Blogging the revolution: Let a group of ordinary voters fix the expenses mess

Last week, we called for readers to set out the reforms they felt were most desperately needed to our moribund political system – familiar and new ideas alike. Antony Hook responds.

Liberal Democrats have traditionally supported the idea of Citizens’ Juries and reforming MPs’ funding is a perfect case to apply this policy.

A citizens’ jury is empanelled in the same way as the juries who decide thousands of our criminal cases and civil disputes every year: 12 people at random from the electoral register. They can hear evidence and arguments from every interested party. A judge presides and ensures a fair hearing. Ultimately, the jury make a binding decision on the questions before them.

The rules against jury interference eliminate the influence of big money and lobbying, which poisons traditional politics.

This is how the future of MPs expenses and pay should be determined.

Juries in court are the ultimate safeguard that the law meets common ideas of justice. Lord Devlin famously observed that no tyrant could succeed in Britain as long as the jury system remains intact.

Most people who do jury service say that their fellow jurors take their responsibilities seriously and do all they can to reach the right decision. Would most MPs say that about their colleagues? Not in my experience.

If we trust people to decide who is and who is not a terrorist, whether someone has breached their ASBO, or whether someone was been libelled, then they could also be used to decide specific questions of public policy.

This is an authentically democratic approach. Democracy was not originally dominated by a cadre of elected officials. In Athens, the heart of democracy was groups of citizens chosen at random to serve for a limited period.

MPs cannot decide their own funding. Few mortals could properly handle absolute power over their own income.

But I also doubt that an “independent” arbiter appointed by MPs, and of whom the public know little, can restore trust.

“Radical” is an over worn word in politics. True radicalism is to strike at a deep fundamental issue rather than what floats by on the surface. It requires a rare quality: courage to take an unusual course rather than a variation of something familiar.

My friend Alex Wilcock many years ago proposed a jury model to replace the House or Lords. It was laughed out of the FPC by professional politicians. Who should be laughing now?

Now is a time to be radical and give the decision over MPs income to a small group of our fellow citizens.

Antony Hook is a candidate for the European Parliament in South East England.

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4 Comments

  • Ali Goldsworthy 25th May '09 - 11:22am

    You may recognise just a few of the names on this list 🙂

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/24/letters-mps-expenses/print

  • As a P.S:

    For more modern support than Athens, James Surowiecki, in “The Wisdom of Crowds”, notes vast evidence that the aggregate judgement of a group will usually beat the most expert specialist individual.

    (My thanks to Sarah Otner of the LSE for drawing my attention to that book.)

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