THE BLOG

Why Britain Should Scrap Democracy in Favour of Sortition

14/03/2016 14:26 GMT | Updated 14/03/2017 09:12 GMT

If campaigning for a Brexit with Vote Leave has taught me anything this year, it is that democracy isn't all that it is made out to be.

Horse-shoeing my way round the English coastline, setting up stools, handing out thousands of leaflets and talking to many passers-by certainly has come with its frustrations. As I wrote on my blog a few days ago, my patience for democracy and its input of all has now pretty much whittled away.

Without meaning to sound too contemptuous, I cannot bring myself to trust various sects of the population with a say on how the country is governed. Inevitably, polling day becomes Groundhog Day, in which the clueless, easily-manipulated and generationally tribal congregate like farm animals in a bid to shape the country's government according to their own inaccurate, dogmatic or bigoted predispositions.

If given the opportunity to retract my own political votes in exchange for the same from millions of others, I'd happily oblige. Oh, how Britain's media barons must love their role in influencing general elections. Though not necessarily exclusively, a rather unfortunate side-effect of democracy is that it will ensure that power is put up for sale.

I couldn't help but wonder how many people Rupert Murdoch's media empire has brainwashed or influenced over the years whilst watching footage from his wedding day over the weekend. The mind boggles at how British politics may well be different today had his money been spent on other enterprises.

Problem is, of course, that nothing is preferable to democracy. Nothing beats the hot fury of election night, or the excitement of those voting for the same party they've always selected (rarely through genuine political passion and generally for the comfort of brave, tribal voting) and constantly wonder why things never seem to get any better.

Enter sortition.

An alternative to stale western formats; sortition is a system that advocates selection by random sample; one that, statistically speaking, will generate a more socially and demographically reflective government; and one that curbs partisan participation in favour of equality through neutrality. Today, sortition is used only when drafting juries into court, but for the sake of the country, a qualification system could be introduced in order to gauge who is committed, interested and passionate.

Acting as the natural extension from democracy, sortition is characterised primarily by the promotion of a representative quota of citizens to public office, both locally and nationally, and always for a fixed term. To the surprise of many, it has actually been used successfully many times before; most notably in Venice, Greece and the second Florentine republic.

In his hugely informative book Sortition: Theory and Practice, Oliver Dowlen notes that sortition "promises to bring something new to today's political climate, something of potentially world-changing significance. For those in the west who are aware of the deficiencies of the current liberal government, it offers to make up for perceived deficits in democracy".

Oddly enough, sortition is more democratic than democracy itself. By selecting by random sample, promoted participants are forced to put aside tribal agendas and concentrate on common affairs in a cohesive manner. Since general elections are so often centred on image, media influence and personality, politicians can easily be accused of acting in a manner that will earn those votes, rather than based upon principles and beliefs.

If sortition can be commended for anything as a governmental framework, it is that it completely reverses the creation of a political class. Citizens who are well-informed, passionate and competent can put themselves up for selection (a kind of optional jury service) throughout the country, a process repeated every few years with no citizen serving more than one term in office.

The beauty of sortition is that it is quite literally rule by the people. Completely non-discriminatory, less corruptible and providing a representative, diverse ruling lot, the benefits of sortition outweigh both its disadvantages and the effects of democracy. Though I don't profess that a system of allocation is in any way flawless, I remain adamant in my belief that sortition is an intelligent counterweight to rational ignorance, vote-rigging and assorted tribalism amongst the electorate.

For those in developed and developing democracies, sortition can be used effectively to drive out the canker of corruption and to help bring rival factions together, in a unified and constructive political process. Politics for many is about wellbeing, life and death, and so it would therefore seem reasonable to suggest that the partisan style of current world democracy seems poorly tailored to suit the needs of those who are struggling.

A crucial element to the practice of sortition, and one that in my mind renders it preferable to alleged representative democracy, is the emphasis placed upon both neutrality and diversity. Representative democracy has a terrible record of shutting out certain kinds of people from having any substantive say in politics, instead striving to maintain a 'political class', whether for reasons concerning stability or not.

In any country, including those that are free, prosperous and democratic (note that these three features are entirely separated and must always be viewed as such), the creation of a political class is a bad thing. A political class ensures that a gap is widened between ruled and rulers, separating man from man. With sortition, terms served in public office are strictly limited, offering many with fresh ideas and different perspectives the chance to get involved.

We often talk optimistically about bringing real change to British politics, without ever suggesting any sensible ways of doing so. Well, here is a suggestion. Will anybody listen?