The Aims and Origins of the SDRS

The sole aims of the SDRS are as follows: first, the promotion of random selection as a complementary method of election; secondly, to facilitate political and cultural understanding between persons who share this democratic aspiration.

The genesis of the SDRS may be traced to 1994. That year the Labour Committee on Democratic Accountability of Secret Services (LCDASS) held a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference and proposed that organisations constituted to monitor the activities of the secret services should incorporate the principle that some of their members be chosen by random selection from the general electorate, similar to the way in which juries are selected. The use of random selection in the appointment of these bodies is the best method to ensure that influences of political factionalism do not jeopardise the impartiality or operational security of the intelligence services. The problem of factionalism is however not confined to the question of intelligence oversight: it also affects virtually the entire representative democratic system. Against this background the LCDASS advocated the promotion of the Athenian form of democracy - random selection not only as a method of selecting juries but also as a general, complementary method for electing democratic representatives, including members of parliament. Constitutional reforms facilitating this purpose could also serve the ultimate purpose of incorporating the use of random selection in regard to oversight of the intelligence services.

In 1998, Anthony Barnett, a Senior Research Fellow at London University, wrote a pamphlet in connection with the ongoing reform of the House of Lords entitled The Athenian Option, in which he advocated random selection as a method of election to the new upper chamber. At the Labour conference held in September that year the LCDASS hosted a fringe meeting to promote this proposal with speakers including Anthony Barnett, the former deputy leader of the Labour party Roy Hattersley, and the Guardian journalist and author Jonathan Freedland. Throughout 1999 and 2000 the LCDASS organised and conducted a series of focus group meetings using canvassing methods incorporating the principle of random selection to find out how the general public would respond to this proposed constitutional reform for the House of Lords.

Most of those who attended these meetings approved of the use of random selection as a means to elect some peers to the newly reformed upper chamber. They also agreed that an organisation should be formed to promote random selection as a complementary form of election, and in June 2000 the inaugural meeting of the SDRS took place comprised mainly of those individuals who had been contacted using random canvassing methods. That is why even though a Labour party organisation was involved in the formation of the SDRS most of its members are not in the Labour party and it is correspondingly independent of any political party. The SDRS incorporates random selection methods in its own internal practices and constitution. Canvassing methods undertaken by the SDRS also incorporate random selection techniques.

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