Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Clegg’s calamitous contrivance for House of Lords reform

Anyone with half a brain understands that something needs to be done. We simply cannot continue with the absurd procedure after every change of government which sees the newly-elected prime minister appoint another four-score peers in order to facilitate his legislative programme. In 1996, there were 666 members. Now that David Cameron has appointed a further 107 along with sundry other party appointments, we are at 789. A month ago it was 792, but ‘natural wastage’ constantly tinkers with the top end. The Upper House increases exponentially each time a new government is elected, yet it is already full. Ever since Tony Blair hacked away at the hereditary principle and fatally undermined the centuries-old settlement by which legislation has traditionally been scrutinised and revised, the House of Lords has been suffering from something of an identity crisis, not to mention a composition complex.

And now Nick Clegg – still licking his wounds from the humiliating wholesale rejection of AV and the realisation that his much-vaunted ‘progressive majority’ is actually a regressive minority – has announced that he intends to deliver an elected second chamber by 2015.

And David Cameron – in an astonishing about-face from his pre-election assurance that Lords reform as a ‘third-term priority’ – has decided to support his deputy, saying:
“In a modern democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply. The House of Lords performs its work well but lacks sufficient democratic authority. The House of Lords and its existing members have served the country with distinction. However, reform of the House of Lords has been on the agenda for more than 100 years and many Governments have considered the complex issues which surround it but full reform has not yet been achieved. This Government is committed to resolving these issues so that progress can be made.”
This is such blatant politicking demonstrating such a crude grasp of constitutional principles that we are precariously close to a Conservative prime minister making an argument for the abolition of the Monarchy. 'La Reine le veult', proclaims the Royal Assent in Norman French. With what ‘democratic authority’, Prime Minister? If ‘those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply’, when will Her Majesty be standing for election? Might Gordon Brown be standing against her? The quest to ‘resolve these issues’ is a thoroughly Whiggish obsession: the ‘tensions’ between the inconsistencies and the mutual exclusions in the Constitution are a reflection of our history and the embodiment of our traditions. One cannot simply ‘resolve’ them without revolution.

The draft bill makes an interesting and thoroughly depressing read. It is as though Mr Clegg has abandoned his own reforming principles and accepted a contrivance which will satisfy neither his own party nor his Conservative partners, not to mention HM Loyal Opposition. The proposal to make the House of Lords an elected chamber – whether 80 or 100 per cent – is a certain recipe for future strife. Not least because Nick Clegg’s proposal is that they be elected by proportional representation (STV) and remain in office for 15 years. Where else on the planet are elected politicians insulated from their electorate for a decade-and-a-half? How does an 80-per-cent elected chamber constitute a ‘resolution of issues’? What is the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of the remaining 20 per cent, especially the bishops? What is the democratic legitimacy of the entire 100 per cent if members may only be judged by their electorate every 15 years?

It is bizarre to seek to move towards a fully-elected chamber seemingly before establishing the function and purpose of that chamber. If it is to remain a revising chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise, why is the judgement of the people the favoured mechanism for establishing those who make the wisest scrutineers? Plato observed that philosophers are ‘very odd birds, not to say thoroughly vicious; whilst even those who look the best of them are reduced...to complete uselessness as members of society’. In short, the wisest scrutineers are not necessarily going to be recognised by most people and may certainly not have popular appeal. Have the Prime Minister and his Deputy forgotten their philosophy? Is not Plato’s simile of the Ship informing deliberations? While the partially deaf and myopic captain (the people) is quarrelling with his crew (competing politicians) over how to navigate and who should be at the helm, none of them has any genuine skill in navigation. One faction of the crew is able to take control of the ship by killing their rivals and drugging the captain. They then turn the ship into a pleasure cruise and admire the seamanship of whomever is able to control the captain. Democratic politics has not changed. But the true navigator, with his expert knowledge of the seasons, winds and stars, is completely ignored and considered useless by the crew, who do not understand the means or purposes of the art of navigation. Nick Clegg is proposing that out of the chaos, sophistry and corruption of the democratic process, the mob will eschew their short-term carnal pleasures, see through the political rhetoric and recognise the navigator’s skills for the good of the state.

This was not so in ancient Greece and it is not so now. The philosopher then as now is not inclined to beg others to allow him to rule. For, like the navigator, he is concerned with truth and not (like the crew-politicians) with the statisfaction of his immediate personal pleasures or with the acquisition of power. Those who seek to rule are concerned with seducing the people in order to gain and retain power, which leads to conflict and distrust: those who seek to scrutinise, reflect and guide are concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and truth for the long-term good of the state. Thus their lordships should value their independence from petty issues of party politics.

The case had not been made for an elected Upper House, which would become a highly-politicised chamber crammed with even more ‘professional’ politicians. The Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has made the point that these proposals merit a referendum (yes, another one), and he referred to the proposed reforms as ‘dog's dinner’ (he meant ‘breakfast’). Not only would a house elected by PR assert a greater democratic legitimacy than one elected by FPTP, but experience shows (in Scotland, Wales and London) that demands for incremental gains in competences would surely follow. And one has to wonder at the legitimacy of a bill which is whipped through Parliament, even with the threat of using the Parliament Act to force it through the Lords.

There are, however, two aspects of this draft reform bill which all Tory-inclined Conservatives might support: i) the reduction of the membership from the present 789 to 300 (for what need a Lords revising chamber bigger than the Commons legislature?); and ii) the retention of 12 bishops of the Established Church.

This later point has sent the BHA and the NSS into predictable fits of apoplexy, since 12 bishops out of 300 is actually a proportional increase in their influence from the present 26 out of 789. And the shift from 3 to 4 per cent is not insignificant when you consider that this is a chamber with political authority expressed through voting divisions in which the lords spiritual sometimes take a particular moral view: each time a bill is won or lost by a handful of votes, and the lords spiritual have decisively cast their lots, the humanists, secularists and atheists will be reminding us that the continuing presence of the bishops is ‘an affront to democracy and antithetical to the aims of a fairer and more egalitarian parliament’.

Just as a ship’s navigator should not be deflected and distracted by the vicissitudes and ephemeral desires of the crew, so it is not for the shepherd to have to concern himself with making popular appeals to the sheep. Let us first focus on the purpose of the House of Lords: everything else will then fall into place.

83 Comments:

Blogger Anabaptist said...

'And David Cameron – in an astonishing about-face from his pre-election assurance...'

Cranny, your loyalty to him may be touching, but no about-face made by Cameron is astonishing. It would be if it were in a truly conservative direction, but there's no chance of that.

18 May 2011 at 11:19  
Anonymous Elliot Kane said...

Excellent taste in music there, Your Grace. One of The House Of Lords' best albums, IMO.

As for Clegg, well, does ANYONE know what to do with the (non-musical) HoL, these days?

18 May 2011 at 11:24  
Blogger Anabaptist said...

...the retention of 12 bishops of the Established Church...
This later point has sent the BHA and the NSS into predictable fits of apoplexy...


...and it has disappointed us Anabaptists, who see no place in genuine biblical Christian ecclesiology for a state-supported, state-sponsored and state-governed 'church'.

18 May 2011 at 11:25  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Rubbish Clegg as you will, but without him the Cons would still be in opposition.

18 May 2011 at 11:26  
Blogger English Viking said...

Your Grace,

Anabaptist beat me to it; why are you 'astonished' that Cameron repeatedly proves himself a dreadful liar?

The 'ship' of which you speak, HMS Great Britain, is holed beneath the waterline, and along with the obligatory deck-chair shuffling, the band plays on to distract the masses and a violent struggle is breaking out, mostly amongst the wealthy passengers and crew as to who shall have a seat in the lifeboat, whilst the steerage-class drown.

Mass casualties are inevitable.

BTW, Pig's breakfast, dog's dinner.

18 May 2011 at 11:30  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

A superb write up Cranmer.

The problem is in essence very similar to the one we just had with AV. You will be aware that time and time again I asked (nay, begged) your blog-congregation to debate the issue from electoral 1st principles - not political expediency. Absolutely no one would. They simply said, we don't want AV because it might not give the results we want.

House of Lords reform is being done in exactly the same way: What outcome do we want? How do we get it? Rather they should be arguing from the bottom up: what are the principles of governance we want enshrined? What outcome does this lead us to?

I am utterly convinced that if we start from 1st principles (some of which you give in your essay) we do not arrive at an elected chamber. Even as someone who goes further than most when it comes to advancing democracy (I advocate Direct Democracy) the LAST thing we need is more elections - God forbid. We must resist this "reform" with every fibre in us.

18 May 2011 at 11:36  
Blogger Gnostic said...

I listened to the Cameron speech yesterday and I was all I could do not to hurl the TV at the wall from pure disgust.

What a travesty of a Prime Minister that useless sack of offal is.

18 May 2011 at 11:38  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

And as for your views on Cameron & the Conservatives ... there's nothing I can add to what Anabaptist & English Viking have said.

Just what will it take for you abandon the tribe?

18 May 2011 at 11:43  
Blogger English Viking said...

Rebel Saint,

I rather liked Gnostic's 'useless sack of offal' description?

18 May 2011 at 11:48  
Blogger Scriblerus Minor said...

To Mr Elliot Kane:
Sir, the answer to your query, I would own,
Is to leave the Upper House quite well ALONE.

18 May 2011 at 11:50  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Cameron’s statement that ‘those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply’ is breathtaking in light of his support for the EU, thanks to which our accountable lawmaking has been largely supplanted by dictatorship, and curious in light of the House of Lords being largely a revising chamber which can always be overruled by the Commons.

If the Lords is to continue as a revising body my contention remains that it should be an hereditary chamber. With its members selected by a process beyond the control of politicians (other than by creating new peerages) and immune from the vagaries of electioneering, an hereditary Lords would, ironically, serve the people far better than an elected chamber.

18 May 2011 at 11:51  
Anonymous MrJ said...

"...blatant politicking demonstrating such a crude grasp of constitutional principles that we are precariously close to a Conservative prime minister making an argument for the abolition of the Monarchy."

Once again through all the clamours and deceits the Cranmerian truth of the matter is sounded: "...total botch..." [C.'s items i and ii deserve to be part of some better arrangement, when "everything else will fall into place"].

18 May 2011 at 12:05  
Anonymous Elliot Kane said...

Mr Scriblerus Minor,

It's rather too late to leave the HoL alone, I'm afraid. Blair already fiddled with it enough to throw it badly out of balance, and now the standard practise of govt is seemingly to pack the HoL out with cronies to force through the govt line.

A House Of Cronies is no good to anyone, and simply and expensive carbuncle. Better abolished than to remain in such form.

Something must surely be done to make the HoL once more effective. The question is what...?

18 May 2011 at 12:36  
Anonymous chevron said...

HoL exists to sensibly revise prospective legislation. It really did not need modifying from the old hereditary house. But if it is to be reformed, it should be done in a way that is best at achieving expert opinion on revision? Fitness for purpose must surely trump all other considerations, including supposed "democratic legitimacy".

Make it a house of unpaid experts: Vice-Chancellors of the major universities, heads of the chartered institutes and industry bodies, heads of major trade unions (ugh!), a suitable array of religious leaders, etc. And a very small fixed quota for yearly appointees by the government for the purpose of retaining particular political/legal/diplomatic talent. Make the position wholly unpaid: if the various institutions want the influence, they can add it to their head-honcho's job description. That way, participation would be viewed as a service rather than as a remunerative career move.

Yes, there would be a lot of interested parties in debates, but that is no different to having party-political robots that would be sure to infest a fully elected house. At least the interested parties would be speaking as experts (or, informed representatives) rather than as political hacks.

Naturally, make HoL political whipping as well as both the offering and acceptance of anything that can be construed as payment for influence punishable by a VERY substantial fixed jail-term.

18 May 2011 at 12:38  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

It is our constitution too, you know?

This is another example of the political elite not asking a sovereign people for their views on what is to be done to their property: the constitution.

For Cameron and the likes of Clegg and Brown and Blair ‘the little people’ are only taken out of the box, like so many toys, once every five years and asked to put a cross on a piece of paper.

We asked for a referendum on the Constitution of the European Union. Cameron said he would give us one. We trusted him and voted for the Conservatives. Once in office, through the backdoor: he refused.

We did not ask for a referendum on the Alternative Vote. The political elite gave us one. They took, through taxation from us, £250 million, to hold the vote.

The political elite now tell us that they are going to change the rules of our constitution to suit them. As a sovereign people it is our property.

The political elite believe it is their property.

The political elite believe not only that we are an ordinary people but that we won’t mind if they damaged our property.

It is the ordinary people who work hard to live decent lives and send their sons and daughters to defend this country’s interests. As an ‘ordinary people’ we prefer to be asked before you dare to lay a finger on our, history, our identity and our future.

We get it now.

As far as the political elite is concerned - we are only good for ticking boxes, taxes and dying.

What the political elite are saying in effect is that they have inherited the ‘Divine Rights of Kings’. They believe they are above the law (the Constitution). On what other authority can they change the rules that govern this country?

I seem to remember that we fought a war over that very doctrine.

Lex Rex? Or, Rex Lex?

18 May 2011 at 12:45  
Anonymous Philip said...

Excellent post pointing to the purpose of the HOL as the first question to address.

It should remain a revising chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise. And so I agree with HG's questioning whether electing it would be right: could be recipe for future strife and power struggles between the 2 Houses, and that the "wisest scrutineers are not necessarily going to be recognised by most people and may certainly not have popular appeal". Indeed it is often the case (or usually the case) that those with the right ideas and policies are not those who have the most natural popular appeal - by, e.g., coming across well on TV.

As for using PR, it would not only be a large foot in the door to PR for Westminster elections, but voters would surely hardly view with favour any type of voting system likely to give minority parties disproportionate power, having just so resoundingly rejected AV in favour of our much fairer candidate-with-most-votes-wins FPTP system.

Surely most voters are more concerned about the economy, their jobs, income, and erosion of freedoms than with constitutional meddling to please the LibDems.

18 May 2011 at 13:07  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

Your Grace,

I've said this before and so I shall say it again, the only "reform" of the House of Lords that is required is to bring back the hereditary peers, keep the Bishops as they are now and sweep away the current "life peers". Stuff the lib dem rot about PR and elected second chambers as all we will get are more second rate politicians on the gravy train. One set of professional politicians (i.e. those who have done bugger all else with their life except interfere in everyone else’s) is quite enough.

Also UK independence from the UK and English home rule should be seriously discussed if one is going on the old “constitutional reform” bandwagon.

18 May 2011 at 13:16  
Anonymous len said...

Limit the House of Lords to 300 and make it a voluntary job.No salary,no perks, and see how many apply.

18 May 2011 at 13:34  
Blogger tangentreality said...

The main criticism of politicising the House of Lords is something of a fallacy. There are 201 crossbench peers out of 789. That means that nearly 75% of peers belong to a political party.

The House of Lords is already politicised. If it is already politicised, democratising it is unlikely to do a massive amount of damage.

My questions about the proposals are:
1. Why change the name? Sounds daft, but why have such a notable break with tradition and history? Won't go down well;
2. Why reform now? OK, I know that constitutional reform is Clegg's pet project, but most people don't give two hoots about it;
3. Why PR? Of all the methods of democratising the Lords, Clegg, of course, picks the one that will most benefit the LibDems rather than our democracy;
4. Why reduce the number of Peers so dramatically? Surely, a scrutiny chamber should have breadth and depth of experience;
5. Why we're not having a referendum on this, which is a far more important constitutional change than switching to AV!

18 May 2011 at 14:16  
Anonymous Quinn Dexter said...

I thought len would give us a quote from the bible about this one!

18 May 2011 at 14:25  
Blogger tangentreality said...

@ D Singh:

Your references to a sovereign people are, unfortunately, incorrect. In this country, the people are not sovereign; Parliament is.

18 May 2011 at 14:33  
Anonymous MrJ said...

tangentreality 14:33 "sovereign"... would you accept "the Queen (or Crown) in Parliament", a means by which among other things the prerogative can be limited or enlarged, and constitutional arrangements confirmed, declared and changed?

18 May 2011 at 14:49  
Blogger D. Singh said...

@ D Singh:

‘Your references to a sovereign people are, unfortunately, incorrect. In this country, the people are not sovereign; Parliament is.’

Why don’t you think about studying the subject matter rather than relying on Dicey’s The Law of the Constitution?

Why do you think Lord Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke said of Magna Carta: ‘he is such a fellow that he has no brother’?

18 May 2011 at 14:57  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Just not surprised at all, it was always when not if.

'And David Cameron – in an astonishing about-face from his pre-election assurance...'

Anabaptist and EV beat Ernsty to it! Is he really deserving of your support and plaudits when the janus shows himself to be a direct copy of Blair. Where's the conviction?
Oh The price men, especially in politics, will pay for power, my boy.

"The draft bill makes an interesting and thoroughly depressing read. It is as though Mr Clegg has abandoned his own reforming principles and accepted a contrivance which will satisfy neither his own party nor his Conservative partners, not to mention HM Loyal Opposition. "

The Devil makes work for the idle opportunist.

SCUMBAGS the lot of them.

E S Blofeld

18 May 2011 at 15:06  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

D Singh 18 May 2011 12:45

Exemplary comment , old boy.

Ye are SHEEPLE, know thy place!

It's not looking rosy for the political elite as they provoke us beyond forbearance.

"The epithet of 'great' can be applied only to those who were defining leaders who successfully articulated and embodied the Conservatism of their age. They combined in their personal styles, priorities and policies, as Edmund Burke would say, 'a disposition to preserve' with an 'ability to improve'."
David Cameron. nuls points! and this concludes the voting of the english people.

Ernst, old chap.

18 May 2011 at 15:28  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

I hear Tony Blairs memoirs have been found in the fiction section of a bookstore :-D

In any democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be them to who those laws apply.

Let us remember Oaths are Sacerdotal for The Law of God and the law of the land are all one, and both favor and preserve the common good of the land.

18 May 2011 at 15:54  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

The author Anthony D. Smith's Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity

Combined with say Giorgio Agamben's The Sacrament of Language should become necessary reading for our present predicament.

Have Faith my fellow Homo Sacers on lifes merry-go-round.

18 May 2011 at 16:26  
Anonymous tory boys never grow up said...

@ D Singh

It is our constitution too, you know?

This is another example of the political elite not asking a sovereign people for their views on what is to be done to their property: the constitution."

For once I actually agree with D Singh - he may wish to revise his views as a result!

I set out below what I posted to LibDemVoice on the matter, which is currently undergoing censorship/moderation

These proposals will not be enacted in this Parliament and neither should they. They will lead to several major changes in how our democracy operates and the details need to be put before the electorate at a General Election or a referendum so that they have some democratic legitimacy. If the Welsh can have a referendum on a small extension of the powers of their Assembly I can see no reason whatsoever that these proposals which are likely to have a greater constitutional impact shouldn’t be put before the electorate. Yes, all the Parties at the last GE agreed that there should be varying degrees of direct election for the Lords (but even then I think we should have a say as to whether we want 20% unelected/appointed and 12 Anglican bishops – I don’t remember much debate on this point at the General Election), but there are other matters where there is no scrutiny before the electorate whatsoever.

When did we agree to 15 year terms, we’ve already in effect extended the House of Commons term from 4 to 5 years – and I fail to see how electing someone for 15 years can be seen as promoting democratic accountability – don’t worry we can vote you out in 15 years time will really keep them on their toes won’t it. Remember all the Chartist arguments for annual parliaments – they are still valid in this case.

When did we agree that the elections should be by STV? I can understand that LibDems may think that they know best about electoral methods and really don’t want to bother with the awkward task of putting their arguments to the electorate – but they forget that the electoral system belongs to the electorate not the LibDems. I don’t see overwhelming popularity for STV with the Euro Elections and anyway that system came as part of the package in signing up to the EU on which we did have a referendum.

The electorate have also had no chance to express its views on what should be the powers of the 2nd chamber and what shouldn’t. All we are being offered is the status quo re functions and the Parliament Act , surely there has to be some change if only because those elected will have a different franchise and mandate from the present incumbents? Should the blocking mechanism of the Parliament Act really continue to be available with all its associated gentlemans agreements on its use. Are we really happy with the current stated functions are being performed – scrutiny of legislation? If so why do we have so much poorly drafted legislation?

Yes, all progressives want a democratic 2nd House – but what will happen is that this will go down in flames and then the Tories hope that after the next election they will be able to do what they want on their terms. Clegg has yet again been thoroughly out manoeuvred by Flashman and co. A far better route would be similar to that employed for Scotland for the Assembly where a constitutional commission developed a set of detailed proposals about how the Assembly would be elected and worked and these were then put before the electorate as part of the Referendum. It might also be possible to develop a number of different models, which would possibly shame the Tories into supporting something that wasn’t too undemocratic, which could then be put before the election in a referendum/general election.

On the other hand Titanic Clegg could just carry on driving his new ship onto the iceberg, just as he did with AV.

18 May 2011 at 16:30  
Anonymous berserker-nkl said...

At my peril, after some severe admonishment from a brother blogger about the constitutional issues, I make the case yet again for a single Chamber.


After all most of Scandinavia is single Chamber. So let's take a walk down South and tell all those bods in the Lords to exit in an orderly fashion. I'm sure the Lords and Peers Chamber, not to mention the Committee Rooms could be found a use for by our MP's. Like a YMCA site perhaps - bunk beds for overnight stays. Or perhaps a Maison Close to keep our sex mad representatives on the straight and narrow? Enquiries please to: The Palace of Westminster at 20, Tire-Boudin Yard

Or perhaps a giant casino where our Representatives could gamble the money ear-marked for overseas aid and in one foul stroke do away with our deficit altogether.

Why if we have 650 MP's do we need another 800+ pontificators in a scrutinising Chamber at all? It doesn't say much for the MP's does it?

Voters would take General Elections much more seriously with a single Chamber.

18 May 2011 at 16:47  
Anonymous Lord Flashheart said...

the Lords should also regain its right to veto- especially over EU legislation! The hereditary peers know what is best for the nation- ask any of us- we know more about the working man and his problems than the tories, liberals or socialist, why I always find time to chat to my game keeper and cook about such matters and they are
the prime examples of the patrotic Briton, who is content to know their places in society and understand that great affairs of state are best left to those born to lead the country.

18 May 2011 at 16:56  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

Look us Lords are accustomed to ruling England and for centuries and we did so and it is perfectly natural that we be expected to look after the country now.

Len said that the Lords should be unpaid and have no perks and rhetorically asked who would do the job.

Well Sir, I think you will find the hereditary peers would rise to the challenge as we had done since England existed or at least for the past thousand years or so!

The hereditary peers would govern the country in the best interests of all. The rest of the population- workers, townspeople, tradesmen and the middle classes have always been fairly treated when the aristocracy had power and of course in determining the most effective blend of firmness, kindless and condescension to be meted out, us Lords have had the benefit of generations of experience with grooms, gamekeepers,gardeners and indoor staff.

So who would you like to rule england- the expense scandal ridden MPs or the hereditary peers with bugger all money, but with big houses, but who have a strong sense of honour and duty towards Queen and nation. The accident of birth or the accident of a general election result? Some-one who was born and bred to rule or some-one who stops work a 3 o Clock and moans about the "stress" of governing a great land such as ours?

18 May 2011 at 17:15  
Anonymous len said...

Lord Lavendon,

A strong sense of duty towards Queen and county in our Government would fit the bill in my book.

In fact I think this should be a minimum requirement for our Government.

18 May 2011 at 17:30  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I am all for running it a little slimmer , but no to making it another populist pros outfit or for that matter a chamber of lite weight cronies . The lords can enquire in distinctly different ways about legislations effects , often to neglected voices benefits . It is a revising chamber not a populist tribute fanzine .

I cannot say I am pleased with David Camerons PMQs remarks as he definitely did say it would be a third term issue and Mr Clegg is being a little disrespectful ,however if this is muscular liberalism (as opposed to oppertune loss adjsuting) then frankly its neaerer to muscular ignorance of why we have the considered/stable legislature that we do. What a dull country Mr Clegg has in mind for us all , appointments recognise peoples contributions in a way that votes do not .

I am getting rather tired of tinkering with succesful country ,by bored Egos that said little when the biggest tax payer stuffing ever was happening.

18 May 2011 at 17:31  
Anonymous Simon said...

His Grace uses the word "Constitution" and then says that we should decide what the Lords is for. A few other people then mention the constituion as well.

Surely this merely highlights the classic problem we have - the lack of a clearly codified constitution for the UK. If we'd ever had a proper one in the first place, then it might have been obliged us to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, as did the Irish constitution for them.

So rather than concluding that we should decide the purpose of the Lords, why not concentrate on putting together a codified constitution, which might solve lots of other problems and bring attendant benefits?

18 May 2011 at 17:41  
Anonymous MrJ said...

The art with which brewster Cranmer serves his choice morsels so as to excite frothy blowing is in itself quite a wonder to behold.

Where best to celebrate? Runnymede, Evesham, Caernarvon, Temple Bar, Tower Green, (George for-) Tabard Inn, Plymouth Hoe, Banqueting Hall, Old Palace Yard....?

Surely it is well enough known that under the constitution of this country up to our time the people have a threefold representation: the monarch (Crowned Head), the Lords Spriritual and Temporal summoned by writ (by law and custom), and the persons returned by election under the Representation of the People Acts.

What counts is not the theory but the practice of sovereignty, and just as the kingdoms of Scotland and England must reckon with the treaties and acts of union, so the entire United Kingdom must reckon with Heath's Great Betrayal [European Communities] Act, 1972, in which many others including the then solicitor-general (now Baron Howe of Aberavon) were complicit.

18 May 2011 at 17:57  
Anonymous Luigi Albertini-Smith said...

at minimum an MP should have a satisfactory knowledge of the Holy Scripture, English history, a certain amount of geography and an elementary knowledge of arithmatic, algebra and geometry.

18 May 2011 at 17:59  
Anonymous Lib Dem and Proud said...

What a right wing bunch of idiots write on this blog! The second chamber should be elected by the people and this should include PR in its purist form. Only a right wing- out of touch nut would disagree!Thankfully the liberal democrats are really coming up to the mark to stop the tories from ruining this country. The voters will be thankfully in the end about what we have done and doing.

18 May 2011 at 18:02  
Anonymous Jeeta Anwar III said...

Given that England are the only country, except for Iran, that has Priests in the Congress, isn't it time for the Brits to move into the 21st century and have a proper elected senate, like most normal democracies?

18 May 2011 at 18:04  
Anonymous Herbert Asquith said...

I think that the house of lords reform is the first step in creating a republic out of the UK. A good first step by the visionary Nick Clegg and his political soul mate David Cameron.Three cheers for this coalition and lets hope that they arn't stupid enough to put this one to the vote. As the AV vote shows, you simply can't trust the electorate and until its reformed to allow only liberally minded upper middle class,but educated -eton, oxford- people to vote, we should avoid referendum like the plauge!

18 May 2011 at 18:07  
Blogger English Viking said...

Lib Dem and Proud,

Proud of Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes, Paddy Pantsdown and Charlie 'hic' Kennedy. I got a whole lot more if you want them.

Only a leftard-out-of-touch nut would be proud of that dross.

18 May 2011 at 18:10  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Although I admire the relations between Hereditary Lords and their game keepers too look after us all.

When the cupboard is bare, the workers are also fond of the poacher.

Theres nowt like Tradition!

18 May 2011 at 18:27  
Anonymous MrJ said...

PS to 17:57: It is also well-known that it had become the custom in the development of parliamentary government in this country to accept that a major purpose of the loyal opposition was to oppose the executive in the form of the government ministry of the day; in today's circumstances it can be seen that a major purpose of the UK legislature as a whole must be to oppose (preventatively and remedially)the mischief practised by the organs of the self-named European Union.

The key to this country's parliamentary system was the control of supply to secure redress of grievances. This has been largely abandonned under the EU system.

18 May 2011 at 18:28  
Blogger Anabaptist said...

Mr English Viking, you kindly remind us of, 'Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes, Paddy Pantsdown and Charlie 'hic' Kennedy. I got a whole lot more if you want them.'

Well, you can add to that list of luminaries, baby-murderer David Steele, and the unspeakably stupid and arrogant Huhne. (Though Mr Lib Dem and Proud probably thinks they're all splendid chaps.)

18 May 2011 at 19:16  
Anonymous Tony B said...

"Thankfully the liberal democrats are really coming up to the mark to stop the tories from ruining this country."

You must be joking. Holding their coats, more like.

18 May 2011 at 19:44  
Blogger English Viking said...

Anabaptist,

Steele is truly vile.

Who can forget Commander Brian Paddick, with the emphasis on, well, ahem, never mind?

What a shower of retards, substance abusers, perverts and adulterers.

Let's not forget Jeremy Thorpe.

18 May 2011 at 20:02  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

It is also nice to see Walter Baucum backing up Jurgen Spanuth's findings.

Our sacred Nation shall awaken from its slumber.

18 May 2011 at 20:07  
Anonymous Stoker Peter said...

I go along with Johnny Rottenborough's comment. The Lords should have been left a an heritary chamber.
It was interesting that, soon after the abolition of the hereditary principle a TV programme was aire( obviously made before the change) indicating just what a good job the then occupants of that Chamber had been doing.Thing have just gone downhill since then.
Stoker Peter

18 May 2011 at 20:58  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr J @ 17.57 and 18.58, excellent posts, Sir! His Grace has provided a fine critique but alas, no constructive alternative.

Two commentators declaring themselves to be peers are still bleating about the loss of hereditary privilege. Get over it dudes!

As it stands, the proposal from Dave and Clegg seems to be more about doing a favour to good chum who's down on his luck. There is nothing well-considered in the idea of a democratically elected upper chamber if it simply competes with the lower chamber. That is the same thing as permitting a court to overturn its own rulings, non-viable and a recipe for chaos.

The peers in their original form held adminstrative writs from a feudal monarch. The power of the peers was therefore geopraphical in its extent. It merely remains for Dave to transfer this logic to an elected upper house in the form of a British senate, call it the House of Lords if you will. The Lords therefore returns to its original function but with democratically elected peers whose task is to represent the interest of county, province, state, devolved nation or whatever may be determined.

The lower house retains its existing function.

If this is what Dave has in mind anyway persuant to the Localities Bill, he should come clean and explain.

18 May 2011 at 21:51  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

@bluedog ..."Two commentators declaring themselves to be peers are still bleating about the loss of hereditary privilege. Get over it dudes!"

Hereditary peers & the Bishops are the groups of people who bring a long view of legislation. They don't just want to create outcomes that are good for the next round of elections, they want to see that things are improved for the next generation.

We need people in place who give long-term stability; whose viewpoint transcends even their own lifetime.

Scrutineers do not need to be our representatives, they need to be people who are able to consider the impact of parliament's decisions not only in the here & now but for future well-being of our nation. I can think of no-one better to do this than the hereditary's.

18 May 2011 at 22:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we must have change why not have a house of jurists?

They would be truly representative of the people, not part of the political/legal elite.

Each jurist would serve for perhaps twelve months with a quarter of the house being selected every three months. The service period needs to be a balance between keeping sufficient experience within the house and not letting it go 'native' and also consideration of how long a 'sabatical' a jurist can sensibly take. As in a court of law there could be permanent non-voting 'speaker' to advise on procedure.

18 May 2011 at 22:12  
Anonymous MrJ said...

bluedog 21:51: HG may be communicaing more than at first seems, in his ineffable way. I rather sense that at this stage it is too early to make unduly concrete proposals: there is too much detritus to be cleared and dust to be settled first. But after some research, this has been discovered:

The words of the titles of the 13 tracks of "House of Lords--Come to my Kingdom" (in the pic) could be rearranged as a synopsis for the unpropitious project:

08. One Foot In The Dark
09. Your Every Move
04. I Don't Wanna Wait All Night
03. I Need To Fly

07. The Dream......
02. Come To My Kingdom
10. I Believe
11. One Touch
05. Another Day From Heaven
13. In The Light
12. Even Love Can't Save Us

01. Purgatorio Overture No.2.

[sound tracks not advised listening]

18 May 2011 at 22:17  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr Rebel Saint @ 22.12, my post was deliberately silent on the Lords Spiritual who should be retained in accordance with reasons advanced by His Grace on numerous occasions. Accusations of parallels with the Majlis from the vexatious can be dismissed.

You say that hereditary peers provide a long view. Would you care to explain why the peers' view is any less self-interested than that of the rest of us?

18 May 2011 at 23:33  
Anonymous nimblehippo said...

what worries me is the amount of party influence there would be in this new lords - having crossbenchers and weak whipping is what makes the lords such an effective 2nd chamber. I for one would see a decentralisation of power in the parties. Open primaries are the electoral reform I want!

19 May 2011 at 00:28  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I managed to watch prem Mary Macaleese and HM Queens speech tonight in Dublin castle . I had tears in my eyes , hard to imagine I would ever see , so many people speaking so earnestly about peace , all the quite toil of men and women leading to the good friday agreement ,some of whom were not there to see or share the moment.

I hope the angels do sing ,perhaps they had a kayleigh.

My thanks not only to Mary Macaleese and the Queen , but to all those who worked ,sacrficed,struggled and believed that we should have a better future ,bound within the love of christ and its true freedom.

19 May 2011 at 02:35  
Anonymous Tony B said...

Rebel Saint.

" They don't just want to create outcomes that are good for the next round of elections, they want to see that things are improved for the next generation."

I agree we need people who look beyond the short term; there is a danger that hereditary peers and bishops represent a the views and experience of very small subsections of the population: Christians and the upper class.

19 May 2011 at 07:43  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Cardinal Keith O'Brien's opportunistic intervention (reported this morning) may seem particularly unwelcome when the United Kingdom Parliament has under consideration the draft Bill about reconstituting the legislature. (According to a BBC report, website 19 May, "The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland has called for a 310 year-old law banning Catholics from taking the throne to be repealed... [he] said the Act of
Settlement of 1701 was hampering efforts to curb sectarianism... Prime Minister David Cameron has said that "in principle" he supports reforming the law on royal succession to allow first-born female heirs to take the
throne and remove the ban on Catholics becoming king or queen or marrying the heir to the throne. However, he said the decision would have to be approved by all Commonwealth countries.")

If, for diplomatic purposes, the Queen has been gracious enough to acknowledge the honorific title "Holy See" (following longstanding conventional usage), that organisation should be restrained from such unfriendly
acts as this of the Cardinal.

His remarks are a not so covert attack on Anglican Orders and the Anglican rite of Coronation, the Order of Service, and the Book of Common Prayer. It is to be expected that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will exert their good offices to ensure that HMG instructs HM's ambassador at the Vatican to deliver a stiff note, and that the Prime Minister will report to the Commons and some other cabinet minister to the Houses of Lords.

May the Cardinal's intervention perform the service of alerting the people of the United Kingdom, of all denominations and none, to the reason why the descent of the Crown has been limited to exclude persons who put or keep themselves under obedience to the head of that one denomination which has persisted with claims which are incompatible with the political development of this country and her people.

19 May 2011 at 08:46  
Anonymous Adrian P said...

Your Grace, you could always try Lawful Rebellion

19 May 2011 at 10:05  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

If we were starting from scratch would we have a second chamber at all? Much of the revising could be accomplished by parliamentary committees that generally do a good job. As has been pointed out the Scandinavians manage without one. I would like to hear the arguments for and against.

19 May 2011 at 10:11  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Jeeta Anwar III

‘Given that England are the only country, except for Iran, that has Priests in the Congress…’

Madam, the difference between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity facilitates democracy.

That is what the historical record shows.

19 May 2011 at 11:31  
Anonymous Lord Whig said...

bred in the bone- which is why many a poacher becomes a gamekeeper!

19 May 2011 at 11:50  
Blogger D. Singh said...

TBNGU

‘Yes, all progressives want…’

Given that you are a moral relativist; dontcha know that you are trying to catch up with a runaway railway station?

Progressives: daft.

19 May 2011 at 11:52  
Anonymous tory boys never grow up said...

D Singh

You forget that I was writing that for an audience of LibDems. I agree that the term is pretty meaningless in normal usage.

Just because I don't believe morality should be determined in the same way as yourself that doesn't make me a moral relativist.

19 May 2011 at 12:29  
Blogger D. Singh said...

TBNGU

'I agree that the term is pretty meaningless in normal usage.'

Then just use 'socialist' so that people don't get confused.

19 May 2011 at 13:06  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Jeeta Anwar III (18:04 on 18 May)—Elections are all very well save that those who put themselves forward for election are invariably misfits driven by a pathological need to exert power over the rest of us. As Britain is already stuck with one chamber of elected misfits, the House of Commons, it would be madness to add another. Far better for the House of Lords to comprise those who do not seek power: hereditary peers, judges and bishops.

19 May 2011 at 13:34  
Anonymous Oswin said...

I have always thought that it was the highest point of a civilised, mature democracy, to allow, with all necessary safeguards, a non-elected Higher Chamber to monitor the machinations of the elected Commons.

The only reform required, being a wee tweaking around the edges as to numbers; the hereditary Lords perhaps subject to 'dead-mens shoes' whilst those raised as Life Peers restricted similarly, to safeguard a fixed quota of Lords.

Extraneous lords, both hereditary and Life, awaiting their turn etc.

Hereditary Lords now occupy almost all positions within society, from the council-house dweller, through 'Chez Nous' and the 'Beeches' to Alnwick Castle.

In many cases their anonmity is beyond the elected 'ordinariness' desired by many, as an example of 'real life' - as any person putting them selves forward for 'election' is automatically suspect, and in no way 'ordinary' etc.

19 May 2011 at 14:29  
Anonymous MrJ said...

JohnnyR, Oswin: Quis custodiet?

Is not the Cranmerian dictum "Let us first focus on the purpose of the House of Lords: everything else will then fall into place" simply this: a proposal for restraining the undue influence of those who are no more than party-political operators whose main concern is to outwit their personal and party rivals?

Apart from the likes of Mr Huhne, much of the current proposals and discussion is coming from those who look for guidance to rationalistic jurisprudence and political theory, and who occupy themselves devising rules of varying practicality and complexity for kicking around a football called democracy?

If the following is taken as given...

--The parliamentary system which developed in this country from the time of the Saxon invasions is more ancient than the Swiss Confederation and has some claim to have been coeval with the now extinct Venetian Republic.
--Much had to be changed and, it could be said, rationalised with the coming of machine production and transport, and from the 19c. local government and central government agencies have been invented to cope with the needs of the large urban and industrial concentrations; while the effects of total wartime mobilisation in the 20c. resulting in central control have been long lasting. It is the basis of the Whitehall system, which regards Parliament as a sideshow to bemuse politicians, the public and tourists.
--The actual fact remains (and some who are currently engaged in the government, as politicians or civil servants, are aware of it) that parliamentary government, and with it the expectation of liberty, has its source in the fields and meadows, and the towns and cities and seaports, of the shires and counties.

...then it seems unlikely that reversion to what was well on the way to obsolescence before 1911 will suffice; and what is not likely to prove workable and fruitful for the future is easier to see than what will.

19 May 2011 at 15:10  
Anonymous Oswin said...

One of the main purposes of the House of Lords should be to save us from the greed and idiocies of the Commons; but I'm a mere simple soul at heart...

19 May 2011 at 16:00  
Anonymous Gordo said...

Now that the old, grandfathered in, hereditary HoL has been killed off, there is no excuse at all for having anything less than a democratically elected chamber.

I can't see how anyone can be appointed to a legislature in a democracy.

19 May 2011 at 16:22  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Anonymous said...
"If we must have change why not have a house of jurists?"

Nice comment, Juries should decide the laws and in days of yore were called Questmen.

That is why we must question, always question and make them answerable.

19 May 2011 at 16:52  
Anonymous IanCad said...

Have to say it YG, but we saw this coming. We will turn into a pure democracy with no navigator to guide the helmsman. If only Labour had won we would not now be saddled with a mediocrity at the head of the CP.

19 May 2011 at 17:26  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ MrJ (15:10)—Democracy is a wonderful theory that falls down in practice because those with the necessary grit and determination to get themselves elected are motivated by love of power, making them the least fit to be trusted with power.

Given that (i) we need governments, (ii) democracy requires that they be elected, and (iii) those elected will be unfit to hold power, there should be as many constraints as possible on their exercise of power. The hereditary House of Lords, its membership chosen by accident of birth and beyond the manipulation of politicians, was the perfect foil to the elected Commons. Its passing was good news for our elected power addicts but bad news for the people.

19 May 2011 at 17:52  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

^ I actually agree almost entirely with Mr R there. :O :O

19 May 2011 at 18:21  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ DanJ0—I’d do one of those smiley faces you’re so good at but mine always turn out looking like a Picasso.

19 May 2011 at 18:45  
Anonymous MrJ said...

"Questmen"...you may have something there, BitB. Perhaps the best suggestion so far.

JohnnyR: Hereditary was well enough for a time when connected with the ties and responsibilities of landed estates, but awkward to restore or replenish, and in practice became excessive in number and attendance optional.

Democracy in practice is as you describe. The word is now used indlessly or as a slogan for advancing private and sectional ambitions and interests careless of civil liberties, the due processes of government, and the mutual duties of the governing and the governed.

19 May 2011 at 19:16  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Bravo, MrJ, your posts are a continued source of wisdom and clarity. In other words this humble communicant invariably agrees with you.

With regard to the HoL, the only way is forward. The institution was fatally damaged by HH Asquith in 1911 and its debasement continues apace under the Lib-Dem- Con junta.

Mr Rottenborough, with respect, it is worth looking at the origins of the hereditaries, who were initially life-holders of titled office at the pleasure of the monarch. Their titles became hereditary for the same reason that the monarchy became hereditary, it saved a lot of trouble. This latter point remains the best argument for the hereditary monarchy, and we are so reminded every four years by the US presidential election. Fine, you will say, if there is an argument in favour of a hereditary monarch, why not hereditary peers?

The answer is that the peers are not singularly or plurally the head of state, that is the function of the monarch. Again, you will say, how can there be a monarchy without an aristocracy? The answer is that the monarch is the fountainhead of aristocratic privilege and is not the chair of a board elected by peers. In other words there can be no aristocracy without monarchy but the reverse is not true, at least, not in a democracy.

It is truly and unkindly said that an aristocrat is an individual whose ancestors were more successful than him/her. One looks at dismay at the fatuous remark of Lord Flasheart @ 1656, '... the prime examples of the patrotic Briton, who is content to know their places in society and understand that great affairs of state are best left to those born to lead the country.'. Promise us that you were joking, Sir! Even if you were not, it is most unfortunately true of the UK that too many people have been persuaded that they do know their place. They shouldn't. Margaret Thatcher is the prime example of the imperative of meritocracy. Thank God Margaret did not know her place.

Democracy carries risks, and yes, it attracts power seekers. But why not? We need capable people to exercise power, that is the point of government. If we believe in abstract qualities of governance such as accountability and transparency of process it is no longer sufficient to hand responsibility to hereditary peers. How do we sack them if they abuse their power?

19 May 2011 at 21:22  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ bluedog (21:22)—Although anyone can stand for the House of Commons, it is overwhelmingly the candidates of the Establishment parties who are elected, so every general election is a ‘win’ for the Establishment as it clones itself anew and maintains its hold on power.

The glorious consequence of the hereditary principle was that people whom the Establishment would never have chosen to stand for the Commons were able to sit in the Lords. Independence of mind, honesty, outspokenness, eccentricity, being unafraid to rock the boat: qualities that are anathema to the Establishment parties were brought into the heart of Parliament by the hereditary peers, and we were the better governed for it.

An elected Lords would, like the Commons, be the creature of the Establishment and we would be the worse governed for it.

19 May 2011 at 22:50  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr Rottenborough, "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

The time, the place, the speaker and the significance of these words are entirely relevant to your own remarks at 22.50.

It is generally believed that if the Tory peers had not voted down Gladstone's Irish Home Rule Bill in 1886 the history of the United Kingdom may have been very different. Not only different but many lives may not have been lost and much misery may have been avoided.

So why did the Tory peers vote down that Bill? Because they feared for their own Irish estates. By acting in self-interest the peers destroyed the United Kingdom and with it the British Empire; please note Mr Rebel Saint.

And Mr Rottenborough you still want the peers to govern you? In the view of this communicant this is not the week in which to make that suggestion.

19 May 2011 at 23:35  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ bluedog (23:35)—We haven’t been governed by peers since the 1911 Parliament Act gave the Commons the power to overrule the Lords. The people would still be best served by the membership of the Lords, as a revising chamber, being chosen by heredity.

I think the march of history and the weakening of Britain by two world wars did rather more to end the Empire than the hereditaries. As for destroying the kingdom, the pro-EU Commons is managing very nicely all by itself.

19 May 2011 at 23:59  
Anonymous MrJ said...

bluedog 21:22+23:35 _And the same to your comments Sir!

The Flasheart quote could almost have been arguable in 1656 ! ('... the prime examples of the patrotic Briton, who is content to know their places in society and understand that great affairs of state are best left to those born to lead the country.) And let it not be forgotten that, today as then, those who do not know "their place" may include persons who get above themselves, such as asset-strippers and persons who buy or otherwise purloin undeserved power and influence.

The present draft Bill offers window-dressing to dissemble the influences of parties, whips, Whitehall and the Establishment which JR (22:50) describes. They have control of the legislature now and will not give it up until there emerges vigorous leadership which knows where the country needs to be going, and how to bring about a move in that direction.

20 May 2011 at 00:04  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Lord Whig said... "bred in the bone- which is why many a poacher becomes a gamekeeper!"

I thank you for the answer M'Lord, which is noteworthy for its unabashed truth, something we could only expect from the honourable Genlteman. I find it most revealing that your solution to our bare cupboards is to promote the poacher.

Keep up the good work.

20 May 2011 at 06:16  
Anonymous bluedog said...

'whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation'

Mr Rottenborough @ 23.59, please see above extract from the Preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act. Note intent to constitute the Second Chamber on a popular basis.

It should be obvious that if both Chambers of the Parliament are to be popularly elected by the same electorate they cannot both represent the same interest. Civil war will result. It follows that if the Lower House represents constituencies as currently defined, the Upper House (Second Chamber) must represent something else. The natural interest for the Upper House to represent is that of the devolved states of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It only remains to devolve England and the four components of the United Kingdom can be represented in the Upper House by an equal number of elected peers each. This creates a federal constitutional structure and is the only practical solution to the ineptitude of Blair's partial devolution of the United Kingdom.

Two things are politically impossible. Firstly a reversal of devolution and the return to a unitary state. In this event the Irish peace process would immediately implode and the Scots would declare UDI. The Welsh would remain confused, bless them.

The second political impossibity is the dismissal of umpteen life-peers and a return to an Upper House comprising 759 hereditary peers. Any referendum seeking to provide democratic cover for such a move would, I believe, be decisively defeated.

This communicant invites you to prove him wrong by starting a petition for the return of the hereditaries alone to the HoL.

It is to be hoped His Grace will permit you to give regular updates on your progress.

20 May 2011 at 10:00  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ bluedog (10:00)—As it has proved politically possible to make the United Kingdom subservient to Brussels, and to begin and maintain a process that will lead to the replacement of Christianity by Islam, getting a few hundred hereditary peers returned to the Lords is filed under ‘doddle’. However, I know perfectly well that it will not happen and I know why: democratic elections give power to those who are the least fit to be trusted with it, and they will not countenance the resurrection of a chamber of Parliament composed of decent, honest people.

20 May 2011 at 11:28  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

Jim Callaghan once threatened to resign as Labour Leader rather than accept Tony Benn’s policy of abolishing the House of Lords. Yet the Coalition is preparing to replace that House with a new second chamber mostly elected on the presupposition that voting is so completely tribal that, as in the Irish Republic, most people who lost their seats lose them to members of the same party as themselves. Give that a moment to sink in. Within that, an elected second chamber would have a Conservative-Lib Dem majority on a permanent basis. The vast and meaningless English regions, most of which are poetically named after points on the compass, are to be the electoral units for eighty-five per cent of voters.

Thank goodness that there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between, on the one hand, what has always been the anti-parliamentary New Left and, on the other hand, the sociologically indistinguishable New Right’s arrival at hatred of Parliament as the natural conclusion of its hatred of the State. From that arrival derived the campaign against Parliament by reference to a moat and a duck house for neither of which was one penny of public money ever actually paid, And from that union, together with the SDP’s misguided Alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class’s desire to abolish the House of Lords.

For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor. More significantly, and despite the very hard efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, both from the party machines and from the way of all flesh. The future composition of the House might be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current Life Peer, at least who attends very or fairly regularly, to name an heir, by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate. That heir would become a Peer upon his or her nominator’s death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.

Meanwhile, what of the 26 Anglican bishops whose position, very tellingly in view of how secular Britain allegedly now is, is never seriously challenged by anyone? How about 12 full-time, fixed-term parliamentary voices of the United Kingdom’s Christian heritage, whom the media could easily and usefully dub “Apostles”? Plus 12 full-time, fixed-term parliamentary voices of moral and spiritual values generally? Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top 12 elected at the end. Casual vacancies would be filled by bringing in number 13 and so on. This would be more than fair. No one seriously disputes that Britain is far more than 50 per cent Christian. That, after all, is why no one ever seriously challenges the presence of Christian voices, as such, in our legislature.

The question is the best way of ensuring that that voice is heard. Just as the question is the best way of perpetuating the second chamber’s breadth, especially its political breadth. Turning it into a bolthole for all those Lib Dem Minsters who are about to lose their Commons seats is not the way to go about that.

20 May 2011 at 23:48  

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