Anthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:
Dear Fellow Kleroterians!
Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.
There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.
But any recommendations that it might take would depend upon the wisdom of him and his ilk. I summed up the approach Carty and I would take. He responded “You know wherever we go in the country people keep coming up to us with this idea”. Obviously, he thought it absurd. Yet I came away knowing there was not the slightest chance sortition would get a favourable mention but that spontaneously, in the instinct for self-government across the UK, people know that the principles of the jury could be applied to government.
Now Hurd and his particular section of the ruling elite, deeply for Europe and the influence it gave them, have received a bloody nose. A key reason for this is that they never ‘let go’ – never allowed regular people to have a direct claim on the country through a proper constitution, let alone a democratic one. Now, a deep and ongoing crisis of the British state is underway as its undemocratic character has been revealed by Brexit. The vote was an understandable one – though I was for Remain. But the consequences will not deliver ‘control’ to regular people. Instead, a large section of the once complacent elite will have to eat the consequences of our backward, parliamentary absolutism.
There will be no way back to becoming a European country that we need to be, with an honest relationship with the EU of the future, without a constitutional revolution. This will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce sortition into government. That at least is what I will argue, if – and this is why I am writing to you in a shameless fashion – I can crowdfund the book. No mainstream publisher was willing to publish something fast and so I have gone with Unbound, who will have the book out in January if I finish it in November. Please help if you can by making a pre-order. The book is called WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit. the link to the site where you can pre-order is here: https://unbound.com/books/brexit.