Mary Beard and UKIP’s Arron Banks agree over sortition for the House of Lords

SPQR author Mary Beard and UKIP eminence grise Arron Banks occupy the opposite poles of the political spectrum — the former being a self-acknowledged liberal leftie and the latter a Trump-supporting right-wing populist. After their Twitter war over the role of immigration in the downfall of the Roman Empire they agreed to meet over lunch to discuss their differences and were surprised to find that they had more in common than either of them anticipated:

After they have warmly agreed to renationalise the railways and the energy companies, draw the House of Lords by lot because it works perfectly well for juries, scrap Trident, and counter the mania for solving every problem with legislation, Mary concedes that the philosophical borders of Banksland “lie in a slightly different place to where I’d previously thought”.

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16 Responses

  1. I find it interesting, and encouraging, to read that two people from apparently different sides of the political spectrum can agree on sortition. It is vital to get away from simplistic left-right perspectives when it comes to building the case for significant institutional changes such as the introduction of sortition.

    It is also interesting that, for me, Banks is the clearer-eyed on how in need of fundamental reform the EU has become, or always was. Beard is very vague in her arguments, at least as transmitted or implied by this piece.

    For all that, sortition’s best bet is bound to be at the sub-national levels to start with, the House of Lords is a big first stretch.

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  2. Patrick: >the House of Lords is a big first stretch.

    Au contraire: starting with Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty’s book in 2008, there has been an ever-increasing chorus of voices calling for sortition in the House of Lords as well as a number of second chambers in the francophone world. I think this is because there is no other obvious selection principle for a second chamber (aristocracy having had something of a bum rap of late) that would not directly conflict with the electoral principle for the lower house. (This is a problem that stretches back at least to the American foundation — especially for individual state constitutions.) And as sortition is not (yet?) viewed as comprehensively legitimate a principle as election it is ideal for a chamber with a revising or vetoing function rather than the right of initiative. So I really think we are pushing at an open door here — Barnett and Carty’s proposal was derided when they first proposed it before Lord Wakeham’s royal commission, but the current reception is very very different. I agree that it’s encouraging that the idea is receiving support from both ends of the political spectrum.

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  3. I agree with Sutherland that a national level body with a well defined purview is a better starting point for sortition than sub-national bodies. Sub-national bodies are potentially very problematic. There is always a lot of ambiguity regarding their authority and resources, and the public’s understanding of and attention to their workings are limited, making it very difficult to determine what is really going on.

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  4. There are only two reasonable ways to choose the House of Lords it seems to me, either by sortition, or chosen by juries. But if the latter approach is taken, though it can be implemented as a stand alone reform pending further reform, legislative juries are needed to put the final say in lawmaking on a soundly democratic basis.

    A legislative body chosen by jury (like one chosen by popular election) should only have the power to propose laws, not pass them. Only the informed judgement/consent of the people through lottocratic bodies can put laws on a genuinely democratic basis, in my view. There can be reforms on the road to this, but this I think should be the goal, just as for example universal suffrage was the correct goal of those who pushed for the extension of the suffrage to more and more of the public.

    All areas in which politicians have a conflict of interest, are, it seems to me, especially clear cases in which the final say in lawmaking needs to be transferred to lottocratic bodies. For example, people easily grasp that politicians should not be making the rules/laws under which they are elected.

    Patrick Chalmers – strongly yes to a left-right alliance for sortition. This article so well illustrates the point.

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  5. Simon,
    I really don’t like the term “lottocratic.” Its negative gambling connotations imply that it is rule by chance — as if the decisions are made randomly. We have been around and around on this (“stochastic,” “allotted,” “jury,” “sorted,” etc.) While we don’t yet have an agreed upon adjective that modifies the word “system” or “body” (as you use lottocratic body) “sortition” is at least better than lottocratic… as in a “sortition body”. …. the bodies themselves can be called either juries or mini-publics.

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  6. Simon:

    >There are only two reasonable ways to choose the House of Lords it seems to me, [a] either by sortition, or [b] chosen by juries. But if the latter approach is taken . . . legislative juries are needed to put the final say in lawmaking on a soundly democratic basis.

    The latter approach would mean the end of mass elections as both houses would be chosen by sortition. As this is unlikely to happen any time soon I think we should all focus on the first option, especially as figures as diverse as Arron Banks and Mary Beard agree on it.

    Agree with Terry’s views on inappropriate adjectives. My preference is “stochastic” — I know this will be unfamiliar to most people, but then that was also the case with “sortition” a couple of years ago. If we are proposing a new [old] way of doing politics then we need a distinctive term for it and the last thing we want is any suggestion of randomness in the pejorative sense.

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  7. Terry, re “lottocratic,” I rather like it as you have gathered, in part because it suggests the word “lottery” which everyone knows, and because I think it suggests what it is, which is rule or power being exercised by groups of people chosen by lottery. I appreciate your point that the suggestion of gambling may make it unappealing to some, though for others lotteries and lottery tickets may have a more positive connotation. As it is best to have terms without negative connotations for anyone, perhaps I should abandon the charming (to me) term “lottocratic.”

    I think “jury” and “minipublic” are very good terms, and also think terms containing the word “jury” are good, such as “jury assembly” and “citizen jury.” Excellently, “Jury,” “mini,” “public,” “assembly,” and “citizen,” are words everyone knows, and they don’t have any negative connotations.

    I don’t care for “sortition” or “stochastic” because they are in the nature of jargon, as the general public have no idea what they mean or might mean. I at one time used the term “minidemos,” but “minipublic” is so much better because the meaning is more transparent (not everyone knows what “demos” means), and the plural simply has an “s” on the end, not something odd or unusual. “Microdemos” has the same problem as “minidemos.”

    Terry, if I accept your advice that leaves me with “jury” and “minipublic,” terms containing the word “jury,” and the plurals of “jury” and “minipublic,” which fortunately are not peculiar.

    “Jurycratic” comes to mind, but does not quite cut it for me, though maybe I’m already getting used to it. At least it contains one word everyone knows, and the other (cratic) is known to many, and for those who don’t know it their clue is that jurycratic rhymes with democratic. Hmm.

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  8. Keith:

    >The latter approach would mean the end of mass elections as both houses would be chosen by sortition.

    Oh, I am not suggesting that. What I am saying in the latter approach is that the House of Lords would be chosen by juries (not that it would become a minipublic or minipublics). There could be multi-member districts for the House of Lords with a jury drawn from each district choosing the House of Lords members for their district by STV (single transferable vote), which (with multi-member districts) is a form of PR (proportional rep). This is what I proposed for Canada’s Senate: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/simon-threlkeld-select-senators-by-jury

    However, I still think the final say in lawmaking needs to reside with juries, but that does not mean that either the House of Commons or the House of Lords need become juries (minipublics). It is just that I want politicians chosen by popular election (and also those chosen by juries if such a thing ever happens) to have their legislative power limited to proposing laws to juries/minipublics (with such juries/minipublics deciding whether the proposed laws go into effect).

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  9. Simon,

    >What I am saying in the latter approach is that the House of Lords would be chosen by juries (not that it would become a minipublic or minipublics).

    This would mean an end to masselections, and I think this is moving too fast. Better to focus on a randomly-selected upper house, and leave the lower house unchanged (at least for the time being).

    >I don’t care for “sortition” or “stochastic” because they are in the nature of jargon, as the general public have no idea what they mean or might mean.

    Exactly the same thing could have been said of “democracy” a couple of centuries ago. The problem with existing concepts is that they have become distorted by association — “democracy” has become synonymous with election and “liberalism” has lost any connection with its original meaning. If we are proposing something new (old) then we need a new (old) word for it. The reason that I prefer stochation to sortition is that the latter has an inherent sense of the reason for selection by lot (rather than just a reference to the mechanism).

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  10. Another problem with terms like “lottocracy” is that it implies it is a system as an alternative to democracy. Better to have a modifier for the word democracy… as in “electoral democracy” vs. “jury democracy” (that uses mini-publics or juries.) That doesn’t answer the problem of an all-purpose adjective that modifies a word like “body” or “chamber,” however. The word jury is SOMETIMES used as an adjective, as in a craft show where artisans have to pass the judgment of peers to get in… called a “juried craft fair”…. so perhaps the term a “juried chamber” can work?? Though that seems to fit better Simon’s House of Lords who have to pass muster of a jury of average citizens, rather than members themselves being randomly selected.

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  11. Does anyone have an objection to “jurycratic”?

    As in for example, jurycratic body(ies), jurycratic chamber(s), jurycratic proposal(s), jurycratic democracy, jurycratic approach, jurycratic ideas, the jurycratic tradition in democracy (though perhaps “jury tradition in democracy” or “minipublic tradition in democracy” are better).

    Terry, I agree “jury democracy” and “minipublic democrcay” are good terms (with or without the hyphen in minipublic). I also agree that it is undesirable to speak as if we might be talking about an alternative to democracy rather than a form of democracy (and that “lottocracy” is for that reason perhaps to be generally avoided in favour of “lottocratic democracy” if we are to use a term based on the word “lottery” at all).

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  12. Simon,

    >Does anyone have an objection to “jurycratic”?

    The problem is one of association — modern juries are a) small and b) have a particular deliberative style. Sortition juries are large and will have a very different deliberative style. We are proposing a new (old) system of democracy and need a new (old) term and convention dictates that the word should be of Greek provenance. “Stochation” describes exactly what we are proposing — once people have become familiar with the procedure then the term will stick (as was the case with “democracy”). The problems with “sortition” are 1) the word doesn’t mean anything at all, 2) people tend to mis-spell it, 3) to the uninformed it suggests sorting the sheep from the goats (or Harry Potter’s sorting hat) and 4) the informed tend to associate it with the Stone-Dowlen blind break thesis, not statistical representation.

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  13. Terry,

    > “electoral democracy”

    This term (like many other modifier-democracy terms) is really part of a propaganda campaign. It is supposed to reinforce the notion that electoralism is a form of democracy.

    The first order of business to unseat electoralism is to get people to examine this system without making the a-priori (often unconscious) assumption that it is a democratic system. The notion that it is, at least in some ideal unadulterated form, is ubiquitous, even among who think of themselves as reformers such as Monbiot and Van Reybrouck.

    Instead of talking about jury-democracy or democracy-through-sortition or some other composed term, it is better to simply talk about democracy and insist that people examine the term, define it, and then decide for themselves, without prejudice, which systems can be compatible with democracy and which cannot.

    The conclusion should be a rejection of the platitudes of “no single plan” and “many ideas”. Democracy at the large scale is incompatible with elections and it cannot be attained without the use of sortition.

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  14. Yoram,

    >Democracy at the large scale is incompatible with elections

    Not so. Large scale democracy requires representation throughout and election is the best way of securing the active representation of interests. This cannot be achieved through sortition.

    >and it cannot be attained without the use of sortition.

    That’s right, as it’s possibly the only way of ensuring descriptive representation, the other side of the democratic diarchy.

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  15. Keith,

    I think “stochastic” is at least as problematic as “sortition” and I don’t see it being taken up by many… HOWEVER, I think it might be ideal to use that term specifically for the kind of bodies you advocate… statistical samples that do not deliberate in the active sense (only internal). “Stochastic” can be a specific sort of sortition. While sortition refers to any system that randomly draws citizens to fill public office — this may be large stochastic group, or a small jury, a mini-public that debates and drafts legislation, who may actively deliberate or not. So Keith… Although I don’t have the authority to say this…. I grant you exclusive use of the term “stochastic” to describe YOUR favored sort of randomly selected body, following your favored rules, while the rest of us will refrain from using that term to describe other sorts of sortition bodies.

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  16. Fair enough — as it’s the only kind of sortition-based group that has democratic legitimacy, I’m happy for its use to be reserved for this purpose. Regarding your grant of “exclusive” use, it was Andre who came up with this term, not me, and I’ve acknowledged that his suggestion — the aggregate vote of a large number of independently-deliberating juries — would also benefit from democratic legitimacy (it would just be rather expensive).

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