As Aristotle put it: ‘It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot, and as oligarchic when they are filled by election’ (Aristotle, Politics IV. 9, 1294b8).
We are now all aware of how our electoral systems have been manipulated by harvesting our digital footprints and preferences. Targeted messages, images and false information are then deployed to support or denigrate particular candidates, with no verification and no disclosure of the source of the posts.
Whatever it’s called legally, this is electoral fraud and we need to stop it. Here’s my suggestion – let’s adopt sortition (selection by lot) together with what I will call ‘filtration’ as our preferred electoral system.Read more
The Sortition Foundation has recently joined an alliance of groups calling for a citizens' constitutional convention in the UK.
It all started back in the summer of 2014 when a group of people, concerned about the state of democracy in the UK, created Assemblies For Democracy. Their aim is to highlight the glaring democratic deficit in the UK and propose solutions. They organised meetings, networked with like-minded people, groups and politicians and, in July 2016, published a letter in the Guardian, Time for a new UK citizens’ constitution.Read more
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-Publics, Danish Board of Technology Foundation, Bertelsmann 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. Watch this space for a post-meeting report.
The Sortition Foundation, in collaboration with newDemocracy, has submitted a report, Discovering the People’s Will: Citizens’ Assemblies as Trusted Proxies in Irish Referenda, to the Irish Citizens' Assembly proposing that every referendum in Ireland be preceded by a Citizens' Assembly. Yes, it is kind of self-referential (very postmodern, perhaps!) to try to convince a Citizens' Assembly to propose that Citizens' Assemblies are the way to go. They are meeting to deliberate on the topic in mid-January - let's see what they recommend.
[Note: this has been adapted from an orginial blog post here: http://www.bretthennig.com/legislature_by_lot]
From Friday to Sunday this weekend (September 15-17) the co-founder and director of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, will be joining a group of academics, researchers and activists gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the pros and cons of a "Legislature by Lot" - a parliament, senate or congress selected by sortition.
The workshop is being organised by Professor John Gastil (Penn State) and Professor Erik Olin Wright (University of Wisconsin-Madison) who have drafted the principal proposal that attendees are responding to. Their proposal is for a bicameral legislature where one chamber is elected and one is selected using sortition.Read more
A TEDx talk on sortition from May 2017 has just been released:
A new paper proposing a second chamber for the Scottish Parliament, selected using sortition, has been published by the Sortition Foundation in collaboration with Common Weal Scotland and the newDemocracy Foundation. It gives a detailed answer to the question of implementation.
Initial (somewhat inaccurate) press coverage by The National was okay, except for the unhelpful headline which focused on the proposed salary and called assembly members Scottish 'Lords'.
A (sold out) talk at Edinburgh University will discuss the merits of the proposal.
Spring is coming and the Sortition Foundation has an action-packed March chock-full of events, not least of which is our second Annual General Meeting happening on Wednesday March 15 at 8:30pm at Mildreds Restaurant in Kings Cross. If you plan on coming along please send us an email to let us know.
Otherwise if you are in (or near) Brighton, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Cambridge then here is an event or two for your calendar:
Brighton: 7pm Monday March 13 @ The Blue Man Cafe: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)Read more
Britain's historical issues around racism, sexism and homophobia have left an awkward and potentially irreconcilable difficulty at the heart of our democracy – one which sortition would remove at a stroke, argues Daz Pearce.
A few months ago in the capacity of my 'regular' job, I was chatting to the human resources manager after (much to my own surprise) winning one of those 'employee recognition' awards. Among other things, we discussed a period several years ago when things were, shall we say, less positive than they currently are. One aspect that I recalled vividly in our discussion was a sense that there were a handful of individuals deliberately making my life more difficult than it needed to be – those familiar with toxic office politics will understand the idea of being 'set up for failure' and then 'chastised' in public rather than in private etc. That the departure of one of these people coincided neatly with a positive shift in my own career fortunes served as confirmation that this problem had been real, rather than perceived or imagined.
Apologies if that came over as self-indulgent, the relevance is this: when I look back, I now have no doubt whatsoever that this sense of having been 'got at' affected me in many ways, all of them negative. It caused me to spend time looking over my own shoulder for slings and arrows, rather than 'playing the next ball' with a positive approach. It exacerbated a suspicion of authority that if I'm honest had always existed to some degree anyway, and fed a cynicism about the fragility of whatever you have worked hard for, this idea that someone who doesn't like the look of you could come and take it away at any time. Painful as it was, in a very narrow sense I'm glad it happened – being white, male, agnostic and heterosexual pretty much disqualifies me from suffering as a result of most forms of bigotry, but I got an idea of how its victims, or at least some of them, must feel.
On the subject of bigotry, there are two key points that probably need to be communicated before we go further: (1) a clear majority (at an educated guess, circa 90 per cent) of the population are not prejudiced on the common race/gender/sexuality grounds themselves, while regarding acts fueled by such bigotry and attempts at discrimination as dumb and dangerous in equal measure; (2) unfortunately, a significant minority still have 'issues with difference' in one form or another and that minority will continue to exist ad infinitum in all likelihood. By significant, I am referring to their nature as opposed to their number – a minority sufficiently motivated to 'get off their arse and do something' even (or maybe especially) a 'lone wolf' minority of one like Anders Breivik, could never be written off as 'insignificant' by any objective measure.
Power resides in what you're capable of, not simply how many of you there are.Read more
Representative democracy turns politicians into celebrities, which results in us asking all the wrong questions both of and about them. Switching to sortition would break the link between decision-making and 'showbiz' culture, argues Daz Pearce.
This coming Friday's episode of Have I Got News for You is somewhat conspicuous in being the first of the current series not to feature an active politician either as host or on the panel. So far Series 52 has seen Ruth Davidson, Tim Farron, Chris Bryant and Tim Loughton making an appearance as panelists after Nick Clegg bravely (or perhaps simply knowing he's leaving parliament) dared to take the host's seat in its first episode. Previous inhabitants of that chair have included Boris Johnson and William Hague, both of whom went on to subsequently become Foreign Secretary. Farron (who has now been on HIGNFY twice) merely followed the late Charles Kennedy and Nigel Farage in being the latest 'current' party leader to put his head on the block.
Far from being solely a bit of fun for a household name no longer in the front line, it's become a way in which politicians of all persuasions and colours have been able to either cultivate, or at least maintain, a public image for the purposes of career advancement – sure, their own performances (the quite brilliant Kennedy excepted) tend to be about as funny as a tropical disease, just as a Select Committee comprising wholly of comedians would not inspire you with total confidence. The 'role' of the active politician on the show seems to have been refined to answering (or refusing to answer) difficult or compromising questions about crises or clashes within their own party, watching potentially 'regrettable' footage of themselves, and letting Merton, Hislop and another mercilessly rip the piss out of them with good humour.
Of course Have I Got News for You is just the most obvious example of a vehicle through which politicians are invited or choose to invade popular culture. Top Gear, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and even This Morning are other high-profile shows on which active parliamentarians have appeared in order to raise their profile, usually with the understanding that a few cheap laughs will be derived by the studio and viewing audience at their expense (less so with This Morning than the other two, at least in the case of intended laughter). It's worth asking how this became possible and why somebody doing what's supposed to be quite a serious job would subject themselves to anything like the embarrassing cross-examination that David Cameron got from Ross a decade ago.Read more