It damages society if we keep on calling our politicians cheats and liars

Matthew Syed’s column in the current Sunday Times is a valuable corrective to the widespread cynicism over elected politicians expressed on this blog.

A story caught my eye last week about Priti Patel, the embattled home secretary. It involved Shirley Cochrane, a woman from Essex who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 but who felt abandoned by the NHS during the pandemic. She had been seeing cancer specialists every six months but was told last spring to “self-manage” at just the time she thought she felt another lump.

Unable to get through to specialists or generic phone numbers, Cochrane contacted her local MP — Patel — in a state of desperation. “She managed to secure for me a telephone appointment, and that was followed by the mammogram, and thankfully that was OK,” Cochrane told the Commons health select committee. She sounded more than a little grateful.

I mention this because I can’t help noticing how often Patel is demonised in our political culture. Every time I see her on TV, I brace myself for the vitriol, the ad hominem attacks, the questioning of her motives and intellect, a tsunami of nastiness that shames those who indulge in it. This isn’t just limited to social media. You see it in commentary, radio phone-ins and the “most liked” comments on newspaper websites.

This isn’t just about Patel, though. It seems to me that this is part of a more pervasive rush to see the worst in our political representatives. Sure, MPs sometimes bring criticism on themselves, but how often do we acknowledge the other side of the ledger: the dutiful constituency work, the civic-mindedness, the reports of select committees that few notice but that, through the slow accretion we call social evolution, improve countless lives?

You may say: it’s their job. You may say that they have staff to help them. And this is quite true. But when we look only for the bad in MPs, when we impugn their motives, will it not discourage talented newcomers from entering the fray? And will it not, over time, undermine faith in our system of government? Just look at the way political leaders are dismissed with a careless wave of the hand and a spiteful aside. Tony Blair? The butcher who took us into Iraq. Gordon Brown? The sucker who sold gold on the cheap. George W Bush? The president with the IQ of a chimp.

When do we mention, still less praise, the progressive work of these democratic leaders? Bush, for example, led the President’s Malaria Initiative, which brought nets and medication to desperate communities, saving millions of lives. Blair used his brand of diplomacy to see through the Northern Ireland peace process (initiated by another oft-ridiculed prime minister, John Major). Brown made interventions during the drama of the credit crunch to huge and lasting effect.

Or take Theresa May, often dismissed as the clown who messed up Brexit. Yet she is also the woman who, through sheer moral clarity, introduced laws to clamp down on the iniquities of modern slavery. Today the results are clear: “a considerable increase in tackling offences at every stage since the law was introduced”, according to the BBC’s fact-checking service. There have been more prosecutions, more convictions and hundreds of lives saved from sexual subjugation.

I could go on, because these examples reveal the nobility of many who place their heads above the democratic parapet. Just last week I read parliamentary reports on health and crime, neither of which will appear in many news headlines or the tedious columns of those who peddle sarcasm from the sidelines. A recent report on business regulation by George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, seeks to boost economic growth, something that would benefit us all.

At the height of the junior doctors’ strike, I was asked by Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary, for advice on patient safety, a subject in which I have long taken an interest. Up in his office on Whitehall, as we debated life-saving reforms with civil servants, I could hear “F*** Jeremy Hunt” wafting up from protesters outside. Afterwards I asked them why they were being so vitriolic. One explained that Hunt’s agenda was to weaken the NHS (this is the health secretary who secured its largest funding increase yet). Another said his reforms were designed to kill vulnerable patients. These comments, let me emphasise, were not rants on social media; they came from young doctors so infected with the toxicity of politics that it wasn’t enough to merely disagree with Hunt. No, he had to be a murderer.

With Patel the attacks have become so abusive, they border on the surreal. Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of postcolonial studies at Cambridge University, has suggested that Patel is a product of “cultural eugenics”. Steve Bell of The Guardian has drawn cartoons infused with what, to many, looks like racism. Even Andrew Marr cautioned her against smirking during an interview. She wasn’t smirking at all. I disagree with Patel on many things, by the way, not least immigration. But it is not the content of the criticism that troubles me; it’s the hysterical tone.

The same is true of the pandemic. Last week I looked at comments on The Times’s website in early 2020. Boris Johnson was condemned as a “eugenicist” for not locking down sooner, despite following the guidance of his scientific advisers to the letter. Later, when he became more hawkish, he was condemned in even more vitriolic terms. To many it was “blindingly obvious” that Sweden was doing it right, or Germany or New Zealand. What these armchair Abraham Lincolns didn’t note is that if mature nations had different policies, the strategy was far from “blindingly obvious”.

We desperately need to change this tone, for it is not merely poisoning the political system; it is infantilising the electorate. It causes us to reduce difficult political trade-offs to lazy character attacks; nuances to parodies.

At the very least, the next time you feel moved to suggest that all politicians are fools and charlatans, perhaps reflect that it was us who put them there. If there is idiocy in the system, therefore, we should look in the mirror.

43 Responses

  1. <>
    Not much choice allowed in the current institutional – electoral system and politicians know this

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  2. I’m sure Rodrigo Duterte is helpful to his constituents sometimes, too.

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  3. Indeed.

    We, the public, are a bunch of spoiled brats who are ungrateful for all the good things bestowed upon us by our benevolent rulers who are exerting themselves day and night for our benefit and for the benefit of mankind. Thank goodness we have the columnists of The Sunday Times to set us straight (and thank goodness for Sutherland’s selfless efforts in bringing those pearls of wisdom to us from beyond the Times‘ paywall). We should all go back to our jobs and obediently take orders from our bosses rather than keep making our infantile and lazy raucous.

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  4. At the very least, the next time you feel moved to suggest that all politicians are fools and charlatans, perhaps reflect that it was us who put them there. If there is idiocy in the system, therefore, we should look in the mirror.

    This has it exactly backwards: if the problem is in the system, then there is nothing “we” can do about it within the system. The charlatans in power reflect the electoralist system, not the electorate.

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  5. I don’t want to pile on Keith, but these exact same arguments could be made about the Taliban. Or hardcore, sieg-heiling neo-Nazis in Europe, who hold blood drives and soup kitchens. It’s simple: you cherry-pick some nice or admirable things that they do, laud them for them, and don’t look too closely at the details of their ideology or the way they act when doing the right thing would go *against* their interests.

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  6. Hi George (anonymous), good to hear from you, sorry we didn’t meet up when I was in Belfast. I think we all agree that choice is constrained by structural factors. My concern (which I share with Syed) is the lazy assumption that all politicians are interested in is feathering their own nest (as witnessed by Yoram’s sarcastic response).

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  7. To the best of my knowledge Priti Patel has never been accused of nest-feathering, and I have no reason to suspect she would engage in that. The (extremely reasonable) accusations that have been levelled against her, and which Syed wishes to discredit, are that she’s a sadistic, bullying authoritarian bent on victimising immigrants on the basis of a twisted, vindictive sense of retributive ‘morality’. So I think we can agree that politicians have a variety of interests.

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  8. Yoram, I don’t exactly go out of the way to agree with Keith, but your response illustrates the problem. The options are not 1) politicians are saints working tirelessly day and night for the public good or 2) politicians are pure evil who work tirelessly day and night to reinforce capitalism/racism/patriarchy/whatever. That’s just a false choice. Critics of electoral politics quite rightly point to the way it can, under the right circumstances, lead to polarization, oversimplification of the alternatives, and demonization of the opposition. Let’s not make the same mistakes ourselves, shall we?

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  9. Peter,

    The options are not 1) politicians are saints working tirelessly day and night for the public good or 2) politicians are pure evil who work tirelessly day and night to reinforce capitalism/racism/patriarchy/whatever.

    So are you really implying – together with the Syeds and Sutherlands of this world – that the voters are too stupid to understand this banal truism?

    The obvious point is that this truism is completely irrelevant. People are not angry because they are disappointed that elected politicians are not comic-book superheros, or because they believe that elected politicians are comic-book villains. They are angry because they have some basic expectations that have been denied over and over for the last 4 or 5 decades. They see the ruling class’s self-serving deceit and they are unwilling to take it anymore. If they occasionally engage in a bit of over-the-top vitriol, this is no more than a minor side effect of the very real and very painful long-running systemic failures.

    Condescendingly explaining that we should remain civil and nuanced so that all of us can be happier and so we don’t hurt those poor hard-working people in power is useless and silly. It also ignores the obvious role the electoralist system itself plays in all of this. It is pretentious nonsense. It is exactly the kind of rhetoric that justifies that anger that people have against the system and the establishment it serves.

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  10. Yoram,

    How do you explain the motivation of elected officials who are independently wealthy but not pathological narcissists (like Trump)? UK examples that come to mind are Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt.

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  11. >They are angry because they have some basic expectations that have been denied over and over for the last 4 or 5 decades.

    Presumably this is a criticism of neoliberal economics. Given that the state (at least in the US and UK) is now playing a far larger role does this mean that popular anger is set to reduce?

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  12. The sortition movement is a reform movement, so I see this issue in terms of the roles people want to play in such a movement. I see five profiles that map onto the language used about politics.

    The first profile is those who feel most comfortable when close to power. They dont want to think of current politicians badly and are thus offended by those displaying their disgust so visibly. This is probably a large part of the whole population, but is not naturally reform-oriented (and if so, only very slightly, such as by begging current politicians for a few scraps off their table).

    Then you have those who do want substantial reform but either want or feel they need to work with the political leaders in charge, because that is how something might get done before they die. For them, there is no choice but to keep an attitude of ‘presumption of good intentions’ (=politeness) towards current politicians, whatever they privately think. People like that are hampered in their efforts by others in the sortition movement (or elsewhere) that belittle the people they are trying to work with. I presume this profile fits Keith.

    Then you have those, like me and probably Yoram, who very much see the current political system as the main problem: an implacable enemy that is now so damaging to the population that politeness becomes appeasement. They turn to sortition as a source of ideas and institutions to replace current politicians or part of their influence. They not only can talk disparagingly about current politicians, but need to do so in order to signal their thoughts to others who have come to the same conclusion. Moreover, being disparaging about current politicians is a form of deliberately burning their drawbridges behind them, showing they are serious that they dont see much hope in coopting the current politicians. That logic certainly holds for me in the current times (I used to be more circumspect when I still had some hope in current politicians, and I still adopt an issue-by-issue attitude).

    Then you have those who shout obscenities at everything in order to get attention or vent their anger, not thinking of any longer game. I can understand them too and I have more sympathy for them now that I have decided current politics is a huge part of the problem. Some blind anger is quite understandable and useful IMO.

    Finally, there are thus who have only recently lost their faith in current politicians and are looking around to understand what might be going on and where they see hope. They are cynics for a reason. In my opinion, they probably are cynics for extremely good reasons.

    Considering these five profiles and what Keith asks, it is clear that the deeper issue is whether there is realistic hope in the current top politicians. I have none but I can imagine Keith either does have hope in them or that he has even less hope in the alternative of principled opposition. Can you explain that hope, Keith? I would actually like some.

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  13. Paul,

    I don’t fit into profile 2 of your taxonomy (pragmatism), as I’m a political theorist. To my mind democratic politics in large states requires representation and this (inevitably) takes two forms — active and descriptive — both of which are required in order to ensure that the people have power. The problem at hand is structural — how to design a system that will deliver both forms of representation, a model that Alex and myself have presented at length here and elsewhere. I agree with Syed that character assassination and the thesis that (sinister) interests are the only thing that count is unhelpful (pragmatically) and epistemically wrong — most people would like to do the right thing but are constrained by a number of factors, most of which are beyond their control.

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  14. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the taxonomy. I do indeed see myself in the same category that you see yourself in. I am not connected enough to have any bridges to burn. For me being forthright about elected politicians and the electoralist system is first and foremost a matter of principle – being honest and intellectually consistent and transparent – rather than a matter of consequences.

    At some level, of course, I do hope that doing the right thing will also lead to good consequences in the sense of promoting the cause of democracy. I hope that people will find the arguments I present to be convincing and liberating intellectually and that they will be mobilized accordingly.

    As for having hope in the current top politicians: To have such hope, it seems one must have a very different – and much more positive – view of the existing system than I (we?) do. In such a case, it is hard to see why a fundamental reform would be needed to begin with. This is one reason that I suspect that there is not much difference between your first two categories. The supposed reformers of the second category are in fact, it seems, not that upset with the status quo and their proposed reforms cannot consistently be aimed at changing things fundamentally. Their politeness towards those in power cannot therefore be completely a charade but to a large extent reflects sincere appreciation.

    (The only alternative, it seems to me, is that “the polite reformers” secretly not only hate elected politicians but also think so poorly of them that they believe they can fool the politicians into acting against their own interests.)

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  15. Keith,

    you say that those engaging in character assassination of politicians are “epistemically wrong”. You say this independent of how bad those politicians are (believed to be) behaving. You are thus not even engaging with the question of how reform actually happens and how movements self-organise and grow. If they engage in character assassination they are “epistemically wrong” anyway because the schemata you have in your head on the political theory side of this issue tells you they are wrong? Wow. The Nuremberg trials involving both character and actual assassination of particular politicians were thus “epistemically wrong” too? The ANC organising itself against the Apartheid regime and its ‘particular democracy’ with slogans that were highly derogatory of regime politicians were thus also “epistemically wrong”?

    What can I say? I think the most honest thing to say is that you dodged my question.

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  16. Yoram,

    yes, we are like-minded on the problems with the current situation.

    I do think there are genuine category 2 reformers. I can even think of two sub-types. One is the type that believes reforms needs to start small to prove itself to a large audience, and that current politicians might allow them if asked nicely. You can see them as the ones keeping the hope of real reform alive by having small experiments in the open. Another in this category is the type that believes there is a time and a place for radical reform, meaning they are biding their time. There is a point to that attitude as many radical reforms usually needed someone ‘on the inside’ who could pitch them at the right moment. You might call them ‘sleeping reformers’, often somewhat conservative types who are interested in sortition reform from an historical and intellectual curiosity. They are not innately big reformers, but are not against that idea either (lovers of history invariably often have some interest in large changes), and can be the trusted insiders called upon to instigate radical reforms when political elites feel pressured to actually engage with radical reform. I know quite a few people who are like this in the halls of power. Room is made for them by more radical elements. Horses for courses.

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  17. I stand by my point is that most people who go into democratic politics genuinely believe they can change things for the better. If you have to resort to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa for examples to refute my claim then it sounds like you agree with me. My own question:

    How do you explain the motivation of elected officials who are independently wealthy but not pathological narcissists (like Trump)? UK examples that come to mind are Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt.

    remains unanswered

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  18. Keith,

    “most people who go into democratic politics genuinely believe they can change things for the better”
    What has that got to do with anything? There are very few humans in any walk of life who do not tell themselves with fervour that they mean well. That is no basis for trusting anyone, let alone for judging that the time is not right for openly being dismissive about current politics. A judgment on current politics needs a view on what they are doing, not their intentions or their self-image.

    So you are basically again dodging the question: why do you trust the current bunch and do you think we should have hope of reforms coming about by being polite to them?

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  19. Because I don’t believe that elected politicians are just pursuing their own interests (either consciously or unconsciously), and judging what they are doing is what voters are supposed to do at election time. I would agree with George Tridimas that choices are limited by our current democratic mechanisms and that’s why I’m at one with the theme of this blog.

    What is at issue is what structural changes are necessary — Alex and I arguing the need to increase the choices available (via the Superminority Principle) and leaving the final decision to a large jury selected by lot. This being the case it doesn’t serve our cause to call politicians cheats and liars.

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  20. Keith,

    let me summarise your arguments.
    1. You started by saying that the rest of us needed correcting for calling politicians cheats and liars.
    2. Your first reaction to the question ‘what hope do you see in polite engagement with the current bunch’ was to presume we all share the same highly particular political theory lens via which saying unpleasant things about politicians (whether factually true or not) is “epistemically wrong”.
    3. Your second reaction to the same question, reminded that there is more to sortition than your political theory, was to say politicians think they mean well.
    4. Your third reaction to the same question, reminded of the fact that nearly everyone thinks they mean well, is that you believe the politicians mean well. Additionally, because of the particular reform you (and Alex) have in mind (superminorities) you claim that interest is not served by abondoning politeness (though you dont explain why that would hold).

    So the fact that the rest has other political theories, other group-building tasks, and other politician-related grievances is irrelevant according to you. We must be polite towards those we sincerely hold to be the implacable problem because that fits your politics, your intuition about politicians, and your reform agenda.

    You have answered my question.

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  21. >those we sincerely hold to be the implacable problem

    Therein lies our disagreement. Your approach (which you share with revolutionaries of all shades and hues) is get rid of the self-serving grandi and then the inherent virtue of the popolo will flourish. This approach, which is at least as old as Machiavelli, should have been laid to rest by the meddling of neoconservative idealists in Iraq and Libya. Nobody (either individual or as a class) is an “implacable problem”, we just need to make the necessary reforms to our democratic institutions to ensure broad choice and popular sovereignty, rather than blowing it all up and starting from ground zero. As the problem is structural, then politeness and hermeneutic charity is appropriate.

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  22. Keith,

    That’s a very hermeneutically uncharitable interpretation of revolutionaries of at least some shades and hues! But that aside, your claim that ‘we just need to make the necessary reforms’ sidesteps the key question Paul asked, which is *how* that is to be done, and whether it is to be done with the assistance of existing political elites or against their resistance. Would it be correct to presume that, as a conservative, you lean towards the first option?

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  23. Yes indeed, and all the evidence from the reception for recent experiments with citizens’ assemblies would suggest that we would be pushing at an open door.

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  24. We can but hope! But I suspect the key difference between citizens’ assemblies and your and Alex’s proposal is that citizens’ assemblies don’t threaten the power of the ruling parties, and that this will make all the difference. I doubt the Tories, for instance, are going to jump at the chance of having to compete with (equivalents to) the Lib Dems, the Labour right, the socialist left, and the other half of the Tories on a policy-by-policy basis before a jury, when they can tell three of those four groups to shove it and continue to hold more or less untrammelled power through the present system.

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  25. Politicians in various electoral governments come in all sorts. Some are purely corrupt and self-serving and know it, some are self-serving but in denial to maintain a feeling of being a “good” person, some are on a mission, seeking to improve society, but MOST simply seek and then enjoy the heightened personal status of being an important person, and are completely flexible about how they behave in office.

    Attacking all politicians as bad or self-serving is counter-productive simply because many people know of a politician or two they like and trust. Thus, the attack feels erroneous, and lacking in factual analysis. The point to be made is not that those PEOPLE are bad, but rather that the partisan electoral system they are working in both allows, or often even forces, bad behavior or bad decision-making.

    I recall when I was first elected to the state legislature I was astonished to find out that most other members had no particular things they were trying to accomplish. They had no agenda at all. They simply enjoyed the status and the social and intellectual aspects of being an important “decision-maker.” They weren’t necessarily “corrupt,” but they were also not interested in having the people rule.

    Rather than attacking politicians, perhaps it would be better to attack partisanship and short-sighted policy-making enforced by campaign imperatives generated by the need to appeal to voters with almost no knowledge of policy repercussions, etc. In some cases politicians are captive of an uninformed electorate. They feel they dare not do what they think is best, for they will lose the next election. Thus the politicians can also be VICTIMS of the horrible electoral system.

    We have seen in many places in Europe and Australia that some politicians are willing to embrace sortition that is ONLY advisory (and presents no threat to their power). However, this is probably still useful for the movement, as people need to see many examples of ordinary people, selected by democratic lottery, making good decisions, before they will entertain more far-reaching transformation. The King of France invoked elections of delegates to the Estates-General, never imagining how things would play out (including his execution). Those in power can set processes in motion that they lose the ability to control.

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  26. Given that Terry is the only one of us with “lived experience” in this area I’m happy to defer to his judgment, especially if it means an end to the ad hominem attacks on elected officials and their supporters (like Syed and myself). And I agree that voter ignorance is a serious constraint on policy making. As to whether elected officials who endorse sortition initiates will be signing their own death warrant we’ll just have to wait and see — in my view elected policy proposers will always have a vital role to play in democratic politics. There is really no other way of enforcing Dahl’s requirement that the people (rather than “people”) have exclusive control of the agenda setting process. I know this is counter-intuitive from a sortition perspective, but we’ve been over the arguments many times before.

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  27. The one thing I would say is missing from Terry’s picture of things as they stand is the role of the media in the electoral feedback loop. Put crudely, the media condenses politicians’ actions into headlines, which inform the bulk of public opinion, which constrains politicians’ actions. The media is therefore extremely powerful in policy terms in an electoral democracy, whereas in a sortitional democracy or a hybrid system along Keith and Alex’s lines, they exert just as much influence over public opinion, but their power is not over individual policies but the legitimation of the system as a whole. That means that ownership, funding, and control of the media is a crucial problem for us, because a media system in prolonged opposition to the policy direction of the state will delegitimise its system of government. The obvious analogy is with non-white voting rights in the US, where the right wing, led by Fox News and the Sinclair network of broadcasters, is engaged in a project of delegitimising American electoral democracy to their largely white, Christian audience on fairly explicitly racist grounds. This is partly because it’s in the financial interests of their owners to keep taxes low and the political heat off their own backs, but part of it is also that both the owners and the journalists and editors themselves simply like having political influence and resent its being taken away (in the American case, by politicians whose voter base don’t watch or listen to their channels). This is a problem we’re going to come up against, and we need to have solutions ready, ideally before the fact.

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  28. > Put crudely, the media condenses politicians’ actions into headlines, which inform the bulk of public opinion, which constrains politicians’ actions.

    True, but that’s really their job (in a popular democracy) as few citizens have the time and inclination to study the issues in depth (that’s why Downsian ignorance is rational). If the final decisions were taken by large allotted juries, then media would have to take a more considered approach, as headlines and soundbites would be less persuasive. As for the issue of partisanship, my preference is for vouchers, which citizens could award to their preferred newspaper, then media would be strongly motivated to appeal to as broad a base as possible. I think the notion of “impartial” public media is fanciful — that would certainly be true in the eyes of critics of the BBC.

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  29. You’re quite right that that’s their job – my issue is not that they’re doing that, but that the system puts them in a position to. As I see it, in a hybrid-sortitional system of the kind we prefer, the media simply wouldn’t have a huge amount of influence over the verdicts of the juries – only over the opinions of the non-serving public – because they would be competing with subject-matter experts and party-political advocates who could tailor their messages directly to the jury audience, rather than having to split the difference between them and the wider public. So I’m less optimistic about the system inclining the media to reason and moderation. I’m with you on the subject of vouchers and the obvious conflict of interest inherent in state-owned media, but we also have to consider the baleful influence of private media ownership – look at Hungary, for example, where commercial takeovers of media outlets have been used by the wealthy ruling clique to silence opposition voices. The ownership solution I presently favour involves constitutional rules mandating cooperative, trust, or reader-ownership of media organisations, enforced by a body headed up by an allotted panel of trustees.

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  30. Keith,

    you haven’t yet asked me what my approach is so your guess as to my approach is on you.

    Terry,

    having had quite a bit of experience and some friends among politicians I appreciate your categorisation of them. However, there is such a thing as being part of a criminal conspiracy. If you see the current main political parties as criminal organisations, as I do, guilty of way worse than merely syphoning off a few billion here and there, then those politicians in those parties are all party to that stain. That’s the way our legal system looks at them: they know full well what their party does but still they lend their talents to it. Hence in a legal sense they are criminals whether they themselves have done something horrible or not.

    There is also, still, the deeper point of how reform movements get traction and have an effect. The ‘revolutionary overthrow’ model is quite rare and not very likely on the cards at all in these years. But the ‘reform of mayor parties through pressure from antagonistic new movements’ is very normal. Its how the Tories turned pro-Brexit. Its how the Spanish main parties adopted much of the Podemos agenda. Etc. And neither the Brexit movement nor the Podemos movement got its popularity via polite engagement with the parties they eventually pushed into adopting real change.

    I thus urge you to look more widely at the question how change truly comes about. It is a question of history and organisation, not sortition theory or the existing sensitivities and self-image of politicians. Radical reforms through nothing but polite engagement are unknown to me, but I am happy to have you point out historical instances where radical reform that challenged many deep-pocket interests did not need a more openly antagonistic movement that bad-mouthed particular political parties and all that stood for the platform of those parties.

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  31. Oliver:> in a hybrid-sortitional system of the kind we prefer, the media simply wouldn’t have a huge amount of influence over the verdicts of the juries

    If the jury verdict is binding, then does that matter? I would see an ongoing role for the media in re-packaging the detailed arguments presented to the jury to better ensure the public buy in to the decision. The crucial factor for perceived legitimacy would be demonstrating that the verdict was invariant across different samples of the target population, but if that can be done then the media become part of the solution, rather than the problem.

    Paul:> you haven’t yet asked me what my approach is . . . If you see the current main political parties as criminal organisations, as I do

    Looks like I don’t need to ask, as you’ve nailed your (conspiracy theorist) colours to the mast. If you view elected representatives as criminals then naturally you would not want to engage with them. Why not put your money where your mouth is and organise some sort of private prosecution (or citizens’ arrest), I’m sure there is an army of conspiracy theorists who would rally to your cause. Would you include the likes of Terry Bouricius on your charge sheet or are you only targeting “particular” political parties?

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  32. Oliver:. The ownership solution I presently favour involves constitutional rules mandating cooperative, trust, or reader-ownership of media organisations.

    Unfortunately none of these would lead to media seeking a broad appeal, vouchers are a more effective solution. Needless to say I’m assuming that the public are the best judge of what is in the public interest (the moral principle underlying capitalism).

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  33. Keith,

    This is a both-and situation – I also endorse vouchers as part of the system! And I likewise ‘see an ongoing role for the media in re-packaging the detailed arguments presented to the jury to better ensure the public buy in to the decision’ – the key question is what kind of social and institutional structure is most likely to produce that outcome. A system that avoids ownership of media organisations by the state and by private financial interests with their own ulterior motives seems much more likely to allow that outcome than one in which the wealthy can purchase outlets to act as mouthpieces for their preferred ideologies.

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  34. Terry,

    Your claim that elected officials are wandering around aimlessly without any particular agenda conflicts with both principle and observation. The principle is that people and groups use their power to promote their own interests (as they perceive them). The observation – that matches this principle – is that over the last 4 or 5 decades, politicians and their allies have been getting richer as the situation of most citizens has been deteriorating.

    What may superficially appear like aimless random policy-making turns out in fact to be a consistent decision-making trend that promotes the interests of the elected officials and their backers and allies, quite often at the expense of the average citizen.

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  35. Yoram:> Your claim that elected officials are wandering around aimlessly without any particular agenda conflicts with both principle and observation.

    Given that Terry spent many years serving as an elected official, I suggest we privilege his observations, rather than dogma (“people and groups use their power to promote their own interests”). This is particular true, given Terry’s own (Marxist) provenance.

    Oliver:> the wealthy can purchase outlets to act as mouthpieces for their preferred ideologies.

    That may have been true during the era when newspapers (including the Sunday Times) could use advertising revenue to insulate themselves from reader preferences. But given the current precarious financial state of the MSM, a proprietor would need very deep pockets to go against the beliefs and preferences of her subscribers and if she did then who cares — nobody would read it, as people have put their (voucher) money where their mouth is.

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  36. Yoram, Oliver,

    thanks for the thumbs up and keep up the good fight!

    Keith,

    I sincerely wonder why you are on this blog. All I have seen from you is territorial, abusive, dismissive, insincere, and evasive contributions. Why bother? In any decent workplace, I think your behaviour would get you throw you out on bullying charges within the week.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Paul:> I sincerely wonder why you are on this blog

    Because I have spent the last 15 years working on sortition (including seven years on my PhD), and am determined not to see it ruined by Marxist ideologues and their fellow-travellers. Bear in mind that at one time I also believed in simplistic nonsense (my first book was called The Party’s Over):

    When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

    I guess, like your namesake, I suffer from the zeal of the convert.

    Like

  38. Further comments about the motivations of elected politicians:
    Firstly, I need to acknowledge that my experience was in a small state legislature with relatively little power, and I can’t prove that what I observed would also be true of politicians in a very powerful legislature. However, in the U.S. at least, it is clear that politicians are more concerned with their status and re-election prospects than policy and the interests they serve. Before Trump’s election nearly all Republicans asserted that balanced budgets were a fundamental priority. When Trump reversed that policy and mushroomed the deficit, these same politicians fell silent on that issue, and picked up some other issues more in tune with the leader who they feared could sink their re-election prospects if they crossed him. clearly, many politicians on a federal level feather their own nest through corrupt, though often legal means. I think most politicians would still seek re-election if anti-corruption laws had teeth and that feathering of their nest were no longer possible. It is about feeling important, being able to tell others what they must do, and having people be solicitous towards them. The corrupt access to money is only the icing on the cake for most of them. On the other side, the Democrats had the opportunity to raise the minimum wage countless times over decades, but constantly deferred. As a whole, most politicians don’t actually BELIEVE in anything other than their appearance and their own importance. Electoral politics selects for this sort of ego-centered person.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Keith,

    > That may have been true during the era when newspapers (including the Sunday Times) could use advertising revenue to insulate themselves from reader preferences

    I would refer you first of all to the example I gave, of the Hungarian opposition press, in which precisely this occurred, in a very well-documented way. But on a more general point, you seem to be operating on the assumption that newspapers and channels are judged by their audiences on a single dimension, ‘ideological alignment’, which is totally transparent to them and which they have fully-formed prior to their consumption of news. And that’s just not true. If the Daily Mail suddenly swapped out its editorial pages for Jacobin Magazine’s, then yes, it would lose a lot of readers. But if its editors decided to shift positions within its audience’s Overton window – to stop talking about, let’s say, trans rights, and start publishing voices worrying about climate change some more – it would lose very few readers, and shift the opinions of many more in its direction of travel, because most people read the paper they like for its news and sport coverage, and out of habit. News outlets’ editorial lines shape public opinion to a greater degree, in the long term, than public opinion shapes editorial lines. That’s how propaganda works.

    Like

  40. Oliver,

    That’s a fair point, but I think you overstate the ability of the media to mould public opinion according to its proprietors’ preferences. Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor of The Sun, told me that he regretted their headline “It’s The Sun Wot Won it” (for the Conservatives in 1992), partly on account of the hubris and partly because the empirical research shows (at least in the UK) that a newspaper’s political stance follows its readers rather than the other way round. This is even true in the case of Murdoch switching to New Labour in 1997. There’s lots of books and journal articles on the topic, but have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Terry,

    > I think most politicians would still seek re-election if anti-corruption laws had teeth and that feathering of their nest were no longer possible. It is about feeling important, being able to tell others what they must do, and having people be solicitous towards them. The corrupt access to money is only the icing on the cake for most of them.

    This argument rests on a narrow, legalistic definition of corruption. Most corruption (i.e., the promotion of narrow interests at the expense of the public interest) in electoralist systems works not through illegal or borderline activity but through fully legal and open channels. The most obvious of those is the “speaking fees” which the Clintons, for example, have used to rake in tens of millions of dollars. Similar to this are consulting fees, lobbying positions and board of directors positions – such as the one Hunter Biden profited so handsomely from.

    But it goes much deeper than that. Every policy decision is potentially (almost inevitably) an opportunity to change the rules to benefit the decision makers and their allies. For example, if one is among the top 0.1% of income earners, as many Congresspeople are, then it is most likely a fair share of one’s income is made in capital gains. Thus policy that increases corporate profits and decreases capital gains tax benefits Congresspeople. Are we really supposed to believe that Congresspeople would not be aware of this or motivated by this? And if a Congressperson is not (yet) a top earner, wouldn’t their campaign backers be? Wouldn’t that Congressperson wish to please his backers?

    All of this seems obvious and uncontroversial. I can understand that electoralist propagandists habitually deny the obvious, but it is surprising to me that this needs to be spelled out to anyone who has nothing to gain personally by denying such self-evident truisms.

    Like

  42. Yoram:> Thus policy that increases corporate profits and decreases capital gains tax benefits Congresspeople.

    The UK Conservative government recently announced an increase in corporation tax from 19% to 25%, along with an increase in the tax rate on dividends. Does this mean that they are less corrupt than before?

    Like

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