Magazine article The Spectator

Local Lottery

Magazine article The Spectator

Local Lottery

Article excerpt

Maybe, just maybe, you will not win the Lottery but instead be chosen to help hand out some of its cash. Electors, selected at random, are being allocated places on the regional advisory panels of the National Lottery Charities Board. They are chosen by applying the number on Camelot's bonus ball on a certain date to the register of electors and then weeding out those who, by virtue of age, availability or fraud convictions, might not be appropriate for the posts.

These random representatives are part of a wider trend towards direct citizen involvement in government decisions. Juries have always been randomly selected, but a recent pamphlet from the think-tank Demos, entitled The Athenian Option, recommended random selection for the new House of Lords. This would bring democracy full circle, returning to the system used by Cleisthenes of Athens, who chose his city's governing council by lot in the fifth century before Christ.

The House of Lords, however, is a bad example. The craven nature of the current Commons and the increasingly overweening power of the executive require a second chamber with the power to act as a real check on the autocratic rule of No. 10 Downing Street. It is unlikely that a random group of citizens would be able to stand up to the Lower House; most likely, they would prove susceptible to the blandishments of Mr Blair.

There is a good case, however, for the introduction of representatives selected by lot in other layers of our democracy, if only to ensure that it remains participatory. Britain has traditionally subcontracted the business of government to its parliamentarians. As Burke once put it, `Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays you, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.' This comforting and much quoted phrase has contributed to the gradual decline of the quality of our democracy. It has allowed the electorate to reject responsibility for the governance of their country.

At the last election, only 71.5 per cent of those eligible to vote bothered to go to the polls, the lowest level since the 1930s. Pollsters routinely find that voters think most politicians of all parties at best untrustworthy and at worst corrupt. Politics, as well as its practitioners, has fallen into disrepute. As a result, men and women of talent and integrity are reluctant to pursue a political career.

This makes it difficult to devolve power from Westminster. It is hard enough to find good MPs for the Westminster Parliament and now there are to be new assemblies in Wales and Scotland, and perhaps regional bodies as well. …

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