Friday Thread: Could we have a democracy without Politicians?

We are all gearing up for an Assembly election at which we will select decision makers, complain about them for the next five years, and then select a slightly different crew in five years time.

This is called democracy. Broadly speaking it works, but given the gridlock in the system and a pervasive sense of apathy about politics, it is probably wise to be on the look-out for ways of improving our democracy.

One approach is to suggest that for some, and perhaps even many, decisions we don’t need politicians. We can simply let a sample of citizens decide. If this sample of citizens is an accurate cross-section of society as a whole and is informed about the issue at hand, maybe the citizens could directly take a decision on the issue.

Would citizens be well able to seriously consider contentious issues and come up with a thoughtful decision? What do the general public think about this idea of citizen decision-making? What are the views of MLAs?

This short animation – Democracy Without Politicians – addresses these questions and takes us through the possible story of such a system being implemented in Northern Ireland.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, as I’ve said many times before on Slugger, if our citizens are competent enough to pick Representatives, then this implies that they are competent enough to make those decisions the representatives now make for them. And, as Beppe Grillo has outlined over somewhere even more volatile than here, we have the technology now on hand to make such a system work smoothly.

    The idea of a lottery for any “representative” role still needed rather than elections has always appealed to me because with a turn over and no certainty of anyone being assured of continuing in office, the for those in power temptation to “sell” influence in any way is reduced to almost zero. while I can readily see that this would be something of a nightmare for the lobbyists, with no continuous access to power through professional politicians with whom long term relationships can be built, I’d see this as a plus point myself.

  • Croiteir

    The rule of democracy – that would be interesting since the rule of democracy has never existed in the region – in fact the creation of the region was an action of overruling democracy. It is also interesting that they use a unionist position on the flags issue as a compromise solution. Which is why this all falls apart. Not workable.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s an interesting one!

    As someone who’s recently been moderating some deliberative events myself, I’m a bit sceptical to be honest.

    Firstly, I’m a believer in the role of the professional politician as a representative (and not a delegate) – someone who can take board their constituents’ needs but make their own mind up. Whatever system you have, you’ll end up with something like this; if we’re changing our representatives every 5 minutes, we lose any ability to develop our decision-makers.

    Secondly, I have much first hand knowledge of how hard it can be to actually get a view from members of the public on issues that are complex, boring or abstract. As researchers, we appreciate that and it’s fine – we make allowances and the onus is on us to work out what people were really deciding (and how far they could actually go towards deciding). We don’t take what people say literally, we interpret the meaning of what they say – with that little boost, you can do some great work getting a public steer on things. In citizens panels though, there is no facilitator, no fall-back, no one to tie up the loose ends. It’s just asking too much of the people involved.

    The answer is then to take longer with them, feed them more information for better-informed decision-making, empower them – and this can work (a little; some just can’t cope with the ‘school-like’ reading demands or to actually grasp what the issue is that we’re discussing). But even then, the more you educate this citizen panel, the less ordinary they become and the more it starts to feel like you’re actually getting what the politicians gave you, just with less preparation, sometimes people less able to engage meaningfully in the issues and with no accountability.

    But I do like the idea of citizen decision-making and greater engagement. Just be realistic about what you sometimes get from a purely randomly selected panel. I had one lot recently where about three of the ten were actually able or willing to seriously engage in the issues under discussion. It can really vary. That’s fine with research, but with public decision-making, you could end up with some serious consequences from people just not being engaged. I’d be interested to know for the experiment in the film whether people were screened in any way before qualifying, e.g. to be articulate, able to talk about political issues etc. Not everyone is. We usually do screen quite strictly for research participants, but for democratic decision-making you couldn’t really impose that kind of check.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Jesus, get over it man. I thought we had all this agreed in 1998?

  • John Garry

    Good point, randomly selected decision makers are hard corrupt as its impossible to predict who they will be.

  • John Garry

    Thanks. The participants were not screened in order to qualify. This was in order to ensure that they were a good accurate sample of the entire population. It’s true many people are not interested in politics or very informed. So, it’s crucial to provide information and space for considering the pros and cons of a proposal. In so doing, the randomly selected citizens start to look a bit different from ‘normal’ people (who are less informed and have not been considering the issue). But this is OK if the aim is to use the sample to see what an informed and considerate full population would come up with.

  • John Garry

    I take the point about the difficulty of being precise about what a ‘compromise’ option is. If there are three options on the table the ‘compromise one’ is ideally exactly half way between the other two.This can be tricky to define. We went for designated days as one possible ‘compromise’ in the sense that it’s a live option and is at least ‘somewhere’ in between the other two options.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not clear – were they screened or not? Might have been a typo above?
    Screening of some sort is a must for deliberative research – if only to get the right spread – but I wondered whether any actual citizen panel with powers could be screened, without injecting doubt into how representative they are.
    Your issue, flags, was also a fairly easily graspable one, I guess? I’ve been involved in a couple of projects recently on some quite tricky, slightly abstract issues (I can’t mention subject matter I’m afraid) and I must say it reminded me there are limits to what it is reasonable to expect public groups to be able to meaningfully debate. This stuff was just too abstract for a lot of people. But I guess you’d only use the citizens’ panel idea for issues that don’t require a lot of prepping? Our issues were ones you couldn’t meaningfully respond to without having been informed a little first, hence the deliberative workshop methodology we used.

  • John Garry

    Thanks. If by ‘screened’ you mean omitting those who don’t know much about the issue, then we did not screen.
    If by ‘screened’ you mean did we get a good accurate representative sample in the same way that a good quality opinion poll does, then yes we did screen.
    So, we did not just allow anyone in. We had to ensure we had the right spread; old and young, wealthy and not wealthy, male and female and so on.
    I think any important political issue could, in principle, be put to the public no matter how abstract it might appear. The challenge I think is to explain it in straightforward terms (I accept this is easier said than done).So, I would imagine most political issues could be explained in a way that is engaging and then deliberation can happen (and deliberation does not necessarily mean discussion and talk; in my view it simply means considering/thinking).

  • notimetoshine

    If one looks at the early years of the United States, the idea of ‘disinterested’ citizens governing not by the petty prejudices and opinions of their local constituents but through disinterested pragmatism, with a focus on avoiding a political establishment and the politicians that come with it. Thoroughly recommend anyone interested in this read Empire of Liberty from the Oxford history of America series.

    I suppose a modern option would be technocrats or direct democracy.

  • John Collins

    I object to you brining Our Saviour into this. I feel that most of us who contribute here are of the highly blasphemous opinion that we are more important than that man from Bethlehem, and worse still that our precious opinions are more important than His.

  • Croiteir

    Thought wrong then

  • Jollyraj

    I believe the fellow was born in Bethlehem, but spent little time there, and not ‘from’ Bethlehem in a real sense. As I understand he was from Nazareth or somewhere up the country – mind, I’m no Bible scholar.

  • aquifer

    Very interesting proposal, especially when cheap internet and database technology could facilitate a lot of the processes.

    Would be a useful corrective to the political bubble effect where views form or linger among the political and media classes that differ markedly from those of today’s population. e.g. On reproductive rights or sexuality.

    This could be developed as a form of opinion polling in the first instance.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, MU, in a complex and confusing world freedom and the self determination of the “Soverign individual” (my father in law’s New Age rather elegent term) are utterly impossible and we are required to hire experts to control our lives. In this context, as I’ve suggested before, it would be far more sensible for other experts to select the best graduates to act on our behalf, as those simply elected are a very rum bunch with only a slight possibility of seriously honed professionalism.

    Seriously, while I have no doubt whatsoever about the existence of the disengagement and indifference you have experienced, at least one good reason why this is so is that the representative system in itself discourages any growth of the “idea of citizen decision-making and greater engagement” just as muscles discouraged from use will inevitably atropy. If one actually believes that people have the right to self government and genuine control of their lives, the political enagement and interest you find lacking would need to be activly encouraged, and nurtured by institutions taht show people that their opinions count beyond the endorsement of an empowerment of an elective oligarchy. This direct involvement of the community is something professional representatives, who have their own obvious stake in the continuation of the status quo, will ever find repellant. That is why they have developed such compelling arguements for the need for a class of professional politicians who can broker our interests to that big complex world so very few of us even begin to understand!

  • Kevin Breslin

    There is many a dream of a benevolent dictatorship on this site and by its contributors. The idea of politicians being random and without mandate is somewhat repulsive to me. Where is the guarantee that any lottery or random number generator would be fair (a series of dictators win the lotto and changes the lottery to consolidate power). Even jury duty doesn’t use this method in an absolute sense.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, have you encountered Kropotkin or Emma Goldman? Their critique of the Oligarchic tendencies of any political class is a serious consideration. The election of representatives was simply the most convenient way of organising some form of participation in government in an age where it was perhaps the most efficient way of engaging a population to some degree in their government. As a small local city Sate Athens could have a pure democracy of plebiscite with those posts required to administer the will of the populace crafted to use “magistrates” who could be selected by lot. with modern communications this becomes increasingly a possibility today. I recognise your concern for “interference” but would feel that the sort of group protection that professional politics engages in offers far more scope for “interference” and the habit of exchanging patronage “favours” than a group chosen by lot, similar to the sort of people who are picked for jury service.

    The problem with election is that Politicians can deceive the electorate, and customarily do. So people do not get what they vote for, but vote for what they are told they will get. This makes the mandate argument very dodgy, as we have no way of holding politicians to account (yes, “every five years”, but we all know just how false that argument is in practice. The whole point is that the “politicians” picked by lot would have an overseer role for political decisions made by the whole population using plebiscite, and would not be empowered to control legislation (and our lives) as the modern representative system now requires. As someone with a spotted bow tie once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, but alas, since the Classical period everything bearing its name has been what the Greeks would have described as “Oligarchy” or once a few elections have gone to the heads of professional politicians, who have discovered their talent for ruling, perhaps even as “Aristocracy”. Sure actually trusting a whole population with their own government will certainly be subject to problems and mistakes, but now that such fingertip consultancy is not only possible but is already in general use for trivial things, the thin excuse for hiring professionals to dictate how we must live, often with scant regard to the promises through which they were mandated, is looking so very nineteenth century…………

  • Rick Jones

    This idea works with juries. With juries you have a highly structured way in which information is presented to them and [except in Scotland] a binary choice for the jury to make. If you could replicate those conditions you could introduce citizens panels. For example a citizens panel sitting in Belfast could make decisions on planning applications submitted in [London] Derry. The greater challenge would be with the less routine decisions made where neither the options which could be selected nor the information that should be presented is established and therefore requires a prior political decision [saying that civil service could decide is just making it a politician’s decision at one stage removed] . Another challenges to be overcome is the issue of accountability. For example we hold Tony Blair responsible for the civilians who died in Iraq because it was his decision to go to war. If a citizens panel had taken that decision who would be responsible for it?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    well, the rest of us agreed it. Really, the denial of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland is gone now as an argument, except for a small fringe of dissident Republicans. We’ve moved on to something saner and fairer, please come with us; or, stay nursing a pointless grudge for another 20 years – the choice is yours.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Have a look at this – it may be suitable ?

  • chrisjones2

    In NI the more challenging question is can we have a democracy WITH politicians

  • chrisjones2

    “in fact the creation of the region was an action of overruling democracy.”

    Depends how you define Region

  • chrisjones2

    He cant ……he has nothing else to console him

  • chrisjones2

    What about the man from Mecca, the Buddah, etc, etc, etc

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “The greater challenge would be with the less routine decisions made where neither the options which could be selected nor the information that should be presented is established and therefore requires a prior political decision [saying that civil service could decide is just making it a politician’s decision at one stage removed]”

    This problem could be solved by prospective policy and legislation on the same being instigated by a similar system through which Switzerland opposes unpopular actions by their representatives, where a certain number of supportive votes for a proposal triggers a referendum against legislation. The drafting of legislation presents problems, but perhaps if a more limited lot system selected those with technical knowledge of the law to carry out the drafting, overseen by committees drawn from the general public, and chosen by lot. Where there is a will, there will be a way, and wiser heads than mine might think of something more well honed.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I would say letting the Odds and the Gods determine fates is pre-Anno Domini and then some. There is a lot of superstition in politics but the idea that the lottery system gives a fairer representation body is completely nonsensical. There are very few religions opposing the concept of free as a force for potential good, and determinism by chance as a force for potential evil. The legend of Gilgamesh a good example of mans struggle against fate.

    Firstly I don’t see changing the system as a means of removing human vice, I think power can corrupt no matter how much you change the root to power. Empirical proof of this is that lottery winners are not necessarily the most benevolent people in the universe. As I’ve said before this was used by Classical Greece, and eventually the Helennic Republic started learning maths and science and philosophy and rejected the benevolence of random chance for a hands on system.

    Secondly, as a physicist the adage of “power = work x time” does really apply. We may be at the mercy of random chance coming from entropy, but we can provide the additional energy to stop things falling apart through additional work. Politicans are only powerful if people put the man-hours or woman-hours in to help them. Without public trust the state fails.

    A general strike like the Ulster Worker’s Strike shows that even a minority of protesters can bring down a government they do not approve of. So I completely disagree that politicians honest or not get absolute power. Citizen’s rebellions like the French Revolution are example too. Taking to another extremum you can talk about the Tea Party. Every Oligarchy can be taken out if you get the Middle management to strike, or dis-emancipate them. Divestment in large corporations, Boycotts, Defections from the military and Whistle-blowing … they can all remove the Nail which causes Napoleon to lose the war. Power comes from a long period of work and without that work, the power structures fail.

    I am a defender of the representational democratic structure because when I think about the alternatives, I do think it goes back to the benevolent dictatorships, where faceless politicians don’t have to get a mandate from the people. Minor acts of altruism to thousands of real people are thousands of times better than a major act of altruism to an ideology that serves only an imaginary humanity.

    Representative Politicans have the same capacity to be criminals, but are less likely to endure the distrust of the masses because the vote gives the public a stakeholder position, without votes people are simply at the mercy of a lottery or benevolent and non-benevolent dictators and the fact that there is not even a “covenant” between a representative and the people in a mandate means

    Giving people solo missions to practice the art of politics simply in their own self-interest and self-interest is oligarchy too, and the lottery method does nothing but give people a five year term of self-indulgence over money they didn’t even have to work or get a mandate for.

    You can question Capitalism vs. State Corporatism as the means of running a nation, but what does random representation actually do to really spice this up? Capitalism believe in merit by market and believe the state is too random, and Corporatism believe in the merit by state and believe the market is too random.

    If people want to believe in lotteries and no use for free will they have the liberty to be spiritualists in either. To me the representational structure does mimic human nature a lot better than the sort of animistic creature of opportunity that inevitably comes from the lottery.

    To call it Darwinist would be insulting to Darwin’s Ascent of Man where he does mention Humanity’s evolution from the beasts. It wouldn’t be Survival of the Fittest, It would be Survival of the “Fate-ist”, until inevitably society turns against the lottery machine.

  • Tochais Siorai

    For nationalists, the GFA is a bit like the German Basic Treaty of 1972 – the West Germans took the realpolitik option but I don’t think they ever regarded the DDR as truly legitimate.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, Thank you for so full and carefully argued a response to an old hyperbole merchant like myself. Not that I’d have expected less from you from your excellent past postings..

    I’d still disagree that the natural entropy of response ensures that any really radical critique of any existing government will be inhibited from any radical action in most cases by that great “brake” of apathy, and so any really serious calling out of professional politicians for their misdeeds will always be an almost impossible thing to do in any elective system. And even when it occurs, it will often be simply a “protest vote” embracing demagoguery, as the Tea Party, Trump and Hitler all testify to. Where you see “free will” (paragraph 9) I simply see an abuse of the gullible. “Glass half full….”

    Emma Goldman’s still my girl, way back from PD days, and little I’ve found running films and engaging in the advertising industry (an eye opener about just how dishonest our fellow citizens can be) has relieved me of any illusion as to what “enterprise” usually means. The “lottery” is a sure fire way, properly handled, avoiding any opportunity for the corruption that comes when a politician becomes proprietorial about his (or her) career, seeing him (or her) self master rather than servant. Switzerland has shown that the constraint of direct democracy can and dose work, and weans people of that sense of disempowerment that must always accompany any surrender of ones “authority” to another. But I’m imagining a very different world to that we now live in, re-crafted by the responsibilities of personal involvement by all.

    I can entirely see why you think as you do in regard to the representative system and where we stand at this very moment, but while I fully respect the good sense and honesty your response shows, respectfully, I must differ.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. The lottery doesn’t stop corruption, any lobbyist or outside interest will simply try to bribe the randomly selected politician just as they would a mandated one.

    2. I don’t see how amateur politicians can be as law better or more virtuous than professional ones, it’s what people do with power that often gains these nicknames.

    3. I don’t see it’s use against demagoguery either, since a demagogue can win the lottery or a lottery winner become a demagogue.

    4. I generally don’t see how properly handling the lottery is any different from electoral exclusion measures such as gerrymandering or denial of representation.

    5. There are ways of course of rigging lotteries too if the political class are the ones entrusted to control them.

    6. Withdrawal of Labour and Civil Disobedience, even withdrawl of tax payments are to some extent catered for in a liberal democracy, but I am not convinced it would be under “randomocracy”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, (i) bribery is a far more difficult business when you do not have the continuity of personnel elections ensure. This is what lobbyists and outside interests rely on, the continuity of patronage and the small fiefdoms built up in the representational system. If the political officer they approach is unable (through a rapid rotation by lot) to rely on the sort of insider protection all politicians develop with regard to their privacy in such matters, and the other short office appointees can scrutinise their actions, then the corruption that can so casually flourish through cosy long term relationships with, say, developers simply cannot occur.

    2. the very business of building a career in politics is a corrupting factor to my mind, and the professional politician has far more to loose, as he (or she) will be driven by staying in power as well as any political principal. The individual chosen by lot has no stake in compromising his political concerns to hold on to office.

    3. Anyone who has done jury service has met the person who tries to sway others, but if the rotation of lot frequently changes office holders and the final decisions are by plebiscite then the kind of demagoguery that we now expect from “known” politicians is really quite unable to “heel in” and influence anything.

    4/5 And there are no rigged elections? I’d see a dilution of any political class into the general public through the lottery system, with the sort of career politician we know today completely disappearing. With a steady flow of ordinary people passing through office knowledge of government would become a much more common property for the whole community and the systems of lottery would be scrutinised by a similar flow of lot chosen officers, avoiding any professional bias. Have you read some of the Five Star proposals?

    6. I cannot get how a representative system guarantees freedoms any more effectively than a mix of plebiscite and a choice of the officers of state on a speedy rotating system by lot. The self same argument against the protect of freedoms could even more easily be used against the representative system, where the professional politician has a vested interest in staying in power, with the temptations for monkeying with our freedoms that that permits. If you have any doubts, the final two programmes of Adam Curtis’s “The Century of the Self” quite openly show just how our electoral system has become simply “who has the best PR”, rather than who can guarantee our liberties. This also has serious implications for just how genuinely free we may be to oppose what we have been “sold” by quite cynical manipulation.

    The representative system’s professional political parties are developing some very bad habits that are debauching their ability to respect the voters, and while I’m not suggesting that any other system could be attempted without serious public commitment, I really cannot see any other route to cure these ills, but, hey, what else would you expect someone long pickled in (non-violent) Anarchist theory to say?

  • John Garry

    Regarding accountability: This is a good point. The simple answer is ‘the people’ would be responsible for the decision but they should not be held accountable. In same way that we do not hold voters to account for the decisions they take at the ballot box we probably ought not to hold citizens to account for their decisions on a citizen panel. The endgame of democracy is that ‘the people’ decide and that is pretty much that…

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. Completely baseless absurdity, there really is no difference, lobbyists can simply bribe at each lottery iteration. If financiers can make split second financial transactions on the randomness of a stock market, they would have to be a superstitious and perhaps cowardly lot to be afraid of investing shares in a politician. Lobbyists cannot bribe thousands of people to vote differently however.

    2. I think this is a dogmatic and prejudiced interpretation. Firstly your hypothesis that bad politicians want to stay in power is false, because many a politician in a representative democracy after ballsing up in power are not keen to return. Indeed your assumption that a politician’s desire to compromise political concerns can be mitigated by making the office random and temporary. “Crimes of opportunism” don’t require any stability or structure at all. I would believe that the security or insecurity of a politician’s position will make no difference to the personality of the politician determined to abuse power.

    3. Our electorate are like a jury of thousands to millions, if demagogues are elected maybe those who oppose the demagogues should have not have abandoned so many in their own society to them? It is reasonable to suggest that the Trumps, Farages etc. are symptoms of a bigger problem. A lottery system will not put an end to demagoguery because these representative demagogues are probably a lot more moderate than the random citizens that vote for them who would be expected to take their place, effectively random demagoguery.
    The simple statistics of expectation values would effectively ensure that if 1 in every 10 votes or thinks like UKIP, 1 in 10 from the lottery will act a lot like Farage anyway.

    4./5. I think the relative absence of rigged elections in Western democracies has come about by the vigilance of the electorate.
    Monarchs who had no fear of losing power were faced with citizen revolts when they abused it, bad PR or not, they could use military force to ensure their rule.

    The emergence of political classes do not fall from the sky, nor are they necessarily inherited, they can come from social dependencies, e.g. Charles Stewart Parnell blocked from the political class got social power from being a successful brewer and converted it into political power through election. Such a person could simply be kept out of the lottery by the political class that runs the lottery, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    I don’t see “the PR survival” mechanism being removed by a randomocracy, because even people in temporary power try to cover up their mistakes. You are talking about a lottery mitigating the hubris that is human cowardice nor human selfishness.

    The “randomocracy” would simply ensure a rotating ministry caretaker government that can make no long term plans and long term strategies while public services and institutions have no stability competing against private enterprises (including every conceivable act of criminality in the eyes of that government) that are not bound by the lottery.

    Even in the public service, there are circles of power, what kind of civil service would be running these institutions, the administrators of public services, even public sector workers, publicly funded universities … don’t they all have a kind of political power even without election?
    Politicans don’t have absolute power, after all.

    6. Well the liberal democracy ensures you have the freedom to associate, work, network, strike, trade unionize and develop all kinds of democracies. The state does not stand alone as a lone government, nor does the entirety of the state from government to local government show the complete exercise of a democracy. Where skills cannot be filled by democracy we don’t use a randomocracy we use a technocratic NGO … for example Nuclear Safety Watchdog.

    As a social democrat I believe political parties are democracies, co-operatives are democracies, trade unions and plenty of other plebicites do exist.

    Rotation of power even in these small bodies is never popular, never mind a state.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Off to give a history talk, Kevin, so I’m unable to answer in any depth, but tomorrow………

    The entire point is that you would be educating an entire population politically by holding office out to everyone, not just the glib and persuasive. Aspects of of Direct Democracy already work in a few places where the people are actually trusted with some power rather than entirely milked of it by a professional class.

    But off for tonights work so, just a taster,

    “Lobbyists cannot bribe thousands of people to vote differently however.”

    PR?????????? You don’t ever need to bribe thousands, you simply have to make them put the one man into office whom the lobbyists can influence.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes and that’s really damaging for cross-community trust and for longer term stability and reconciliation. If people are welching on their commitments like this, we can’t have the confidence to let our guard down. No point coming to these agreements if we’re not going to implement them.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, I think the core problem in this response is that you are imagining the system we have now, but with the representatives we now know simply picked by lot. I note that you are concentrating entirely on the possibility of picking office holders by lot, and are saying nothing about the more significant possibility of constant plebiscite over those decisions for which parliament currently has the monopoly.

    Of course running our present system by lot would simply be a rather less organized version of what we have now. Any system of genuine democracy would require a much more complex pattern of “steps” or layers whereby power would become much more decentralized and such a system would have to be utterly different to the kind of withdrawal of power into a central elite that we now suffer from. In this respect most of what you are saying above is redundant regarding how any system of lot would actually function. For any direct democracy to actually work some type of “sensitive nerve end” consultative system working into local communities, trades and interest groups, such as how the original consultancy patterns of the early soviets would be required. The critique of the representative system needs to expand to be also a critique of centralized banking with the enslavement of our communities to intractable life-long debt, and many, many other aspects of a profoundly faulted society that has been shaped over time to favor elites such as the political elite you deem so necessary to our survival.

    While you seem to think the growth of a political class separate from the community a very good thing, I see this as encouraging a self-perpetuating elite whose interests and those of their electorate must of necessity diverge on any number of things. The collapse into political mediocrity that has come about from a system that punishes any divergence from the party line is simply one tiny aspect of how we are encouraging the machine of politics rather than people.

    You write about the general public as a great jury is if this Jury was completely free of any influence but their own completely free will. In a modern Advertising and PR dominated society this is simply not so. Interference with our electorate’s views by a dominant media that is paid to peddle elite agendas has long been a qualification of any “free will” that an electorate might have displayed, a nd the representatives system encourages this feeling that the professionals know best. Farage, etc, are the products of the frustrated disempowerment most people are currently feeling with a representative system that universally uses PR tricks to manipulate opinion. As I’d already asked, have you seen “The Century of the Self”? This ensures increasing alienation and means that every election fewer and fewer people feel that their vote has any real meaning. The only way this will ever be reversed is when people can experience making the actual decisions themselves, and not having to simply stand back and watch while others make these decisions on their behalf.

  • Tochais Siorai

    It’s not welching at all. As I said, it’s realpolitik (for both sides) and probably the least worst viable option. There isn’t a contradiction, one can try and work the GFA and respect other traditions without getting all Our Wee Country about it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    just pointing out that not everyone is equally able or willing – and that therefore any system you construct will skew at some point towards the inputs of the more able and the more willing. So greater popular involvement is great – and I’m kind of involved in it, through my work, and I do believe strongly in its value – but doesn’t solve the ‘democratic deficit’ issue. There will always be one.

    To protect the most vulnerable, we’re better served making sure our representatives operate with the right values and duties. Asking the public to merely speak up for itself and get more involved, as a solution to bad government, seems to me a recipe for the buck to be passed away from politicians and back onto the public. The old ‘we deserve the politicians we get’ argument, which is defeatist and gives politicians an excuse to behave badly, as the Tories have been doing over benefits for years.

    How about raising standards in public life so that politicians have to conduct themselves in a way that is worthy of the people, or face re-election and/or barring from office?

    This is perhaps coming back to an argument for a proper bill of rights, within which the public might be given more recourse to challenge politicians on a basic code of government that would, for example, outlaw measures that have discriminatory effect against women, or that treat regions differently without the consent of the people there, etc (so ensuring no future Scottish poll tax debacle, AIA debacle etc)

  • John Collins

    Well spotted, funny enough I was born in London, but I am most certainly not a Londoner. BTW I am no bible scholar either.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While I agree entirely with you on these issues of holding our current system to account, I’d still think that if we really believe in “democracy”, or the control of people over their own polity, then it is inconsistent to require them to vest this power in others when the means are finally coming to hand to test just what would occur if we trusted the community to actually govern itself without intermediaries.

    Not that I’d expect this to ever happen in my lifetime (that’s not giving it long, as you know I was out on the streets in 1968), so I still highly value all your sane and sensible comments about the need for politicians to act in such a manner as to merit the respect so many feel is their due simply from winning elections.

    From other postings I’d feel we are both concerned to see a strong and sensible Labour party as a bulwark against the self interest of other parties (oh how I miss the long defunct NI Labour Party), and can readily see from what you write that you are active in actually trying to craft greater popular involvement, where I am simply theorising, so I fully respect that and recognise the authority it gives to what you saying in my eyes. But I’d still long for a community engaged in governing itself directly and without mediation, perhaps a sneaking hint of unconscious “no mediation” Calvanism inherited deep within my High Church self from a sixteenth century ancestor of mine who knew John Knox (oh I know, I’m doing it again…..)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but you can’t have it both ways – you want to bag the GFA concessions and push for more. But pushing for more shows you don’t see the GFA as the deal, just a deal you’re putting up with until you can get something better. This has an impact on how willing other contracting parties are going to make sacrifices for that deal.

    In short, it undermines the GFA to the point where it only serves a mechanical function of allowing politics to operate on a basic level. It removes from the GFA any potential to bring reconciliation and hope. That’s quite a lot to chuck casually out of the window for the sake of chasing a pipe dream polls show hardly anyone wants. What a waste.