An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Anti-politics: gladiators, Guido, and the People’s Jury

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On Saturday I went to the Gladiator Games at the Guildhall staged by the Museum of London. I am assured by a Latin teacher also in attendance that the portrayal and embellishments were suitably accurate, even if some of the gladiators themselves had seen better days. The crowd of Romanists, parents and merciless nine year olds were instructed beforehand in the vagaries of Roman crowd behaviour, and in particular how to cast our vote as to the fate of the unfortunate losers in each contest – an open hand to send the warrior away alive, a jabbing fist to see the fake blood spurt. However, the presence of the emperor Domitian in the audience meant that while the people were able to express their view, the ultimate decision as to the fighter’s fate lay with him. The will of the people in this sphere was mediated by the elite, the impulses of the crowd encouraged or rejected as it suited those in charge.

I apply this bit of po-faced nonsense to a kid’s day out in response to the launch of a couple of contrasting attempts to break through a perceived elite stitch-up. The more bloodthirsty of the two is Guido Fawkes’s self-confessed pursuit of retribution against child murderers and cop killers, a petition calling on the government to map a legislative path towards the return of the death penalty. To Guido, the elected representatives of the people do not represent the people’s wishes on this issue.

Alongside this, self-appointed conscience of the soft left Neal Lawson is using his emaciated ‘think-tank’ to punt round the idea of a ‘People’s Jury’, a thousand randomly selected souls (with presumably no job, no family and nothing better to do with their time) ably supported by a secretariat to “report on how the public interest relates to media ownership; the role of the financial sector in the crash; MP selections and accountability; policing; and more generally on British political and corporate life.”  This is a bafflingly vague set of aims, and the real impulse appears to be to coopt “ordinary people” in order to produce a think tank pamphlet much like any other. In fact, it brings to mind nothing so much as a repeat of the self-absorbed chattering class talking shop that was the Power Inquiry.

It is easy to mock both of these initiatives for being out of touch hobby horses of cranks of left and right. But it’s also important to take the impulse that inspires them seriously. Both take as their starting point the illegitimacy of representative democracy, the inability of politics as usual to achieve what people want. Political parties need to respond to this, not only by reforming themselves to be more relevant and accountable, but also by standing up for the importance of democratic representatives.


Written by samelliot

August 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Democracy

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