Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The People's Jury: Guilty or Not Guilty?

In his excellent piece for the Telegraph (here) blogger Graeme Archer does a grand job of knocking down the rather, ahem, inetresting idea in the Guardian (where else?) that a randomly selected "jury" of 1,000 Britons ought to hold court on some of the big issues facing the public.

Putitng aside Archer's point about this unelected clique telling our elected parliament what to do and think (I am rather fond of the idea of parliamentary sovereignty and voting at election time to make my voice heard) the idea is doomed because it almost certainly won't get the protagonists what they want.

By dangling 3 big issues - MPs expenses, the banking crisis and phone hacking - in front of the public, all issues where the public take issue with "vested interests" and "big businesses" - they make the idea sound attractive. But consider this. Britain is - wait for it - a conservative (small "c") country. For the vast majority of the last century or so, we have had Conservative, Conservaive-led or Conservative-dominated National governments. There is, as we are now finding out, a big conservative element to the LibDems and also to the Labour Party too. We have had precious few radical socialist, or even just socialist, governments and the only time recently when Labour have "won big" is when they shifted to the right (i.e. to where the people of Britain are). Sorry Guardian readers, however few of you there are left, it is true. Go to a council estate anywhere in the country, where you might expect Labour support to be strongest. Ask them about Europe, or immigration, or taxation levels and see what they say; I distinctly remember one voter last time in the heart of Lakeham lecturing me about the evils of Europe, too many immigrants, tax too high etc etc and - you guessed it - he would still be voting Labour. Even Labour folk have a conservative element to them.

So if you take 1,000 random Britons you wouldn't get the spread I think The Guardian expect. And instead of asking them about MPs expenses, as Archer suggests, you put other issues in front of them, you might not get the answer you expect either.

So I lay this challenge to The Guardian, The People's Jury and its fans. With some polls putting support for a return to the death penalty at over 70%, would you be happy for the first idea for discussion to be the death penalty?

Dontcha just love indrect democracy - when it suits you, eh, Guardian readers? ;-)


Peter said...

"Go to a council estate anywhere in the country, where you might expect Labour support to be strongest".

I am sorry Antony but I have to comment on this one. Labour isn't necessarily the strongest in council estates and you are at risk of dangerously stereotyping.

There are a few council estates in Norwich were Greens are elected, or in the past have Conservative councillors. Remember you have been a council representing a council estate in the past.

I would agree partly with your statement that Britain is Conservative with a small 'c' but even then you have to define what you mean by a small c Conservative. I would probably argue that Britain has become more pluralistic in nature and it is hard to pinpoint whether Britain is more Conservative, Liberal, Left wing.

I would expect you to not like the idea of 'direct' democracy because it does challenge the Burkian idea which you may uphold of Elitism. I myself personally do not have a problem with direct democracy on some issues, but not others.

Antony said...

Peter -apols I wasn't clear. I literally meant to go to any council estate anywhere in the country - you choose - but where you would expect to find strongest Labour support. I know, perhaps more than most, how to make council estates vote Tory, but even on the staunchest of Labour estates you'll find these views!

Peter said...

Thank you Antony for clearing it up.

Do you think direct democracy could gain greater utility on a local government level? Say for example local authorities holding referrendums on certain issues and policies?

Antony said...

Agh! This is SO hard for me and I admit I am a democracy-hypocrite. I support democracy at all levels and about anything; I admire the US system (seperation of powers, federalism) and think the more say we are given (even if people choose not to use it) the better. I'd, for exampe, have Primaries for general elections and a series of referenda held every year on local election day. I'd also have PR for local elections which, I admit, would give the Tories in places like Fenland or Breckland, a real shake up. BUT at the same time I appreciate if we adhere to democracy we would withdraw from the EU and bring back hanging. Havign said that, I'm all-or-nothing. No pick 'n' mix menu. I'd go for democracy any day and throw down the guantlett to politicians to go out there, lead public opinion and tell us why the EU is good and hanging is bad.