Daniel Hannan: selection by lot – better than appointment

Daniel Hannan, a writer, journalist, and Conservative MEP, writes in the Telegraph:

Lord Steel now proposes to make the House of Lords wholly appointed. In other words, one of the two legislative chambers would be nominated by the executive. Of all the alternative models – direct election, indirect election, selection by lot, heredity or, indeed, unicameralism – surely appointment is the worst.

At least one of the commenters, “erikbloodaxe”, picks up on the idea of sortition:

I think the Lords should be appointed by lot, from among the general population. Professional politicians (with the odd honourable exception) are completely out of touch. Give them about £100k pa and make them turn up.

To which Hannan replies:

Surely if you wanted it to be genuinely representative, people should carry on earning whatever they were getting before?

41 Responses

  1. That is a problem! If representatives would get paid different amounts for (presumably) the same work, they might feel discriminated – for good reasons. Moreover, it might discourage the lower income representatives from working as many hours as their better paid colleagues.
    I admit equal pay might be problematic for other reasons, and might discourage participation of the best paid. Perhaps one could compensate this by providing immaterial benefits?
    I agree, by the way, that appointing the upper house is not a good option. The Canadian Senate is appointed by the government – and I get the impression very few Canadians are happy about that.

    Paul Lucardie
    Political scientist at a Dutch university


  2. The simplest solution is to make the pay level generous. This would suggest that the numbers should be kept low and that rotation should be frequent, so that if a plutocrat was allotted then they would only undergo an effective pay cut for a short period of time. I’m also assuming that accurate descriptive representation requires that service should in effect be compulsory.

    Agree that appointment is the wrong approach, but not quite as bad as election.


    PS Hannan is the author (with Douglas Carswell) of a book on participative democracy that is quite radical (by Conservative Party standards).


  3. Paul,

    > That is a problem! If representatives would get paid different amounts for (presumably) the same work, they might feel discriminated – for good reasons.

    Yes – Hannan’s argument is facile. It is true that giving the delegates too much money could be a problem – if delegates were rewarded in such a way that they could expect their lives to be very different than those of non-delegates, it would be problematic. Thus a suggestion to provide allotted delegates with a salary for life should be rejected.

    However, granting people decision-making power and asking them to make public policy decisions makes them not “genuinely representative” in a much more dramatic way than changing by their salary by a small factor does. There is, on the other hand, as you point out, a significant risk that having different salaries for different delegates would materially damage the political equality within the allotted chamber. Therefore, on balance, having a fixed, generous but not overly generous, salary, is clearly the better way to go.


  4. Agreed, and the best way to avoid the inevitabiltiy of “going native” is by rapid rotation (short term of service)


  5. > short term of service

    In terms of length of service, there is obviously a tradeoff between understanding and representativity, with life-terms on the one end and voting on the other – the optimum being somewhere in the middle. Expecting informed making decision on complex problems with terms shorter than years is unrealistic, thus if corruption invariably sets in on shorter time scales then all is lost. Fortunately there is no reason to think this is the case.


  6. If the distinction between expertise, advocacy and judgment is properly respected then there’s no reason why a sortive body appointed on an ad hoc basis should not be able to exercise sound political judgment. The problem only arises when allotted chambers are expected to combine all the above functions. It’s also hard to see how an allotted chamber of several hundred would be corruptible if it’s primary task was to deliberate (in the original sense of the term) and then to vote in secret. This being the case, the chief argument for rapid rotation is to ensure ongoing representivity (ie not going native) and to give as many citizens as possible an active stake in the democratic process.


  7. Keith, you never tire of trotting out the same transparently faulty arguments, and never address the obvious problems with your arguments.

    Some thought shows that proposals to limit the power of the allotted representatives (and we have been afflicted with a steady stream of those – e.g., those of Zakaras, Leib, Barnett & Carty and yourself) do not make sense even on their own assumptions – see Limiting the allotted chamber’s powers – a foundational argument.

    Your own argument (“allotted representatives may be corrupt”) is one of the points discussed in the post I link to: “[such an argument] would only be convincing if the allotted chamber is assumed to be more corrupt than the alternative [repository of political power]. But this is hardly the case since representativity (i.e., non-corruption) is the acknowledged strength of the allotted chamber.”


  8. Assuming that by “non-corruption” you mean something like the pursuit of the general interest (as opposed to personal or sectional advantage) then there are two obvious problems with the equation of [descriptive] representativity and non-corruption:

    1) Over time members of an allotted chamber run the risk of institutionalisation (going native) — ie becoming progressively less descriptively representative. Frequent rotation is the best defence against this type of unintentional corruption, something that you rule out as “unrealistic”.

    2) The notion that a representative chamber will be uncorruptible (in the intentional sense) suggests that the population it is drawn from is inherently more virtuous than the political class (Machiavelli’s argument). In the absence of any evidence that the modern equivalent of the grandi and the populi are characterised by different “humors” then the precautionary principle would suggest that we side with Madison and design political institutions on the assumption that men are not angels. Throwing out prudential checks and balances on the assumption that an allotted chamber would equate with non-corruption would be highly unwise.


  9. Keith, while you broke with tradition by managing to limit your name dropping to a single occurrence, you have stuck to your usual pattern of repeating yourself instead of addressing the issue.

    Yes – it is obvious that over time people in special positions become corrupt. The question you consistently avoid is why such corruption is more of a risk for an allotted representative with a term of a few years than for “an expert” or “an advocate” who was specifically selected to begin with due to being unrepresentative and then spends a whole career in a privileged position.


  10. Let me make my position crystal clear:

    Appointed advocates and other experts are easily corrupted. Legal advocates are hired hands and the more money you have the better the advocate you can buy. Juries know this and endeavour (to the best of their ability) to weigh (deliberate) the arguments of the competing advocates before coming to their judgment. Nobody is claiming this is perfect, but the important thing is that the role of advocate and judge-jury is strictly separated. If this works for the law, then why not politics?

    The only questionable assumption that I make (other than the parallel between the trial of people and the trial of legislative proposals — we could debate that some other time) is that a large advocate house would be sufficiently diverse to represent all reasonable shades of opinion — your use of the singular for the word “elite” would suggest you see this as over-optimistic. Perhaps you are right, in which case Mark’s suggestion for an element of sortition in the composition of the advocate house might help:


    My model for avoiding corruption is by strict separation of powers and frequent rotation of legislative judges:

    1) As short a term of service as possible, ideally ad-hoc (case by case).
    2) Allotted members’ role limited to voting and “Fishkinian” deliberation.
    3) Agenda set by general election/referendum.
    4) Independent house of advocates to ensure a wide range of views.
    5) Adversarial-style debate (advocates) followed by secret ballot (jurors)
    5) Appointed executive branch.

    By contrast, your approach appears to be:

    1) Non-corruption defined as [descriptive] representativity.
    2) The “masses” are inherently virtuous.
    2) Anything is better than our current arrangements.

    It behoves the designers of constitutional systems to proceed on the basis of a cautious assessment of human nature (individual and collective) and a non-teleological view of history. That’s why I prefer Madison to Marx, sceptical conservatism to whiggery, and am loath to propose rash experiments without some clear evidence that the model functions reasonably well in some parallel domain. All that remains of sortition in the modern world is the Anglo-American jury system so this should be our starting point for its reintroduction.


  11. > Appointed advocates and other experts are easily corrupted.

    If corruption is not a problem after all, then we have no reason to be worried about long service terms to begin with. If you ever get your arguments in order the discussion may be more fruitful.


  12. Corruption is an endemic problem, that’s why a structural solution is necessary (the separation of the advocate and judgment function). You, however have consistently argued that these two functions should be combined in a “single body of men” (an allotted legislature). All I am doing is pointing out that this solution is particularly prone to corruption, hence the need to keep the term of service as short as possible — something that you have previously dismissed as “unrealistic”.

    In my proposal advocates are expected to act in a partisan way, so it makes little sense to talk of them being corrupt. And given that the prime role of the allotted assembly is to vote in secret it would be very hard to corrupt them. So corruption is not a problem for my proposal, but it is a very serious one for yours.


  13. > You, however have consistently argued that these two functions should be combined in a “single body of men” (an allotted legislature).

    As usual, you prefer arguing against imagined positions instead of paying attention to and addressing substantive issues.

    While I find your arguments in favor of having multiple bodies with differentiated roles pretty weak, I remain mostly neutral on this matter and see it as independent of the matter of sortition vs. other selection methods. “Allotted legislature” does not imply a “single body of men” any more than “elected legislature” does. Like an elected legislature that could be made of a single body or of multiple bodies (with or without differentiated roles), so could an allotted legislature.

    > In my proposal advocates are expected to act in a partisan way […]. So corruption is not a problem for my proposal

    So your system is free of corruption because corruption is embedded into it. Freedom is slavery.


  14. Although you have in the past argued for multiple sortive bodies you have consistently rejected a mixed constitutional settlement, explicitly ruling out election (on account of its elitist nature). You have also argued that executive posts should be filled by sortition, using scare quotes whenever words like expertise are used. Are you now suggesting that this portrayal of your position is “imagined”?

    My proposed system is guarded against corruption by setting different selection principles against each other. This is the standard approach adopted by advocates of a mixed constitution and is in sharp contrast to your proposal to have one sortive body checked by another sortive body. Claiming that an advocate is corrupt is simply a category error.

    I suppose I should be heartened by the fact that you now find this argument “pretty weak”, rather than dismissing it with your usual snort of derision. There is nothing wrong with changing your position, that’s the reason that adults enter into debate with each other, but it’s better to acknowledge this and then move on.


  15. Your first paragraph is mostly accurate (I don’t think I argued for multiple allotted bodies, but I didn’t argue against those either). This makes your last paragraph complete nonsense. Since the first paragraph describes my position as it was and still is, then how can you perceive a change in my position? Your tendency to make elementary errors of logic is on par with your tendency to make ridiculous errors of fact.


  16. So if you rule out election and selection and are agnostic on the principle of multiple sortive bodies, then what is left? (other than “representatitivity= non-corruption”).


  17. > what is left?

    Sorititon-based government. (Single chamber vs. multi-chamber with or without differentiated roles are second order issues as long as all chambers are selected through sortition.)


  18. OK, obviously my arguments pointing out how undemocratic and corruptible that would be have failed to persuade,


  19. Yes – it is difficult to be convinced by self-contradictory arguments.


  20. If corruption is a structural problem, rather than a product of moral turpitude, then it is not self-contradictory to seek a structural solution. Your approach appears to be resolution by definitional fiat (representativity = non-corruption). Would you like to explain to us the logical processes that lead you to define non-corruption in this manner and, more importantly, how you would cash this out in practice?


  21. By definition, government corruption is (as you put it above) the pursuit of personal or sectional advantage as opposed to the general interest.

    Obviously, the public has an interest to minimize government corruption. The question is how to achieve this goal. This may be done in various ways – first and foremost by relying on sortition, but there could be other ways as well. However, embedding corruption into the system by granting certain elite elements a privileged constitutional status (either explicitly, as “advocates”, or implicitly via elections) is obviously the wrong way to go.


  22. That’s only obvious if you dismiss Madisonian arguments (checking ambition with ambition) a priori. I’ve endeavoured to point out that “relying on sortition” won’t work, as a sortive chamber with full powers would — in addition to being fundamentally undemocratic — be uniquely prone to lobbying and other forms of corruption, and this argument has yet to be refuted. In sum, you need to flesh out your “could be other ways” so that they can be subjected to the same critical scrutiny as you give to proposals that seek to limit the role of an allotted chamber.


  23. > this argument has yet to be refuted

    Indeed. It is very difficult to refute that which makes no sense at all.

    I have found, unfortunately, that arguing with you yields very little in terms of increased understanding – either on your side or on mine. If someone else was willing to take on the role of the champion of your arguments, maybe there would be some point in attempting to pick up the discussion. (In the past Harald did attempt to engage you with positions very similar to mine, and, like me, I believe, came up empty handed.)

    > you need to flesh out your “could be other ways”

    I have suggested in the past to institute democratic media – such media could reduce corruption that is due the influence of elite media. Another possibility is having a monitoring allotted body which would follow the lives of past delegates to make sure they do not derive benefits from special interests whom they benefited during their delegation terms.

    Both of those suggestions, by the way, could be implemented even while the government system remains chiefly electoral.


  24. I’m sorry that you find dialogue with me so unhelpful. For my own part I have always benefited greatly from argument and have altered my own position substantially as a consequence. This could mean, of course, that my original position was fundamentally wrong; alternatively it could mean that you are not as open to engaging with viewpoints that are different from your own or which you find distasteful. Nobody else has claimed that my arguments make “no sense”, even when they disagree with them profoundly, and I’m still puzzled as to why you claim that a structural solution to a structural problem is incoherent. Mandeville argued in a not-dissimilar fashion that private vices could be of public benefit — is this also “nonsensical” and “self-contradictory” or do you just find it distasteful? Or, more relevantly, do you argue that it’s equally nonsensical for law courts to seek a truthful verdict via the adversarial joust of well-paid advocates (judged by an allotted jury)? I grant that this may be suboptimal (compared, for example, to the continental tradition of the “impartial” examining magistrate), but I’ve never heard anyone claim that it’s nonsensical, so if that is the case for jurisprudence, why is the principle nonsensical (ie not open to refutation by discursive means) in politics? Forgive my bafflement, but if my argument is “nonsensical”, “self-contradictory” etc then I need to know in what precise respect this is the case so that I can amend it accordingly. Although I don’t have a lot of time for Habermas’s scant regard for democracy I do agree with him about the forceless force of the better argument, but this is of necessity a dialogic process.


  25. A discussion with you yields no results because – it appears to me – you pay very little attention to what people write to you. Instead you ascribe various imaginary positions and arguments to them. You then proceed to bring up quite arbitrary arguments of your own. Those arguments are more of a concatenation of slogans than an attempt to address the points raised by other discussants. (In passing, by the way, you ascribe various imaginary positions to various third-parties.) This naturally yields a nearly meaningless discussion. The discussion above, and specifically your latest comment, exemplify this pattern.

    It is worth noting that I feel I had much more fruitful discussions with Alex Zakaras who holds positions not too dissimilar to your own, so this is not purely a matter of differences in the positions held.


  26. I thought we both spoke the same (English) language, but clearly I was mistaken, as from re-reading my last comment I have no idea what you are referring to. So I guess I’ll have to just follow Wittgenstein’s advice.


  27. > I have no idea what you are referring to

    I can easily believe that. It is a situation in which I frequently find myself when having exchanges with you.


  28. Perhaps Wittgenstein was wrong and there is such a thing as a private language, because I cannot understand what it was about my last substantive comment that you find “incomprehensible”, “arbitrary”, “sloganising” etc. No-one else has ever accused me of these failings, so I am forced to conclude that you have difficulties understanding simple English. But as you are not disposed to enlighten us I will have to pass over it in silence.


  29. I am very much disposed to trying to make myself clear, and I generally consider my attempts to do so as bearing some fruit. In your particular case, however, there have been negligible rewards despite significant effort, making me think that further effort is unjustified.


  30. We shouldn’t forget all those who remain silent, or who leave the forum out of frustration. I haven’t noticed many postings by Alex Zakaras, and would remind Yoram that iGregor left the forum (and opted to correspond with me offline) because his views were met with a torrent of sarcasm. As to why everyone else is silent I cannot say, but can only state how frustrating it is to pose a series of carefully measured questions, only to have them dismissed as self-contradictory and nonsensical. I only keep faith with this forum because sortition is the topic of my PhD and my supervisor knows little about it, but if we want to extend the outreach of the forum then the site administrator might like to look in the mirror and ask himself some searching questions.


  31. May I shift the discussion a bit and ask your opinion on the idea of John Burnheim, to have multiple functional bodies selected by sortition from the users of various services and public agencies, like a school board selected from parents, pupils and teachers, a hospital board selected from patients and health workers etc? I am not sure I would all the way with his anarchist idea that those bodies could coordinate all policies by negotiation and do away with the state altogether, but his ‘demarchy’ does have checks and balances and reduces the problem of (in)competence of allotted representatives.
    I apologize in case I am flogging a dead horse here, as I am new to the forum.

    Paul Lucardie


  32. As usual, Keith, you not only make claims that are at best baseless and often false outright, but you make no sense even on your own assumptions.

    Again, having spent significant effort in the past trying to reason with you with nothing to show for it, I have given up. Again, I would be willing to try again if there is any indication that your arguments are appealing to someone other than yourself.


  33. Paul,

    We have had discussions relevant to your point before. A year and a half ago I had an exchange here with Burnheim himself on this topic. See the comments here. I don’t consider this a dead horse, however, and would be interested in any comments you have.


  34. Given the connection between sortition and deliberative democracy, this thread provides good evidence that the latter simply doesn’t work. There are two principles that are sacrosanct to deliberative theorists:

    1) No position — especially one adhered to by a minority — should be subject to derision, ridicule, sarcasm or other forms of rhetorical attack.

    2) All arguments should be judged on their discursive merit. Dismissing an argument as “self-conradictory”, “baseless” and “false”, without providing supportive evidence or counter-argument is rhetoric, not deliberation.

    If we can’t even adhere to the rules of deliberation in a small community of like-minded folk, then what hope is there for deliberation in an allotted chamber, especially when one of the prime culprits is an office holder in the forum?

    So let me repeat my earlier questions, this time in hope of a discursive response, rather than a rhetorical attack:

    >>I’m still puzzled as to why you claim that a structural solution to a structural problem is incoherent. Mandeville argued in a not-dissimilar fashion that private vices could be of public benefit — is this also “nonsensical” and “self-contradictory” or do you just find it distasteful? Or, more relevantly, do you argue that it’s equally nonsensical for law courts to seek a truthful verdict via the adversarial joust of well-paid advocates (judged by an allotted jury)? I grant that this may be suboptimal (compared, for example, to the continental tradition of the “impartial” examining magistrate), but I’ve never heard anyone claim that it’s nonsensical, so if that is the case for jurisprudence, why is the principle nonsensical (ie not open to refutation by discursive means) in politics?


  35. Hi Yoram,

    Sorry for not reacting sooner, I am very grateful for the link you provided and learned a lot from your dialogue with John Burnheim. Pity he did not seem willing or able to continue after January 23rd.
    If I am not mistaken, he seems to move away a bit from the anarchism of his book and accept some kind of state, though not in a very clear and consistent way. I agree with your critique of his suggestion that higher-level bodies should be nominated by lower-level (allotted) bodies, that would be very inconsistent.
    What I like about his ‘demarchism’ is the pluralism of functional allotted bodies, and above all the strategic aspect.
    As sortition is alien to our ‘western’ tradition and of course dangerous for our political elite, any attempt to introduce it at the national level will obviously meet with fierce resistance from opinion leaders, politicians and journalists. One way to reduce the resistance might be the proposal for a mixed regime, like an allotted upper house combined with an elected lower house, or the other way around; but I am a bit skeptical about this hybrid construction (so are you, I understand). Burnheims proposal to start at the local level, with functional bodies, might be a better move to get people acquainted with sortition in daily life, and to socialize them into it. If it works well at the local level, people might accept it at higher levels, too, and political elites might be less successful in discrediting it as utopian nonsense.
    Is this also somehing you have discussed earlier here?



  36. Hi Paul,

    I actually think that an arrangement with one elected chamber and one allotted chamber is a sensible step toward a sortition-only based system (being willing, of course, to reconsider the transition in case our hopes regarding allotted chambers are called into question by developments during the hybrid phase). I also support the application of sortition at the province level.

    What I think is important to avoid is creating allotted bodies with very limited authority (having a very narrow field of authority and/or having a very local jurisdiction). Serving on such a body would probably be seen by the average citizen as no more than a burden. As a result, people would put little effort and care into their work and the bodies would come to be very ineffective or dominated by busybodies or special interests. In a sense, we would be back in an election-like state with all the attendant problems. This state of affairs would provide ammunition for the elites against expanding the use of sortition. Thus, far from being a strategic move toward a sortition-based government, it would be a dead-end that would (unfairly) discredit the entire idea.

    It is also important that public attention and material resources are concentrated around the allotted bodies. This requirement implies, again, that the power wielded by the bodies must be sufficiently high.

    A discussion related to this issue is in the post and comments here: Sortition, Democracy, and the Lords Again.


  37. Agreed. I’m inclined to view that the American model of local democracy (where you vote directly for the school superintendent, the rat-catcher and the associated budget) works best, although it’s anathema to state socialists on account of the inequalities between different localities. When Vernon Bogdanor reviewed my book in TLS he argued for sortition at the local level and I think this was just an attempt to kick it into the long grass. By contrast Bogdanor was more sympathetic in his review of John Burnheim’s book, which could be (mis)understood as an appeal for localism.


  38. Yoram and Keith,

    I find myself somewhere between the two of you on the powers exercised by to sortition boides. I can sympathize with Keith’s notion that functioning like a jury (passing judgment on legislation), but with secret votes and no give and take internal advocacy maximizes protection from corruption. A concern that I have, is that we would then lose the benefits of give and take deliberation (finding win-win opportunities). Leaving the development of legislation to an elected chamber would sharply restrict proposals making it to the sortition chamber (in both a good, but especially bad way). Also, the continuation of partisan animosity in the elected chamber would certainly spill into broader society (through radio talk shows, etc.) and thus infect the sortition chamber…Some members selected by lot would feel their highest duty was to help make their favored party look good for the next election cycle, etc. this is a different kind of corruption than some might think of, because it is universal in our current system, but it is corrupting none the less. Perhaps a synthesis of the Gat/Sutherland divide would work like this…

    The ultimate decider on legislation is a Sutherland-style sorition body with no advocates. Another sorititon chamber would engage in full deliberation with advocacy (recognizing that corrupting influence will be largely weeded out by the second chamber. The raw material for the advocacy sorititon chamber can come from any group in society. Thus “experts” from anywhere in society can work to draft great ideas (pooling their ideas to make the strongest proposal in hopes that it will advance), that will be filtered through a first sortition chamber of people who debate, to narrow down to final proposals for consideration by a rapidly rotated jury body. My goal is to avoid any elective process, which prompts tribal us/them mind sets.

    Terry Bouricius
    p.s. I obviously have missed lots of Yoram vs. Keith discussion in the past that has brought the disdain to its current level…But it appears to me that Yoram, you devote too many posts to re-stating that Keith is “trotting out the same transparently faulty arguments,” in your opinion. Better to just respond to the points that he makes that you DO understand, than repeatedly accuse him of nonsense. I have been part of other Internet discussion groups that suffer from this same tendency.


  39. Terry,

    As I have explained, I feel I have put a significant amount of effort into discussing issues with Keith, with nothing to show for it (on my side or his). Keith insisting that I have to put more effort into this futile endeavor is presumptuous, I think.

    However, the fact that you are willing to support some of his ideas provides a new opportunity for useful discussion as far as I am concerned. I would be very happy to pursue this opportunity by responding to your comment above soon.

    By the way, if you are interested in that missing background for the corrosion, have a look at some of our past discussion threads, e.g. – here.


  40. Terry,

    I have now read your comment more fully and I see that your proposed synthesis is in fact perfectly compatible with my position. My position is exactly (as you put it) “to avoid any elective process”. I have no strong position on the matter of multiple bodies with or without differentiated functions. (I can see arguments for and against such arrangements, and the details would matter greatly.)

    [ Let me add parenthetically that I have explained this position to Keith many times – see, just in this thread, my comment time-stamped June 13, 10:25pm:

    While I find your arguments in favor of having multiple bodies with differentiated roles pretty weak, I remain mostly neutral on this matter and see it as independent of the matter of sortition vs. other selection methods. “Allotted legislature” does not imply a “single body of men” any more than “elected legislature” does. Like an elected legislature that could be made of a single body or of multiple bodies (with or without differentiated roles), so could an allotted legislature.

    The fact that Keith kept pretending that the disagreement between us is about matters such as the partition of authority between bodies rather than about the basic issue of the use of elections (or co-optation) is one of the reasons that I find discussion with him to be completely useless. ]

    The most important point on which I disagree with you is the reason for avoiding elections. I don’t think that the problem with elections is that they create partisanship, but in fact quite the opposite. The problem is that elections produce an oligarchical governmental system in which the major parties all pursue essentially the same elitist policies – with some minor differences that are blown out of proportion into a theater of politics. Naturally, the elite policy consensus serves the elite interests – at the expense of the large majority of the population.


  41. Terry, many thanks for seeking a resolution of this dispute. Could I first clarify my own position: at no time have I argued for a bicameral solution (an elected and an allotted chamber). I’ve always argued for a single chamber, with a *functional* separation between the advocacy and judgment function, as in the law courts. The only issue is who gets to originate legislative proposals and argue for and against them. My first book, The Party’s Over, argued that this should be restricted to government ministers (as was Mill and Rousseau’s views) and independent advocates. But this proposal was (rightly) criticised as undemocratic, so the second book, A People’s Parliament, argued (reluctantly) that the party/ies that won the election should have the right to introduce manifesto commitments. This concession to partisan shenanigans involved me affixing a clothes-peg to my nose.

    An alternative, however, would be to follow an initiative model rather than elections for political parties. Anybody (or any group, either special interest or general partisan) could propose a law and those that exceeded a threshold of online signatures would go on the ballot paper for the next election. The items on the ticket that received the most votes would then become legislative proposals for consideration by an allotted chamber.

    The problem with your compromise suggestion is that the initial proposers will be self-selecting and the first allotted chamber would continue to have an active role. As such it would be very easily corrupted (by pressure groups etc) and the members with the most persuasive force would dominate the proceedings. Deliberative theorists have no problem with that, but democrats do. John Burnheim was kind enough to acknowledge that he is not a democrat, and I think anyone else who is making this sort of proposal needs to be just as honest. The other alternative is to refute Pitkin’s argument regarding the limits of descriptive representation — several have (unsuccessfully) attempted that on this forum. I don’t honestly see any other way out of this conundrum.

    Although partisan ignorance is distasteful, it’s an inevitable part of the democratic process; better to recognise this and seek to constrain it by rational debate, rather than to seek to abolish it. That’s the solution the Athenians opted for, and I think we should follow their example.


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