Jeremy Clarkson calls for sortition in the House of Lords

And Your Premium Bond Prize is . . . A Seat in the Lords

In his column in the current issue of the Sunday Times, Jeremy Clarkson argues the case for appointing members of the Lords by sortition. Although the piece is written in Clarkson’s customary jocular style, it’s a serious response to Nick Clegg’s proposal for an elected house. Clarkson argues that this will attract ‘the sort of people who you’ll find in any large organisation, the sort who go to a lot of meetings and when there they eat all the biscuits . . . they go on marches but half the time they have no idea what they’re marching for.’ Clarkson refers to these political types as ‘Colins’:

Suffice to say, I have a better idea. It goes like this. Instead of filling a House of Colins with a bunch of biscuit-eating nonentities, who left to their own devices would struggle to wire a plug, we use the computer that’s used to pick premium bond winners to select eight people at random each week from the electoral list. Of course, it would be a nuisance for them to take a week off work . . . but all that will be asked of them is that they have a quick look over the bills being discussed in the House of Commons . . .

Seriously. Who would you rather have doing the job: [hereditary peers] or your mate Jim from the builder’s yard? Quite. We trust randomly selected juries on the important business of a person’s liberty, so why wouldn’t we trust a similar system to apply the checks and balances in government? . . . Certainly I’d rather have a government’s ideas checked by a small, cheap group of ordinary people than by 450 expensive Colins.

Unfortunately the article itself is pay to view.

3 Responses

  1. Any publicity is good publicity. It will start to get the idea of random choice into the public’s mind.


  2. Seems like an invitation for the Commons to keep tweaking their bills until they get a sympathetic sample at the Lords.

    Also, the problem with the elected is not incompetence, it is unrepresentativity.


  3. Yes, eight is clearly far too small a sample to achieve representative accuracy (and could be easily corrupted), but if the sample were large enough then all bills would need to be prepared in such a way as to meet the approval of a representative sample of the whole electorate. Given that bills would be introduced by the political party that had gained most votes at the election, the resulting system would be a lot more democratic than anything else currently available. It would also be harder for the Commons to overrule the Lords’ veto than at present, as a descriptively-representative chamber would have a stronger claim to legitimacy than the current upper house.

    Clarkson’s complaint about competence is addressed at closed-party-list PR, in which the electorate has no opportunity to assess the personal qualities of their constituency representatives.


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