-productive as an awareness building tool. As I wrote, I think that pushing for permanent supervisory allotted bodies is a more promising strategy.

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