Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people

Nicholas Gruen is an economist, entrepreneur and commentator who has been described by former Australian member of the House of Representatives Lindsay James Tanner as “Australia’s foremost public intellectual”.

On Nov. 6th, Gruen will be giving a talk at King’s College London titled “Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people”.

Abstract:

Though material conditions played their part, the degradation of politics now so evident in the shock and awe of Brexit and Trump also reflect the way in which elections orient politics around political combat, rather than deliberation and problem solving. Yet Britain could use the ancient Athenian idea of selection by lot – choosing a cross-section of the public to deliberate together to complement elections – to turn its slow-motion crisis into the rebirth of democracy, moving it from government according to the will of the people, and towards the richer, safer notion of government according to the considered will of the people.

An outline of the argument: Detoxing Brexit by detoxing democracy.

Britain’s governing class is now engineering a tragedy that arose from a piece of political improvisation gone horribly wrong. Yet there’s a principled way of handling the situation.

A citizens’ jury – chosen to be representative of the electorate – is exposed to each side of the debate and then deliberates. By this process, the will of the people is transformed into their considered will. The evidence suggests that this will produce a substantial swing towards the remain position perhaps as much as 15%.

In my public lecture, I’ll propose that we raise the funds to host at least ten citizens’ juries of approximately fifty people each chosen by lot from their local communities around Britain to be held simultaneously over – say – two weekends.

The process would be overseen by a board of respected citizens with differing views about Brexit who commit themselves to the integrity of the process.

For me the crucial thing is not Brexit itself – as important as that is. If my fears are right, I doubt Brexit could harm the economy by more than – say 2%. And there are plenty of things in life worth sacrificing 2% of one’s income for. Indeed, after the dismal way the Greek crisis was handled by Europe, there’s some justice to the Brexit vote – though my own view is that, remaining outside the Euro, Britain has the best of both worlds.

The tragedy of Brexit is that, the way things have been handled so far, whatever Britain does, around half of its population will resent what happens as illegitimate.

Given this, I would hope that the ‘deliberative referendum’ I’ll propose would be conducted with grave humility and generosity by those seeking a change of mind. They might commit in advance to accepting Brexit if the process does not indicate that the considered opinion of the British people is against Brexit by at least the margin by which Brexit won the referendum.

 

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31 Responses

  1. Sounds good Nicholas, I’ll try to come if I can haul my way up to London. Did you see my earlier proposal on this theme? https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/keith-sutherland/brexit-lottery My only disagreement would be over:

    The process would be overseen by a board of respected citizens with differing views about Brexit who commit themselves to the integrity of the process.

    My preference would be to combine the agonistic advocacy of the original debate with the deliberative scrutiny of an allotted jury. I doubt it would be possible to assemble a “board of respected citizens” in such a way as to satisfy all parties (including the media) that this was not some kind of establishment plot to overturn the referendum result. Much better to pursue the trial analogy more closely. The forensic rhetoric of the courtroom is more appropriate to political decisions than the Habermasian pursuit of “truth” favoured by deliberative democrats.

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  2. Hi Nicholas,

    Thanks for the invitation. I will not make it due to the long travel distance that would involve, but I would be happy to have a discussion of your proposal here.

    Much as I think that referenda are generally not a good tool for policy making while sortition based bodies are, I think your proposal is problematic.

    First, there is the obvious problem that you are proposing a binding jury decision after having had a plurality supporting “exit” (while presumably no such jury would be called for had the result been “remain”).

    Secondly, any short-term body is very much open to manipulation by whoever sets it up. Control of the information presented and how it is presented, how deliberation takes place, how voting takes place, etc. means great influence over the outcome. Unless the authority setting it up is itself democratic, this means that some elite gets to have a lot of say. You attempt to address this by having the process overseen by “a board of respected citizens with differing views about Brexit”, but I doubt that this would alleviate the concerns of the losing side (which in this case can only be the “exit” side since the “remain” side already lost so they have nothing to lose further).

    In general, to alleviate concerns of manipulation by an organizing elite, allotted bodies must either be self-determining (and thus both be long-term and wield significant resources) or be constituted by a different allotted body which is itself self-determining. This rules out the standard “citizen jury” setup.

    How about having a long-term, well-funded allotted Brentrance body which examines the issue over years, gathering its own information, calling its own experts, coming up with an independent opinion?

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  3. Yoram:> In general, to alleviate concerns of manipulation by an organizing elite, allotted bodies must either be self-determining (and thus both be long-term and wield significant resources) or be constituted by a different allotted body which is itself self-determining.

    The other alternative is two competing elites (as in the referendum) with the jury deciding the outcome — this is particularly suitable for a yes/no decision. The only difference from the original vote is that it would be better informed. It’s no coincidence that this (agonistic) model is the one preferred by the broadcast media when there is a need to discuss controversial issues. It also fits well with the argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier and Landemore, 2012).

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  4. Like Yoram and Keith I am concerned about the following statement: “The process would be overseen by a board of respected citizens … .” Who the “respected citizens” are and how they are chosen is problematic.

    Such a board needs to be chosen in a very democratic and valid way that no one can reasonably object to, it seems to me. It should not in my view be chosen by the PM, nor by any other politician, nor by any grouping of politicians, nor by a political party or mix of them, nor by anyone appointed by a politician. Nor should it be chosen by a private organization which might have, or be plausibly alleged to have, a bias regarding the preferred outcome, or which can plausibly be claimed to be self-appointed with zero democratic mandate.

    The only really democratic and appropriate way to choose said board is, in my view, by jury. Possibly by two juries, one randomly sampled from those in favour of Brexit, and the other from those in favour of Remain. The board members would have to be agreed on by a majority in each of the two juries. Alternatively, if the two juries cannot agree on who will be on the board, then each jury could choose one board member, and those two board members would then choose a third board member by mutual agreement. The board would decide procedures and arrangements by majority vote after deliberation.

    Ideally, I think the procedures and arrangements worked out or approved by the said board should require approval from a jury. Not from the jury assemblies that will decide on the Brexit/Remain issue, but from a jury that convenes prior to that. Such a jury would need to have the power to veto anything they disagree with, and to call for new proposals to be presented.

    The Facilitator for the jury process to choose the board, and for the jury process to approve the procedures and arrangements the board works out or approves, would need to be a qualified facilitator and be chosen by jury. I can at any rate see no more democratic and fair way to choose such facilitators. (Facilitators for the jury assemblies deciding the Brexit/Remain issue could be chosen by the board.)

    I am not sure if Nicholas’ proposal is for a privately run process, or if government funding and endorsement are sought, and if the government will be asked to agree to be bound by the result. Maybe that depends on the government, and whether they respond to a demand/request for funding, and for agreeing to honour the result?

    If government does not fund it, or does not fund it adequately, and perhaps also provide legal protections for jurors taking leaves from their jobs, and perhaps other support as well, the options are obviously more limited.

    I don’t see why the jury assemblies need to convene at the same time, rather than being sequential (I guess the reason may be so that subsequent jury assemblies will not be influenced by the vote of previous ones, on the assumption that the result of each vote will be announced right away?).

    If government funding and support is provided, I think the jury assemblies could meet on weekdays like trial juries do, and work full-time for as long as needed to reach an informed decision, possibly weeks rather than days, or possibly just days. Pay should of course be good, so that people will be willing to serve.

    Brexiters will presumably oppose this as they have nothing to gain by it. Others may also object on the basis of fairness, as it could be seen as an after-the-fact attempt to change the rules of the game. As Yoram observes: “presumably no such jury would be called for had the result been “remain”” – or so some may say. I guess the reply is that it should have been decided this way in the first place, and that it is better that Brexit be based on the considered and informed will of the British people, rather than on the basis of the poorly informed voting that took place, and the self-selected not-so-representative “sample” that voted.

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  5. Keith>The other alternative is two competing elites (as in the referendum) with the jury deciding the outcome

    I understood the overseeing board to be only about deciding the process and procedures for the jury assemblies.

    I assumed the adversarial trial-like arrangement Keith mentions for the jury assemblies convened to decide the Brexit/Remain issue. (With each side having equal time and so on. It might not be possible for the two sides to reach a consensus on who will be in charge of presenting their respective cases. My answer to this, as I wrote in 1998, is that if the the two sides cannot decide who will present their respective case before the jurors, a jury will decide based on who is the most capable of presenting the case well.)

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  6. > competing elites

    The obvious problem with this notion, which I have pointed at many times and never seen addressed, is that while those elites may be competing in the sense of each favoring a particular policy, they still offer only very specific policy options and only a certain set of arguments for those specific options. There may very well be very many other options and even the options offered may very well be supported by different arguments.

    Once the elites get to decide what the menu of options is and what is the information and what are the arguments presented, they get to decide policy within a very narrow range. Public interest may very well be outside that range.

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  7. Simon,

    It’s organ organ all the time with him (Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood)

    Your faith in the unlimited potential of juries is unwarranted — both epistemically and in terms of perceived legitimacy. Given that most citizens are very poorly informed about the case for and against membership of the EU (hence Nicholas and my proposals), how can a random selection of citizens be expected to know who the best advocates and expert witnesses are? No doubt they would rely on the permanent staff of the organisation who was sponsoring the event and would also be subject to intense lobbying by vested interests and media pressure groups. And why would the vast majority of citizens (whose decision the minipublic is seeking to overturn) accept that the autodidactic efforts of the tiny group of citizens selected by lot will lead to well-informed and balanced advocacy? They are more likely to (rightly) conclude that seeing as they know little about the case for remaining in the EU, why should they listen to the prejudices of the bloke next door or (more importantly) that idiot who was mouthing off about it down the pub last night. This is the reason why the Athenian demos never chose its advisors from within its own ranks.

    The only thing that we can say of randomly-selected juries with any degree of certainty is that they are the least-worst way of deciding which of two parties is telling the truth or offering the best arguments. The argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier and Landemore, 2012) provides compelling evidence that evolution has endowed all of us with the necessary cognitive tools to tell the difference between a good argument and a crock of s**t. But, as you of all people should know, in the trial analogy the arguments that are being evaluated are offered by highly partial advocates, and the argumentative theory of reasoning explains how different cognitive modules (including the confirmatory bias) are essential tools for the pursuit of truth in an agonistic environment. The obvious message from the trial analogy is that the expert witnesses for prosecution and defence should be chosen by political parties and lobby groups — you can rest assured that any misinformation supplied by witnesses for one side will be demolished in cross-examination by the other side. A diverse and pluralistic media also have a vital role to play here, but no doubt you will rule that out on account of the views of Professor Chomsky.

    >I guess the reply is that [Brexit] should have been decided this way in the first place, and that it is better that Brexit be based on the considered and informed will of the British people.

    Agree: https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/keith-sutherland/brexit-lottery I originally floated this in the Spectator long before Cameron called the referendum, but nobody was listening.

    Yoram: >while those elites may be competing in the sense of each favoring a particular policy, they still offer only very specific policy options and only a certain set of arguments for those specific options.

    Yes that’s very true, but it’s hard to imagine any viable alternative for representative isegoria in a democratic society (pace your earlier syllogistic argument) and in this particular context the choice is simply up or down. The elites will be highly motivated to select the most persuasive arguments — no doubt this will lead to all manner of dirty tricks, but given the adversarial context, such behaviour will be exposed by the other side (and the media) in cross-examination. I agree that if it were the case that all elites were in favour of (say) Remain that this would not generate sufficient agonism, but the UK media are evenly divided between Brexit and Remain. It’s interesting to note that, within the Murdoch empire, the Times is Remain and the Sunday Times is Brexit, whereas within the Rothermere empire the Mail is Brexit whereas the Mail on Sunday is Remain. The Mirror is Remain and the Sun Brexit, the Guardian Remain and the Telegraph Brexit while the Star and Express are more interested in meterological apocalyptics and Strictly Come Dancing. Whilst most business leaders and economists are (unsurprisingly) in favour of Remain there are some high-profile exceptions (James Dyson, Jim Ratcliffe, Tim Martin etc). On the party political side if the Conservatives came out for Brexit then Labour would go for Remain, purely for the sake of electoral advantage (as Mandeville pointed out private vices often lead to public benefits). So, as you claim to be a long-standing Dahlian I would encourage you to renew your faith in polyarchy.

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  8. sorry about the excess italics (html error)

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  9. Thanks for all your contributions.

    Of course, all or most of the contributors have thought about the issues for a long time and all come to somewhat different conclusions as to what is required and how to seek it. In such circumstances, each of the contributors point out weaknesses in what’s proposed. I’d have no difficulty identifying most of them myself.

    Yes what’s proposed is not ideal. But the circumstances we’re in are not ideal. They’ve been very much cocked up by the original piece of political improvisation. But I’m not being critical of David Cameron. I’m loath to do so from my position of relative ignorance living outside the UK. But more importantly, politics is full of improvisation. Some of it works out. Some of it goes wrong – as this has. And in such a world political action must be improvised.

    So not only are we profoundly ignorant about what political changes would ultimately make a better world, we’re also ignorant about the extent to which any action proposed would work in the way we’d hope in a specific circumstance.

    Simon says that the board I propose “needs to be chosen in a very democratic and valid way that no one can reasonably object to”. That criterion more or less rules out any political action right there. In the case at hand, all that’s likely to be necessary is to vouchsafe that some agreed on selection process has been adhered to. That seems doable in precisely the way that, once votes are cast, we have largely eliminated fraud in counting votes by giving scrutineers from each party access to the process of vote counting subject ultimately to some judicial review if the rules are violated too badly.

    Simon says that the board supervising the process should itself be chosen by a jury or perhaps two. Doesn’t that lead to an infinite regress? How do we assemble those juries?

    I could offer similar responses to much of what’s been written.

    It seems to me that that kind of logic won’t help make progress in the concrete political situation in which the world finds itself or really in any concrete political situation. It rather leads to the splintering of whatever working coalition those of us might be able to cobble together. The People’s Liberation Army of Judea versus the People’s Army for the Liberation of Judea.

    Ultimately the test I’m proposing for myself is:
    1) Whether what I’ve proposed stands some chance of being implemented (obviously it’s a small chance given where I’m starting from); and
    2) If it were implemented whether it would advance –
    a) a healthier politics of Brexit; and
    b) the legitimacy of sortition as part of the political repertoire of modern democracy.

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  10. Nick, I think we’re all agreed that it is a worthwhile proposal, the only quibble is over how the advocates and expert witnesses should be selected. My proposal draws on Jim Fishkin’s 20+ years of practical experience in this field by assuming that these functions will be provided by the competing parties in the issue that is to be resolved, rather than arising endogenously (Simon’s proposal) or from a board of respected citizens (your proposal). I think this is simply undemocratic — much better to acknowledge the existence of interested parties but quarantine them to an information and advocacy role.

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  11. Nicholas,

    Thanks for your response.

    > 2) If it were implemented whether it would advance –
    > a) a healthier politics of Brexit; and
    > b) the legitimacy of sortition as part of the political repertoire of modern democracy.

    First, it is important to keep in mind that not every application of sortition is democratic so merely advancing the legitimacy of sortition is not necessarily a step toward democratization of our society.

    Secondly and relatedly, I think there is a good chance that proposals such as yours, where the application of sortition could be perceived, not without justice, as giving the elites another tool to have their way with the people could de-legitimize sortition rather than lead to its acceptance.

    So this is not a matter of purism or of splitting hairs, it is a matter of deciding which way is up.

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  12. Yoram:>I think there is a good chance that proposals such as yours, where the application of sortition could be perceived, not without justice, as giving the elites another tool to have their way with the people could de-legitimize sortition rather than lead to its acceptance.

    Yes I think that’s true. Given that the issue most people raise with regard to the referendum was that it was a poorly-informed decision, then there is a strong case for addressing this aspect alone. Whilst it is the case that misinformation was disseminated on both sides, this would be addressed by the forensic cross-examination of the other camp. The crucial difference would be that jurors would be obliged to listen to both sides, rather than just selecting the media that reinforced their own prejudices. The statistically-representative sample is obliged to sit and listen to the evidence before voting — exactly as with a trial jury — but trying to change the people who provide the information and arguments would (rightly) be viewed as an establishment plot to subvert the will of the British people.

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  13. Keith, with all due respect, I think your response to my comments in this thread misses the point, misstates my position, and declines to acknowledge a basic question I asked and answered long ago, one that needs to be asked and answered.

    We agree that a trial-like approach is a good idea here, with one side of the “trial” being Remain and the other Brexit, and with the jury assembly hearing all the evidence and argument before deciding (probably you are against the jurors deliberating at any stage in this process, whereas I am in favour of that being done in small groups, perhaps we both agree that the jurors ought to vote by secret ballot). I believe we also agree that each of the two cases needs to be well presented, which means that the person(s) in charge of doing that (for each of the two cases) need to be very capable of making sure the case is well presented.

    What will predictably happen is that a variety of people and organizations will come forward to present each of the two cases. As I point out above “It might not be possible for the two sides to reach a consensus on who will be in charge of presenting their respective cases.” You ignore or miss this issue.

    If the two sides each reach a consensus (or already have reached a consensus) about who will be in charge of presenting their case, then they will decide who does that. I’ve said that rather clearly, but you ignore it or missed it.

    We both agree that it is best if the two sides choose who is in charge of presenting their case.

    If the Remain side (or the Brexit side) can’t agree on who to put in charge of presenting their case, only then (in my proposal) would a jury be involved in deciding who will do it, based on the criterion of who will do it the best.

    If there are, say, a lot of contenders for being in charge of the case for Remain, then the jury can begin by screening out those that clearly are not competent. The remaining contenders for the job can then have the opportunity to agree among themselves on who will present the case, and can continue to have that opportunity (as the jury winnows down the number of contenders) until there is only one contender left.

    The preference here is that each side chooses who is in charge of presenting their case. That decision would only be made by a jury if they are unable or unwilling to agree on that.

    You offer no alternative option for how to resolve such a situation of disagreement. You simply ignore the question. And you totally misrepresent my position on this by ignoring that the question only arises if one or both of the two sides do not agree on who will be in charge of presenting their case.

    Keith:>how can a random selection of citizens be expected to know who the best advocates and expert witnesses are?

    Nowhere do I suggest that a jury choose the expert witnesses. This implication by you is a straw man. With regard to choosing the best person or organization to be in charge of presenting the case, a jury will (as said) only do this when a side is unable or unwilling to agree on who will do it. (As said, you offer no solution for that potential and perhaps rather likely problem.)

    In Athens, as you know, the five people to present the case for the existing law before the legislative jury were chosen by the Assembly. The Assembly also had to send proposed laws to a legislative jury, which means they had the opportunity to screen out proposals being made by incompetent persons. Ordinary citizens choosing the best people to present a legislative case (or to be in charge of presenting it) is not a new idea.

    With regard to your quote of Dylan Thomas, the aim here is informed and considered rule by the people, which juries are uniquely suited for under certain conditions. So, in many cases yes it ought to be informed and considered rule by the people all the time, rather than rule by politicians, and selecting officials by popular election (selecting officials by jury is better) all the time.

    However, not uncritically and not for everything.

    In Britain and elsewhere it is popularly elected politicians all the time, which is undemocratic and undesirable. I encourage you to recycle your Dylan Thomas quote to describe that. No need for a good quote to go to waste or be misapplied.

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  14. Nicholas, good to see you commenting in this thread! Unfortunately for me I will miss your talk in London (as much as I love London and would enjoy going to your talk, it is rather far from Toronto).

    Nicholas:>Simon says that the board supervising the process should itself be chosen by a jury or perhaps two. Doesn’t that lead to an infinite regress? How do we assemble those juries?

    How do you suggest the overseeing board be chosen and why? Appointed by a non-profit organization founded for the purpose? Appointed by the PM? Appointed by James Fishkin? Not sure?

    Yes we need a way to start the juries process. Either a private public interest non-profit organization set up to be and be seen to be neutral and fair, or Parliamentary legislation, will be needed to get it rolling. I suppose another possibility would be for the BBC (a public and public interest non-profit) to convene such a jury as part of its mandate to inform and enlighten, but that sounds a bit innovative and democratic for the BBC, and they could be attacked for “squandering public funds” and denounced as being pro-Remain. (I’m in favour of the board of the BBC and also Ofcom being chosen by jury, as you may know or have guessed. But of course that democratic and highly desirable arrangement is not in place.)

    If the board is established by government legislation, the board in my view needs to be chosen by jury, not by the PM or a cabinet member.

    By definition the arrangements and procedures for the first jury of course cannot be decided by jury (or at least not until after it is convened). A non-profit organization dedicated to democracy, or government legislation, could set in place the arrangement(s) for the first jury(ies), with the arrangements for subsequent juries being decided by jury and by officials chosen by jury. There’s no need for an infinite regress.

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  15. Yoram:>Once the elites get to decide what the menu of options is and what is the information and what are the arguments presented, they get to decide policy within a very narrow range. Public interest may very well be outside that range.

    That is true in general, but in this case we seem to be only talking about a yes/no vote on Brexit (the same question as put to the public in the referendum). That is, the menu item and the options (yes or no) have already been decided. This is, as it were, a jury assembly review of a yes/no decision already made by referendum.

    If the two sides want to win, they both have an incentive to put forward the best possible public interest arguments, rather than only those from the vantage of what most benefits elite interests. I am here assuming a trial-like process on a level playing field.

    I am very skeptical of the idea of some “neutral” body presenting the arguments, facts and experts to the jurors in this case, if that is what is being considered.

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  16. Keith:>The crucial difference would be that jurors would be obliged to listen to both sides, rather than just selecting the media that reinforced their own prejudices.

    Yes, that is one of the crucial ways a jury assembly is better than a referendum for deciding brexit (in the context of a trial-like process). It is also one of the crucial ways selecting public officials by jury is preferable to popular election.

    Keith:>A diverse and pluralistic media also have a vital role to play here, but no doubt you [Simon] will rule that out on account of the views of Professor Chomsky.

    See the first two paragraphs of this comment/post.

    I don’t think your rosy view of the British media corresponds to the facts (leaving aside your not-so-rosy but surely correct observation about people “selecting the media that reinforced their own prejudices”).

    I think this is a more accurate assessment of the British media: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/11/the-day-the-myths-of-press-power-and-the-centre-ground-died
    And this: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/des-freedman/what-corbyn-s-debate-victory-tells-us-about-bias-in-british-media

    Regarding the U.S. context, here is Edward Herman on the history of some of the fake news at the New York Times up to earlier this year. If you can demonstrate any of his examples to be false I’ll take your comments about Chomsky’s views on the media more seriously (I think Chomsky would pretty much agree with Herman’s examples here): https://monthlyreview.org/2017/07/01/fake-news-on-russia-and-other-official-enemies/

    It is not a matter Chomsky’s views, but rather of the facts.

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  17. Simon,

    On this particular issue (a well-informed yes/no vote) we are primarily in agreement. What has marred it is your insistence on multiple juries for functions other than determining the final outcome — this has led to a misunderstanding on my part (for which I apologise) and Nick’s claim that you have a problem of infinite regress. Might I suggest, if only for strategic reasons, that we all concentrate on the one thing that we agree juries are good at, and leave the use of juries in the appointment process for another day (as we all know it took more than one day to build Rome). This is the advice I have given Terry Bouricius but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears (hence the Dylan Thomas quote). The issue of representative media isegoria is not central to this debate, and we had to agree to differ in the past, so let’s park that as well.

    Regarding the need to choose between two bodies competing for advocacy rights, this actually happened for the Brexit referendum. The choice as to which body should receive government funding for the Leave campaign was made by the Electoral Commission (who chose Vote Leave Ltd. over Leave.EU). This decision did not lead to any particular controversy, whereas if the decision was made by a sortition jury I think it might have done so. Where a body has perceived legitimacy then “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a good working maxim.

    https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/designation-of-lead-campaigners-for-the-eu-referendum

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  18. Simon,

    > in this case we seem to be only talking about a yes/no vote on Brexit

    This is a meaningless choice to make. This is like making a choice between Republicans and Democrats, or Coke and Pepsi. Making such meaningless choices is exactly what referenda and elections are about and what sortition should provide an alternative for. Applying sortition to make a better choice from a meaningless menu of options is a sure way to discredit it.

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  19. Yoram, whilst you may not approve of it, the choice is between leaving or remaining in a club, so it is certainly not “meaningless”. If the choice were about the nature of the relationship, the rules and Articles of Association of the club then the other 27 members would need to organise parallel deliberative assemblies.

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  20. Keith, thank you for filling me in on how the question of who would present the two sides of the case to the public was dealt with in the referendum. (I had not looked into that.) I find your suggestion of putting the same two outfits in charge of presenting the yes and no cases to the jury assembly reasonable, and like you do not see a good alternative.

    The criterion/criteria to make the choice of who would “lead” each side (which was set by Parliament I take it, based on precedents) seems reasonable to me at a quick glance. I’ve no reason to doubt the Electoral Council correctly applied that criterion/criteria, and note the check and balance of judicial review were the decision not reasonable or not correct, which the Council mentions (I did not try to find out the standard of judicial review that would apply), and also the check and balance of being lambasted in the media and Parliament were it not clear it was correct or at least reasonable. Once Parliament decided the criterion/criteria, the choice of which contender would lead each side was possibly a straight forward technical matter with no real room for reasonable disagreement, and at least based on what the Council says it seems the choice that was called for was clear (which could be biased as of course they would say or suggest that, but of course I don’t know). A council of British judges or a jury assembly could I think have made the choice just as well, and presumably would have reached the same conclusion. (Arguably, he Electoral Council has more relevant expertise and also the decision was strictly a technical one, and therefore not requiring the democracy of a jury assembly.)

    We agree it would have been better for the Brexit decision to have been made by a jury assembly rather than a referendum. We also, I’m guessing, would agree that even if the decision were made by referendum, prior to the referendum vote a jury assembly should have heard the respective cases from the two sides and made a recommendation to the public, with the break-down of the vote being made public, and possibly/preferably being stated on the ballot (maybe you said some of that in your article back before the referendum, I can’t remember).

    I still don’t know how it is proposed that the overseeing board will be chosen for the jury assembly process.

    It could be a three person board, with one member chosen by the said yes outfit, one by the said no outfit, and the third by their mutual agreement (they could be free to choose more than just one further board member by mutual agreement, as long as the total number was an odd number in order to allow decision by majority vote and avoid ties). That would I think serve the purpose of making the overseeing board clearly fair, neutral and valid, with no reasonable person being able to deny it. If the yes and no board members can’t agree on a third board member, then let a jury choose, (based on something like the criterion of finding someone very capable who is very committed to the fairness and integrity of the process).

    Apology of course accepted. And thank you for pointing out how I might be misunderstood.

    (Of course the whole Brexit/referendum game was decided by the Parliamentary majority which is part of the problem that needs to be fixed, but I think that is something of a given on this blog.)

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  21. Hi Simon, glad we agree on all this. I’ll be intrigued to hear Yoram’s response as to why the choice on such a well-defined up/down question is “meaningless”.

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  22. And if the “lead campaigner” for the pro-Bexit side refused to participate in the jury assembly process? Would that in effect veto there being such a process, or should we have an alternative way to proceed in such a case?

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  23. Simon,

    There’s zero chance that any of the pro-Brexit bodies would agree to participate — as Yoram has pointed out they would (rightly) view it as an establishment plot to undermine the majority verdict of the referendum. The opportunity has passed — I originally published my proposal for a sortition-based alternative in the Spectator in June 2013 — but nobody took any notice. Unfortunately the deputy editor Freddy Gray downgraded it from an article to a letter and by the time the article was published on Open Democracy it was too late as the referendum had already been announced.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Second letter in this thread: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/06/letters-285/

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  25. *** Nicholas Gruein writes : « The tragedy of Brexit is that, the way things have been handled so far, whatever Britain does, around half of its population will resent what happens as illegitimate. » I am afraid it would be anyway the case. A thin majority of voters was for « Leave », but it seems that among some ethnic and social minorities the « Remain » vote was much stronger, and maybe for identity reasons. If I trust the information I got in France the vote was different with the same socio-economic status along ethnic lines, between people of immigrant ancestry and others. And the Scottish and Irish separatists seem to have voted Remain ( let’s suppose a reverse of the vote with a thin majority now for « Remain », it could be very possible that this majority for the UK to remain in the European Union would be the result of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland who would wish not to remain in the UK !) The difference between elite and common citizens appears to be strong, and it is possible that at some extant it correspond to identity feelings. London independance movement was a joke, I suppose, but jokes are often revealing.
    *** Dêmokratia supposes that the elitarian phenomenon is at least under control, and that the different ethnic components of the collectivity are, up to a high degree, integrated, « melt » as says Aristotle (Politics, VI, 4,18-4,19 ;1319b). It was in ancient democracies the result of strong reforms like the Cleisthenes’ones deliberately blurring the old lines (even cancelling the official use of ancient family lines !), or the analogous reforms mentioned by Aristotle for the Cyrenean democracy (here were Greek colonists and Berber natives). Integration was likewise the result of of civic life, with informal face to face deliberations in the Agora, common cultural life with tragedies and comedies, and common military service. Contemporary polyarchic systems appear having a low integrating effect, and even rather a dis-integrating effect. Any binary vote with a strong identity component will reveals the low integration.
    *** I think that those who want to plead for sortition should not take as field Brexit, if it is true that, for at least a noticeable part of the voters, it was not choosing between strategical options for the future of the community, but rather expressing conflicting identities.
    *** Should the supporters of a « democracy-through-minipublics » work through progressive introduction of sortition devices ? Maybe. But if they choose this way they should avoid, in any low-integrated society, the subjects with a strong identity side.

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  26. Andre:> I think that those who want to plead for sortition should not take as field Brexit, if it is true that, for at least a noticeable part of the voters, it was not choosing between strategical options for the future of the community, but rather expressing conflicting identities.

    It’s true that identity was a strong element (in David Goodhart’s terminology “somewheres” voted Brexit and “everywheres” voted remain). I voted for Brexit primarily on account of cultural identity, whereas Nicholas (as an economist) would naturally back Remain. But we’re all aware of the trade-off between economics and culture and I don’t see why a deliberative microcosm should not have been able to assess the trade-off in an intelligent manner. But it’s too late now.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Keith,

    Why would someone being an economist mean that they would necessarily weight economic things more highly than cultural things?

    I admit lots do, but it boggles my mind that we simply presume this degree of déformation professionnelle as the French call it.

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  28. Nick,

    Necessity: no; likelihood: yes.

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  29. Thanks Keith,

    I don’t want to come over as too strident here, but I think we regard this kind of thing as odious if it’s applied to certain groups – like men and women, white and black etc. To speak personally, I don’t enjoy people working out a few pigeonholes they can locate me in (in this case economist) and then assuming my views can be deduced by way of generaliation with what they think most ‘people like that’ think.

    Do you see my point?

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  30. Nicholas,

    Just as a note of caution: Based on a few years’ experience with Sutherland’s comments it is obvious that much of his argumentation (if that term can even be applied) is based on forcing people and ideas into pre-set categories (largely collected from various sources of conventional authority).

    You will find that you struggle in vain to disassociate yourself in his mind from certain labels and notions. After posting a note such as the one above, Sutherland may “thank you for the clarification”, but a few comments later you will find yourself pigeon-holed into either the same slot as before or to another slot that bear no resemblance to your opinions and stated positions.

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  31. Nick,

    Apologies for the unwarranted generalisation, however:

    1. Most economists are anti-Brexit
    2. You are an economist
    3. You are anti-Brexit

    Hence my assumption. If this were a forum on the Brexit debate it would be interesting to discuss your own views, but we do generally try to avoid substantive political issues (as opposed to the decision mechanism).

    Sorry I’ve been offline for a few days, I had my viva on Wednesday (successfully) defending my PhD thesis on sortition, which includes a long discussion of the Brexit decision mechanism (and its entailments for popular sovereignty).

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