Saturday, 28 April 2012

Financial Times publishes my letter on Lords reform calling for new class of Citizen Senators

View online at here (£)

Chance for reform that is truly radical

From Mr John Slinger.

Sir, The report this week of the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill has led to a tired and polarised debate, resulting in two equally unattractive options. The conservationists wish to preserve an anachronistic, undemocratic body, which nonetheless carries out its responsibility to revise legislation with aplomb due to the expertise of its members. The reformers cling to the totem of elections to bestow on the Lords some semblance of democracy, yet offer no explanation on how to manage the inevitable constitutional clash between the newly legitimate Lords and the previously supreme Commons, or how the full range of expertise would be preserved. Instead, we require radical reform accommodating the best features of both options while mitigating their inherent deficiencies. One little-discussed idea is for a system of Citizen Senators, selected by lot as with juries.

The backdrop to Lords reform is that the conception of what constitutes “democracy” has been simplistically reduced to mean free elections. With its genesis in ancient Greece, democracy literally means “the power of the people”. It would be helpful to focus on the second phrase in Abraham Lincoln’s rallying cry – “rule of the people, by the people, for the people”. “Rule by the people” is the mantra for Citizen Senators, who would fill half a renamed Senate, the remaining half composed of Expert Senators, drawn from across the broad panoply of British life. Citizen Senators would serve for one year, be paid compensation for lost earnings and receive training. A special committee of Citizen Senators would ultimately select Expert Senators, through an independently run process.

As with jury selection, Citizen Senators would be truly representative of ordinary people – the antithesis of the party list or other cloistered selection systems. The other fundamental responsibilities placed on jurors would be mirrored: Citizen Senators would be required to act in the public interest and to renounce party membership. They would operate outside the clutch of party business managers. Politicians have an opportunity to do something innovative and radical rather than mire in another Great British constitutional fudge.

It is time that our mother of parliaments be admired not for its longevity and pomp, but because it places “the people” at its heart, rather than as an adjunct to an increasingly sophisticated game of focus group poker.

John Slinger
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism

More on what I term "Citizen Senators":
  • Letter in The Independent, July 2014 
  • A longer article in which I expand on these themes appeared in the revolutionise_it pamphlet "One Nation, One World", May 2013.
  • Letter in The Times, May 2009

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