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“The real will of the people”

“A citizens’ assembly on climate is pointless”, writes Stephen Buranyi in the Guardian, “if the government won’t listen”.

Perhaps a better person than I am would not have split the quotation at precisely that point. But no one who uses the phrase the “real will of the people” has any call to complain about misrepresentation.

This is what Mr Buranyi says a “citizen’s assembly” is:

Its conceit is that it offers direct access to the real will of the people: 110 citizens – chosen to be representative of the British population – attend sessions where they are briefed by experts on the issue; they then come up with a set of policies to solve it.

“Conceit” indeed. Mr Buranyi’s complaint is that the elected government does not obey this body. I would complain if it did. I do not see why the very atypical 0.00016% of the UK population who agreed to participate in this Citizen’s Assembly lark have any better claim to mystically represent “the real will of the people” than 110 customers of your local Wetherspoons who turned up last Thursday for the Curry Club.

25 comments to “The real will of the people”

  • Lee Moore

    Google Translate :

    Weaselspeak : “Real will of the people” = English : “Real will of ME !”

    Weaselspeak : “Legislative intent” = English : “What I, the judge, prefer”

  • Julie near Chicago

    We have a word for that in our Yiddish-speaking regions, even when it’s only pidgin Yiddish: Chutzpah.

    You folks take two words to convey the basic idea:
    Barking mad.

    Luv, J.-J.R.

    (Not to be confused with a Prof. J.R.R. &c., who got all exercised about the Ring of Power. F’r’eaven’s sake, why? When we got 110 Experts to explain why the Perfesser was WronG? [sic] )

  • bobby b

    A citizens’ assembly is how you appoint a New People when you don’t like the one you have.

  • Actually, citizens’ assemblies could prove useful if they followed the Athenian precedent. But I doubt that is what they intend.

  • David Bishop

    I objected in strong terms about the unrepresentative nature of the “assembly” to my MP.
    I got this response, which I take to be supportive:

    Thank you for your email highlighting your concerns about the climate assembly.
    I can understand your concerns about this project. I have reservations about
    citizens’ assemblies and whether they can be said to have any meaningful
    representative quality.
    Responsibility for climate change rest with the Department of Business, Energy
    and Industrial Strategy. I have contacted them to pass on your concerns.

    The lady in question was removed from ministerial office in the most recent “reshuffle”, so perhaps she was considered insufficiently “on message”.

  • where they are briefed by experts on the issue

    That phrase would be chutzpah if its writer had a clue.

    Long ago, when Natalie and I contributed to the Biased BBC blog in the especially target-rich Greg Dyke years, she occasionally posted about the BBC’s often-seen on-message experts versus the seldom-seen off-message ‘experts’. They say that those who vote decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything. Similarly, experts will not advise this assembly; those who decide which experts are not merely ‘experts’ will advise this assembly – or would in the unlikely event that any participant in it would ever condescend even to hear an ‘expert’.

    Announcing that the Brexit vote would just be bypassed by the old established assembly that is parliament did not work out too well for the LibDems recently. One may hope this new assembly’s self-proclaimed authority will be yet harder to sell outside the bubble.

  • The climate assembly is total BS. The carefully chosen experts browbeat the ‘ordinary people’, and then the ordinary people parrot what the experts think.

  • DP

    Dear Miss Solent

    Every day every person in the country participates in a series of referenda on ‘climate change’, when they buy a skinny latte, a plane ticket, a pair of shoes or a tankful of petrol, numbering billions of votes. The votes are counted automatically and the results are a consistent multi-billion eff offs, to paraphrase Mr Frisby. Even the most hardened “climate warriors” vote against the climate according to their prescriptions for the plebs.

    That’s the real will of the people in action.

    @ David Bishop February 18, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Responsibility for climate change rest with the Department of Business, Energy
    and Industrial Strategy.

    So glad it’s in safe hands.


  • Sam Duncan

    “’Conceit’ indeed.”

    One might almost describe it as “fatal”.

  • staghounds

    But they are CHOSEN. And briefed by EXPERTS.

    The very best sort of Masters.

  • llamas

    I believe that we already saw the results of a ‘citizens’ assembly’ passing its judgement on the question of ‘climate change’ – at Canning Town Tube station, a few weeks ago.

    And then, slightly-more-recently, in a General Election, when the whole body of the citizenry roundly rejected the two parties that put forward a manifesto position on ‘climate change’.

    As DP so cogently notes, the citizens pass their collective judgement on the issue of climate change, every day. One is starting to suspect that the proponents of this approach don’t like what the citizens are saying about their particular obsession, and are trying desperately to find some different citizens whose opinions will be more to their liking.



  • John B

    ‘… chosen to be representative of the British population – ‘

    Or to be representative of those who chose them.

    ‘… briefed by experts on the issue…’

    That would be ‘experts’ selected to make sure the citizens of the assembly are fed the correct propaganda to ensure they come to the correct conclusions.

    There is no such thing as the ‘will of the People’, real or otherwise.

    There can be no single opinion or desire that could represent the variety of opinions and desires of tens of millions of people.

    If they are serious about what the People want to do about the climate change scam, put it to a referendum when all the evidence and data can be presented, analysed, explained and debated in public – something that has never happened. It has never happened because the case for climate doom is noticeably threadbare.

  • darthlaurel

    Seems to me that the will of the people was to jettison the EU. Time to take a little “will of the people” break and watch the fireworks.

  • “A citizens’ assembly on climate is pointless”.

    Actually it sounds like just the think for a failing meme like CAGW, but for the citizenry as a whole…not so much.

    In fairness, the old citizens’ assembly, the House of Commons, hasn’t been working too well of late (although it is better than it was), so if we are going to do this, let’s do it right and have Swiss style Direct Democracy. If MP’s are going to respect our votes they need to be removed from the equation.

    How to run a citizens’ assembly:
    1. First rig the whole thing so that it can only deliver your preferred result.
    2. Choose your selection criteria so that your 110 members of the Elect doesn’t include BRExit supporters and other “off message” individuals.
    3. Choose your “Experts” so that there is no genuine counter argument to your preferred result.
    4. Roll the (loaded) dice.
    5. Profit $$$

    The lady in question was removed from ministerial office in the most recent “reshuffle”, so perhaps she was considered insufficiently “on message”.

    It’s nice when the correct message to send is a P45.

  • Snorri Godhi

    In fairness, the old citizens’ assembly, the House of Commons, hasn’t been working too well of late

    Just today i thought of a possible reform: 1-term limits. No MP can legally be re-elected. After all, if they are career politicians, they are not representative.

    Of course that presupposed a presidential system, with direct election of the head of the executive branch.

    (although it is better than it was)

    You mean better than before the last election?

    so if we are going to do this, let’s do it right and have Swiss style Direct Democracy.

    Some more direct democracy would be good, as the Brexit referendum goes to show; but in a country as large as the UK, i submit that there cannot be much of it.

  • Itellyounothing

    I politely disagree Snorri.
    The trick is to have the direct democracy used as a veto. If you get 100,000 signatures, you can hold a vote to kill a government Bill or similar legislation on a topic for ten years or some other number…..

    No more really stupid law it gets killed…..

  • Nicholas (unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Re, term limits. A politician should only be allowed 2 terms, once in Parliament, and the second term in prison! Problem solved.

  • Just today I thought of a possible reform: 1-term limits. No MP can legally be re-elected (Snorri Godhi, February 18, 2020 at 7:36 pm)

    A politician’s desire to be re-elected is part of what little discipline voters have. Knowing you will re-present yourself to the same seat in a few years means knowing you will need to be able to make what you have done seem to have some resemblance to what you promised to do.

    In executive positions, there are arguments for (and against) term limits – though single-term limits would be bad even there – but I think it would not be good for every backbench MP to know as they gave their first-time victory speech that it was the only one – that from then on they had nothing to lose from ignoring their voters.

  • bobby b

    “A politician’s desire to be re-elected is part of what little discipline voters have”

    I’m reminded of Obama telling outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to tell Putin that Obama would have more flexibility re: missile defense after his next – his final – election.

    No more worries about those pesky voters.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Not sure that there is a disagreement between Itellyounothing and me, so i’ll skip that to reply to Niall:

    A politician’s desire to be re-elected is part of what little discipline voters have.

    OK, since we are talking about UK politics, i should have specified that the 1-term limit is meant for systems in which both the Lower and the Upper Chamber are elected. In such a system, it is necessary to differentiate the 2 Chambers. One way of differentiating them would be to make sure that nobody can stay in the Lower Chamber for more than 1 term. (Or 2 terms, i am not fussy.) That should make the Lower Chamber more truly representative of the people, while keeping them under the supervision of the career politicians in the Upper Chamber.

    There would remain incentives for the representatives to behave: If they are thinking about staying in politics, they need to do a good job to get elected to the Upper Chamber. If they want to get back to their old job, then they don’t want their reputations ruined. (So the voters should elect people who need to protect their reputations.)

    In addition, it would be good to give the voters the power of recall. Unlike a referendum, a recall does not have to be nationwide, so it is easily managed.

    Or we could do like the Romans: put on trial every representative when their term expires.

  • Paul Marks

    Even if the “Citizens Assembly” are not picked in some rigged process – the “experts” will be. The “experts” will give the Collectivist line, dissenters will not allowed equal access.

    This whole process is obviously totalitarian – worthy of Rousseau with his “General Will” which need not be the “Will of All” (what people actually believe) – the “General Will” is decided by the “Law Giver” – the “expert” who “educates” the people.

    That my old friends the Guardian support this totalitarian is only to be expected.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Good for Paul Marks to mention Rousseau. I thought of doing so myself but, since i know Rousseau only at 2nd hand, i decided not to.

    Also relevant is Samuel Finer’s distinction between absolute rulers who legitimize themselves by Divine Right and absolute rulers who legitimize themselves by Popular Will.
    (See also Monty Python.)

    Absolute rulers who appeal to the Popular Will are MORE repressive, because they cannot allow anyone to express dissent.

    Absolute rulers who appeal to Divine Right, by contrast, have to be on their toes, lest somebody notices that they do not respect the Holy Writ. (Though they have more latitude in less literate societies.)

  • Mr Black

    So 110 ignorant people have their heads filled with the approved narrative from “experts” and then coincidentally come to the only real conclusions possible given the nature of the advice they have received. I can see why they’d like this scheme.

  • Runcie Balspune

    “Citizens Assemblies” – sounds like they’re just taking away the lamb’s machine gun.

  • Eric

    It’s a mechanism by which the government can devolve responsibility without devolving authority. Presumably this is the route by which ultra low flow toilets and vegetarian diets can be forced on the public without anyone in parliament losing a seat.