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?
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Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality

There’s a report out on the recent Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality. The report, by Jane Suiter, Kirsty Park, Yvonne Galligan, and David M. Farrell, focuses on “the quality of the deliberative process and the attitudes of the members towards the process”. The report can be found at:

https://arrow.tudublin.ie/aaschsslrep/39/

Democratic lotteries featured in FastCompany

Democratic lotteries and our organization, of by for*, were recently featured in a piece in FastCompany. The article introduces selection of representatives by lottery, the history in Athens, Democracy R&D, and our recent Citizens’ Panel on COVID-19. It will be followed up by a ‘World Changing Ideas’ podcast episode within the next month.

Excerpt below and full article here: What if we replaced elected politicians with randomly selected citizens?

For Cronkright, drawn-out election cycles—filled with stump speeches, attack ads, and super PACs—are dysfunctional. The candidates are often “slick and vicious performers” trained to put on a show and say the right things, who spend most of their time fundraising. “We are awarding power to those who can win, and keep winning, cutthroat popularity contests,” he says. When elected, many politicians are then at the whim of parties, lobbyists, and corporations and don’t have personal incentives to make the right decisions for the average Joe. “To me, they’re the least qualified bunch to represent us,” he adds.

Real representation can only be achieved by putting ordinary people in charge of governing. That means “representatives” should reflect the greater population’s demographics, but also its struggles, fears, hopes, and values. These people would be accountants, waitresses, engineers, business owners, single mothers, and students, who are actually affected by the decisions they make for everyone. “If they sink the ship,” he says, “they, too, are going down.”


Sortition on Ted.com

If you think democracy is broken, here’s an idea: let’s replace politicians with randomly selected people… My TEDxDanubia talk has been promoted to the front page of Ted.com – it should be the featured talk for the next 6 hours or so…
 

 
To celebrate, my publisher, Unbound, has cut the price of the e-book edition of The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy.

Back to the Future for a Real Democracy | Conway Hall Talk | Brett Hennig

A sortition talk I gave in London (on 11 March 2018) as part of Conway Hall’s “Thinking on Sunday” series has been edited and published – you could consider it an extended version of my TEDx presentation

 

Launch of International Sortition Network: Democracy R&D

On Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th of January 2018 around 40 people from more than 15 organisations will meet, many in person at Medialab Prado in Madrid (others will join online), to develop the founding principles and processes of an international sortition network: Democracy R&D.

The Sortition Foundation will be at the two day meeting, alongside representatives from newDemocracy (Australia), hosts ParticipaLab (Spain), Forum dos Cidadãos (Portugal), G1000 (Belgium) and G1000 (Netherlands), MASS LBP (Canada), Missions Publiques (France), Particitiz (Belgium), Japan Research Forum on Mini-PublicsDanish Board of Technology FoundationBertelsmann Stiftung Foundation (Germany), ECI Campaign (EU), Democracy in Practice (Bolivia/US/Canada), Jefferson Center (US), Healthy Democracy (US), Empowering Participation (Australia), the Policy Jury Group (US) and the Nexus Institute (Germany).

The two day meeting promises to lay the groundwork for international collaboration and skill-sharing to promote and institute sortition locally, nationally, and even internationally. A post-meeting report will appear on the Sortition Foundation blog.

[Note: this is an edited repost from: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/launch_of_international_sortition_network]

Teaching students government skills

Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Bolivian organisation Democracy in Practice, gives a Democracy Talk audio overview of the group’s findings so far with experiments in student government.

Democracy in Practice has been helping run student councils in a few different Cochabamba secondary schools since 2013, using lottery selection rather than elections to choose candidates.

Doing away with elections allows for a more representative body of students on council, making room for less charismatic or popular pupils to have a chance at government.

Changing selection methods is one thing, governing differently is another – with all the usual challenges of having representatives turn up on time, or at all, learning how to take collective decisions, not dominating proceedings and following through with promised actions.

An encouraging finding, Adam says, is that students can, and do, learn the necessary skills to govern. That raises hopeful prospects for better government in societies who manage to improve their citizens’ governance skills more generally.

An intriguing curiosity, albeit an anecdotal one according to Adam, is how students who appear to stand out as natural leaders, those who might usually get chosen in elections, are often not the best suited to actual government.

Catch the full audio interview below.
 

Citizens’ Juries: Taken for Fools?

Following the rejection of the Icelandic citizens’ jury’s conclusions on constitutional reform, it is disappointing to report that much the same has happened in Ireland:

[T]he people who were involved really cared about this thing and did everything they could to make it a model for new ways of thinking about democracy in the 21st century. There was a glimmer of hope that some kind of dignity was being restored to the political process. Instead all it’s really done is to polish up the sign on the gates of institutional democracy: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The process showed that, given half a chance, citizens are not cynical and want to engage positively with their State. It also showed that that State, given half a chance, will make them feel like fools for wasting their time.

You can read the full article here: Fintan O’Toole: How hopes raised by the Constitutional Convention were dashed.

Just How Do CJs support ‘Freedom and Democracy’?

In a spate of moronic ‘reforms’ Education Ministers in England (of all parties) have vowed to set schools free from the dead hand of local (elected!) authorities. Hence there are Academies, Free Schools, Foundations including some for-profit schools. Yet all of these are funded by the State through taxpayer money.

So how should these ‘free’ schools be governed? A Governing Body, but chosen by election? No, no! Continue reading

Manuel Arriaga: Rebooting Democracy

A review of Manuel Arriaga’s Rebooting Democracy: a citizen’s guide to reinventing politics

Rebooting Democracy is a short and enjoyable book (available at Amazon; the first 50 pages are available online). Its introduction explicitly positions it as being motivated by the sentiments of the Occupy protests and the author’s proposals as responding to those sentiments. Like the Occupy protests Arriaga’s message is to a considerable extent anti-electoral:

[V]oting out one politician or party to bring in a different one will not solve our problems. Time has made it clear that this is not merely an issue of casting. If the play stinks, replacing the actors will not make it any better.

The first two chapters present an explanation of why the Western electoral system does not serve “us”. Arriaga summarizes his explanation with the following two points:

1) We have delegated power to the political class and hardly supervise it.

2) As voters, we are condemned to unreflective and easy-to-influence decision-making. Even if we were inclined to effectively supervise politicians, this would severely limit our ability to do so.

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