A modest proposal for correcting the democratic deficit

Monday 14 July 2008 12:26

I've often wondered about that old chestnut that ''a people gets the government it deserves, not the government it wants''. It seems to me to be almost invariably true. In Ireland, as everywhere else, the houses of parliament contain what must surely be a statistically average number of complete idiots, charlatans, crooks, liars, frauds, grasping selfish power-hungry bastards and well-meaning bunglers, as well as competent, decent, hardworking people. Parliament is a world in a village.

This being the case, it seems to me that it should be possible abandon the fallacy that politicians are people who have devoted their lives to public service for very little reward, and to look instead for an electoral system that would pick the same statistical average while eliminating some of the well-known abuses.

The answer is obvious: Elect parliament by lottery.

It's a simple concept. It should be possible to identify the required number of seats to make parliament representative of the population. To ensure a geographical spread, the lottery would take place in each constituency. A lottery would, if anything, produce a more equitable and statistically stable sample of the population than an election.

Citizens between certain ages would be required to serve once they had been chosen, and every facility would be put in place to make their service amenable to them - long holidays, short hours, good pay, expenses (stop me if you think all these privileges already exist). Their service would last for a limited period - two years, perhaps - and afterwards they would be excluded from future lotteries. During the period of their service their work and homes would be protected carefully by law.

Since names would be generated at random, the party political system would decay. Lobbyists would, of course, be illegal, but, at any rate, it is unlikely that the number of randomly selected members of parliament who accepted bribes would be higher than under the present system.

This system could as well be applied to the EU as to Ireland. We''re unlikely to be any worse off under it than we are now and it would be a damn sight cheaper and quicker.