Monday, 17 January 2022

Sortition explained.

I first came across 'Sortition' after reading 'Against Elections' by David Van Reybrouck.

In it he explains that for most of its 3000 year history, democracy did not involve elections at all as members of the public were appointed to positions in government through a combination of volunteering and selection by lottery. In fact, he points out that the original purpose of elections was to exclude the people from power by appointing an elite to govern over them - and haven't they been supremely successful at achieving that!

The action of selecting or determining something, in this case a government, by casting or drawing of lots is called ‘Sortition’ and of course our juries are selected using this system today. Based on this and the fact that sortition was used to select the governments in ancient Greek cities the author believes that there is no intrinsic reason why all our governance could not be selected in this way.

I think the principle of sortition has a great deal going for it, after all if our juries can be selected by lottery then why should not elements of our governance. However, my own opinion is that it would not be practical or desirable to adopt it for all our governance.

The governance of our country or even local regions is now far more complex than the days of administering a Greek city in the 6th century BC. THA certainly wants to enable the ‘people’ to have a far greater say in the governance of our country but I believe the day to day running  and technical detail of our governance is best handled by dedicated officials overseen in the main by elected politicians but who are, importantly, answerable to the people they serve. 

The six demands of our agenda set out very clearly how the people will have the mechanisms to have their views heard and when applicable a majority will be able to stop government legislation. We have also been very careful to ensure that certain rules and procedures need to be followed to avoid the situation where we end up with mob rule.

I also still believe in our FPTP system for elections as, for all its faults, it still beats all the other systems and prevents the endless coalitions usually comprised of the same parties and people who perform endless deals behind closed doors. FPTP allows the people to get rid of a government they no longer trust completely.

My first choice, for a system of sortition, would be in the long over due reform of the House of Lords which I believe should be reduced to around 300 members with a third each elected, appointed and selected by sortition. Also it could be used in part for the appointment of people to government official enquiries and quangos. Why should the members of the public not take part in such things which currently only go to the chums of our politicians.

Once sortition has been proved to work and is successful then I see no reason why the principle should not be extended to a reduced House of Commons of say 500 with the number of MPs allocated by county based on its population with at least a third selected by sortition. Sortition could also be used for the  selection of local politicians.

In summary I believe the specific use of sortition should have its place in the long over due reforms to our system of governance as it gives the people real power and after all the defination of democracy is 'People Power'. We will only have real democracy when the people have real power of our politicans, the chumocracy is broken by sortition and our politicians become our servants and not our masters.




  1. I cannot disagree with anything that you write here. That, along with Demand 2. Real local democracy, would solve almost all the problems with our current system.

    I can see why people don't like FPTP, but as you suggest, for all its faults, it is far preferable to any alternative.

    Now all we have to do is to achieve that little thing, make it all happen!!

  2. Making it happen is down to the people and if they continue to sit on their hands little will change.

  3. Niall, wrt this from your article;

    ‘FPTP allows the people to get rid of a government they no longer trust completely’.

    What, of course you neglect to mention is the fact that every government since the Second World War (bar one coalition) has been formed by a party that MOST people DIDN’T vote for, often a significant majority didn’t vote for them and sometimes overwhelming majorities didn’t vote for them.

    However, notwithstanding that I would like to dig into your claim that ‘the people can get rid of governments they no longer completely trust’ which is a bit of an odd way to express it, but let’s look anyway.

    Taking Labour as an example, in 1997 they won a majority of 179 seats when over 56% of voters DIDN’T vote for them. We will brush over the fact that a large majority didn’t vote for them and move on to the following election when they won under 41% of the vote. Surely, as you point out the people must have voted them out as over 59% of voters DIDN’T vote for them. But no, a majority of 167 seats!

    Still, the people really spoke in the 2005 election, over 64% of voters DIDN’T vote Labour which must have led to a crushing defeat, surely? No, a majority of 66 seats on little over a third of the votes.

    FPTP is a shameful system in a Country that purports to be a representative democracy and it should have no place in the modern World. It really has no defence and your argument that ‘we can kick governments out’ doesn’t really stand up to any objective scrutiny unless you mean we can eventually change a Government that most people didn’t want in the first place for a Government that most people still didn’t vote for.

    To be even handed, the fact is that even at the height of her powers, the best the Conservatives achieved when led by Mrs Thatcher was over 56% NOT voting for her party.

    1. I generally agree with Alfred.

      The party that wins the majority of MPs - can form a government.

      The party with the most MPs but not a majority can form a minority government or seek a majority with a coalition.

      With PR you get coalitions that nobody voted for.

      Remember all parties are coalitions already.

    2. Hi Niall, I agree with Alfred as well but only because he has stated simple facts outlining how MPs are elected. I think we all understand that.

      My actual point was to question your simplistic assertion that ‘FPTP can get rid of Governments’, and to point out that FPTP tends to deliver outcomes that give people a Government formed by a Party that most of them didn’t vote for in the first place, so I don’t see it as a big advantage of FPTP that you can subsequently get rid of that Government.

      Secondly, as my figures regarding the 3 Labour victories demonstrate, even when 64% of voters didn’t vote for them they were able to form a Government as they had a majority of 66 seats! So, demonstrably, FPTP didn’t deliver a change of Government even when 64% of voters shunned them. So FPTP can get rid of a Government but it relies on the distribution of votes to other parties AND the Geographical spread of the vote and even when it does deliver a change of Government, most people still didn’t vote for the party that forms the Government.

      In my opinion, the primary purpose of an electoral system should be to deliver a Parliament that reflects the votes of the people. What it shouldn’t do is allow those people to be Governed by a party who received just over a third of the vote and that is what FPTP can and has delivered.

      You say with PR you get a coalition that people didn’t vote for but under FPTP you get a Government that most people didn’t vote for.

    3. We can go around in circles on this and yes FPTP is not ideal and with below 50% of the vote you can form a government as could be the case with two parties under PR forming a coalition.

      However all this not the point of THA which wants to see a sovereign people so whether under FPTP or a system of PR the 'people' have the mechanisms to challenge the government between elections.

    4. Niall, the thing is I personally think there are some interesting ideas in THA and a lot of work has been undertaken to develop it, but there is a huge elephant in the room as it doesn’t address the way that the make-up of Parliament fails to reflect the way the people voted. Voting reform should be front and centre of any changes to our political system in my opinion and not addressing it undermines the credibility of THA.

      You say you want to restore sovereignty to the people but you are quite happy to support a system that gave the 12% of the electorate who voted for UKIP at the 2015 General Election 1 seat. Nearly 4 million votes, 1 seat. How can that be ignored? If the people are sovereign, they should have a Parliament they voted for.

      You also say the point of the THA is to give people the mechanisms to challenge the Government, but from the perspective of referenda it will still be local or National Government and their staff that implement the outcomes of referenda so the make up of those Governments is key.

      Finally, you are strong advocate for change but FPTP provides a huge hurdle to new parties with new ideas to becoming established in Parliament, see earlier previous UKIP figures.

    5. Only when you realise that changes to the voting system changes little to nothing of consequence will you realise why the THA's reforms to our whole system of GOVERNANCE, not the voting system, is the only way to get real democracy in this or any country.

  4. In the UK you win a parliamentary seat by getting more votes than anyone else standing for the election, even if they get less than 50% of the total vote, in that constituency. If one party gets more than 50% of the seats then that party forms a government. It's really that simple.

    I cannot see where you are misunderstanding that.

  5. Yes Alfred, I think we all understand that. I personally think its pretty much the worst system available for populating a Parliament but that wasn’t the point I was making.

    The point I made was that I didn’t agree with Niall’s statement that ‘FPTP allows the people to get rid of a government they no longer trust completely’. It can, but as I pointed out it often doesn’t and in the 2005 election 64% of voters couldn’t get rid of a Government that I think we can agree wasn’t very popular.

    I cannot see what you are failing to understand about that.

    1. In our two party system if the people want to get rid of the Conservatives they can by voting in Labour.

      With PR you could have say six parties A B C D E and F.

      So let's say A and C form a coalition and at the next election A B and C, or what ever combination you like, the ppoint is the people have no easy way to get rid of A. This point is surely supported by the countries with PR.

    2. You seem to be suggesting that 64% voted for a party that said "We are against the current government". Of course they didn't but voted for various others. As Niall says, if 64% had voted Labour, the various Labour MPs would form a government.

      If you don't like FPTP, I understand that. I think PR is a worse system, but clearly we wouldn't agree upon that.

    3. Well, I wasn’t trying to suggest that. In my opinion no party in a Country that purports to be a representative democracy should hold a 66 seat majority after receiving 35% of the vote at the election. If 64% of the electorate cast their votes for an alternate party they support then they are saying we don’t support the party forming the current government, if they did they would have voted for them.

      You said ‘As Niall says, if 64% had voted Labour, the various Labour MPs would form a government.’ You neglected to quote all of what Niall said in an earlier post as you missed this bit, ‘In our two party system if the people want to get rid of the Conservatives they can by voting in Labour.’ So Niall is talking as if there is no other option except to vote Labour which we know isn’t true. If that were true, it would be easier to get rid of a sitting Government but there are other options available so it becomes a lot more difficult to remove a Government under FPTP than claimed which was my original point.

      You are right, we won’t agree on this, but look at the following. I believe there are other electoral systems available that would deliver a fairer more democratic outcome that better reflects the way the electorate voted but you disagree.

      2005 General Election – Labour Share of the vote 35.2% (9,552,436 votes). That translated to 355 seats won which is just over 55% of the total seats available

      2015 General Election – UKIP Share of the vote 12.6% (3,881,099 votes). That translated to 1 seat won which is less than 0.2% of the total seats available.

      I think we can do better and deserve better. .

    4. Your response is all about parties but the strength of the current system is that local voters vote for a local representative in parliament. If, under THA, less power is centralised then that representative would be more important to the local people and thus they would take a greater interest in whom they select. Independents would stand a greater chance of selection.

      Alternative systems are about getting parties better represented. So what is more important?

      A local representative with real power to represent local people, or
      Power well distributed amongst parties in a centralised system, but poor local representation.

      Yes, there is much wrong with the present system, but I cannot see how any other system does anything but reduce the power of the local vote.

    5. Apologies Alfred, but I don't follow your logic.

      Under FPTP local people invariably elect a local representative who is standing for a party on a party manifesto. According to research between 55% and 75% when asked couldn't name their MP. Other research shows up to 75% of people don't read any manifestos. People tend to vote for parties and they tend to vote on a general set of principles or a simple message like 'get Brexit done'. I don't think it is credible that adoption of THA would change any of the above.

      Under THA local government becomes more important, agreed. Why can't local governments be elected by a system other than FPTP, a more democratic system where the outcome better aligns with how the public voted? How would that undermine the local vote?

      It is interesting that when the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments were set up, a more proportional voting system was adopted. Why is that I wonder?

      Finally, do you genuinely believe that up to a third of the members of both the National and local legislatures (under THA) should be picked by drawing straws or a lottery. Seriously?

    6. There is a tendency when something is not working properly, to throw it out and try something new. This is superficially attractive but, in my experience, usually ends up with people realising that the old system was not so bad after all and the effort should have gone into fixing it.

      You make very good points about people voting for parties, but that is the problem, as I was trying to point out before. Political parties have become too powerful.

      I have lived in a FPTP system which worked well, as voters were voting for full local expenditure with no federal state top up, so they took an acute interest in the candidates, as people, as their selection affected their wallets directly. It worked less well at the federal level but that's a completely different story and nothing to do with a failure of FPTP.

    7. RO Tate - democracy means 'people power' and has NOTHING to do with voting systems.

      BTW if you think Australia nas NZ, with their systems of PR, are being governed well during this covid outbreak I completely disagree as of courser the 'people' still have noreal power other than take to the streets or wait for the next election.

      Also please register that ALL THA's six demands come as a COMPLETE package.

    8. Niall, with all due respect as a standalone statement ‘people power’ means nothing. There has to be a practical way for that to take effect, and by the way, it was you who introduced the subject of voting systems.

      Reading through THA items it is crystal clear that the National Parliament and future local legislatures will be powerful bodies so how the members of those bodies are selected remains critical. The fact that THA proposes such radical governance changes and then supports a scandalously unfair voting system that subverts how people voted is baffling and frankly, suspicious.

      You preach people power and would then support a system that foists governments on the population that the majority didn’t vote for, in many cases a large majority didn’t vote for. As to Sortition, it may have been acceptable for Ancient Greece but in the modern World, IMO it would be unacceptable to the majority, especially the way you are selling it where people selected randomly sit alongside those who put themselves up for election on a platform that has been communicated to voters. There would be legitimacy issues highlighted, and rightly so.

      You could implement every aspect of THA, but by retaining FPTP you would just spread that unfairness further and still erect barriers to new entrants to the system.

      I’ll repeat a previous point, how do you justify a majority of over 50 seats with a vote share of 35%? Is that a system fit to represent the wishes of a sovereign people? Obviously not.

  6. "FPTP allows the people to get rid of a government they no longer trust completely" - does "completely" refer to the government or the trust? It seems irrelevant anyway if there are no trustworthy candidates, as is usually the case.

    1. In a mainly two party system with FPTP the electorate are able to elect either party A or B for whatever reason they like.