A groundswell for sortition at the Guardian

Polly Toynbee wrote an article in the Guardian about House of Lords reform.

The comments thread had quite a few people suggesting to appoint House of Lords members by sortition, such as:



scrap the current lot of decrepit aristos, religious creme de la creme & former politicians bribed to give up their seats for ‘new blood’ and have lords lotto with the people of this nation like we do with jury service.

it can’t possibly be any worse than what we have now & who knows, with ‘token’ interest taken out of the equation they might actually get things done.

stranger things have happened.


I’ll post this again, I think it’s gathering momentum:

First, get rid of all of those who are in the present HoL. We need to start again!

A new second house should be selected in the same way a Jury is selected – directly from the public.

The number could be 500.

Each person would be selected at random in the same way as a jury is.

If you are within the age group and have a clean criminal record you would be eligible.

This would provide the second chamber with a true cross section of the British public – who are not in hock to the lobbyists.

Age, gender, sexual orientation, colour, religious belief and political allegiance would be automatically represented with this system. This second chamber would not be the ‘political class’ who have let us down so badly in the past. Rather, they will be ‘in touch’ with the people and have diverse experience and opinion.

Pay them the going rate the Lords are receiving at the moment. Have them in post for 5 years. If a person does not want to be considered for the position then let them have an opt out. There will always be a pool of people to select at random to replace those that wish to leave.

I know there is a lot of experience and wisdom within the present HoL. So rather than dispense with these useful people. Allow them to form unpaid select advisory committees to be called on by the second chamber if required.

As with the the House of Commons a full civil service advisory service will also be available to the second chamber for technical and legal advice.


Here’s a better plan. Appoint the second chamber in the same way as a jury is appointed, so every citizen in the country COULD be one of those chosen. And stringent rules, just like jurors have.

Now that WOULD test the supremacy of the Commons! Bring it on!

The day after, the letters section had two letters advocating sortition:

Polly Toynbee is right to be concerned about repesentation in the House of Lords. The only fair way to choose members would be by random selection from the electorate in the same way as we establish a jury. This would encourage envolvement and avoid cronyism. The term of office could be one year, with one quarter retiring every three months. Politicians and the civil service could plead cases and members be allowed to attend and vote via the internet. Payment would be by attendance.

If citizens can be trusted to decide in serious court cases, then why not the House of Lords?

Christopher Bocci

Lords reform offers a once in a generation opportunity to reinvigorate and democratise British political life – but only if we get beyond election and appointment as means of selection (Boost for Clegg as 69% of voters favour Lords reform, 23 April). At a stroke, sortition – selection by lot – would achieve Andrew Adonis’s and Paul Tyler’s objectives (Status quo is not an option, Comment, 23 April) of making the second chamber more representative (in the same way a jury is representative) and cheaper to run (I’m sure most of us would accept a fraction of the daily £300 peers currently get for attendance).

The bonuses of sortition would be increased democratic legitimacy (decisions made by the people) and an enlivened political culture (imagine the national excitement at the rolling annual lot-drawing). If sortition was good enough for the ancient Greeks, who invented democracy, why not for us?

Prof Andrew Dobson
Keele, Staffordshire

2 Responses

  1. Another letter advocating sortition for the house of lords, this time at The Independent:

    Reform of the House of Lords

    Elected House of Lords? Soft billet for failing MPs, more like; no wonder they like the idea – especially the bit where they only have to turn up one day in three to hang on to the job. A random selection of the adult population would be best. That really would hold MPs to account.

    Clive Evans

    Bromsgrove, Worcestershire


  2. […] Ètienne Chouard (and here, here, and here), Lawrence Lessig, David Chaum, Jacques Rancière, Clive Aslet, Jim Gilliam, Loïc Blondiaux, and Andrew Dobson and other readers of the Guardian. […]


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