Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Lording it, or a Peerless Reform?

The reaction to the Queen’s Speech (BBC News Website 9 May 2012) seems to highlight some confused thinking about Lords Reform.

Parliament should be concentrating on something more important – like the economy

This opinion seems to be based on the idea that Parliament should single task – only tackling the most important issue.  Very few organisations operate like this.  Many businesses divide their attentions between a “Business as Usual” agenda and a “Reform” or “Improvement” agenda.  Most families and individuals can pursue a number of objectives simultaneously .

It can be argued that one of the multitude of reasons that we are in a mess is because we have a Legislature that is not as effective or as acceptable as it could be.  So whilst putting in place a “deficit reduction plan” / “plan for growth” (select whichever you prefer) it would seem reasonable to be putting in place measures to improve the future situation.  Whether the current proposals are an improvement is a separate (but allied) question.

It will/will not need a referendum

It is argued that, since it was in all three major (English) parties’ manifestos, it does not need a referendum.  This seems an odd argument given that, in effect, at the last election we were not offered a choice on this issue in any of the “portfolio of policies” offered by those three parties. The nature of manifestos means that we have to vote for an assortment of policies – possibly endorsing a policy with which we may disagree -“holding our noses” and voting for the party despite the policy that we cannot stand.  So on a major constitutional issue such as this I would argue that we should all have a yes/no choice clear of a general election that is not obscured by either this “portfolio” issue – or the fact that our dotty electoral system cannot properly measure public opinion.

It will result in a second Chamber that challenges the Commons

The core of this argument is that any reformed second chamber would be elected by some form of proportional representation and that as a consequence this chamber would claim a “better mandate” than the Commons.  It seems that there are two possible solutions to this:

  1. Determine the make up of the second chamber by a system inferior to that used to elect the House of Commons – say by political or royal patronage, or
  2. Elect the House of Commons by a system that is as good as that proposed for electing the reformed second chamber.

But does it matter if a reformed second chamber can challenge the Commons?  Political stalemate is a potentially dangerous situation – sometimes seen between the two houses of Congress in the USA.  The only reasons that I can see for a second chamber being able to challenge a “properly elected” House of Commons is to protect the country from potential tyrannous actions by the Commons such as extending the life of a parliament, or for a parliamentary majority (not reflecting a popular majority) oppressing that popular majority.  But perhaps the new Supreme Court can take on that role – in which case the second chamber can be subordinate – which provokes a consideration of what the “second chamber” is really for.

But what’s the second chamber really for?

The Wakeham Committee was meant to look at this issue many years ago.

If we are to have a full bicameral system, we cannot have a neutered House of Lords and it should have full powers and be fully elected.

If it is more a revising and advisory chamber that cannot over-ride the House of Commons, electing people is not necessarily the best way to get the most skillful “revisors and advisors” as many specialists would probably not want to “be political” or stand in elections. Independent Nomination may be the best way and nominations should be sought from organisations such as The Royal Academy, the Professions, the TUC/Major Unions, (all) Religions, The WI, etc. (It seemed to be the way we got the Boards of the old Regional Development Agencies.)

The Voting System

The draft bill recommended STV (which puts the choice of representative as firmly as possible in the hands of the individual electors) the actual bill proposes (Part 2. 5.(4) p3) a party list system. I don’t want another election system that puts the power to elect into the hands of party officials (the selectorate rather than the electorate)– you are too likely to get toadies and party-hacks.


This is another constitutional “pig in a poke” (like AV, a system no one wanted; like the North East Assembly – a powerless super-council that no one wanted, like city mayors …).

If this lot gets passed, that will be reform “done” for at least three generations (the transition period is almost that long!). If we chuck it out, there is at least a chance that the ridiculousness of the existing system will demand that proper proposals for reform are brought forward in the reasonably near future.


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