Usually, Lords reform is only talked about in government when there really is nothing better to talk about, it’s like a lull in the executive conversation, the legislative alternative to talking about the weather.
Well, that’s hardly the case at the moment, nonetheless, this is the price you pay for dealing with people who see elections as a goal rather than a means, raison d’être to exist in itself. An odd bunch the Lib Dems, but hey ho, each to their own.
As the grown-ups now have to turn away from the stuff that matters, we may as well talk about it seriously. Let’s start with Clegg’s plan. Democracy is of course a good idea and the House of Lords is one of the leading anachronisms in a country full of them.
However, I fail to see how electing someone for 15 years, once, is democracy. How on earth can we throw these people out once we realise we have elected a bunch of turnips who think £45k for 15 years is the summit of their ambition? If we’re going to do this, we should aim our sights slightly higher than having a bunch of middle-management valued, failed or below average politicians clogging up hallowed space for an era. The class of 1997 would now be coming to the end of their terms, the new dawn only just setting on them, a chilling thought even for most ardent Blairite.
But, as any politics postgraduate who has debated this in seminars will have been asked by their lecturer, what do you want the second chamber to do? As usual, Clegg has gone around this arse about face, seeing democracy as the driver, rather than what function we want to see.
An amending chamber, sure; a check and balance, obviously; a touch of localism, why not; representative of the country, yes please; representatives of the country, hmm, not for me, but hell. I’d also like a level of expertise, from the Lord who is an expert on bee’s health and has been warning us for years, to all the other niche interests our current Lords have.
My way would be having a German Bundesrat style body, where local government sends representatives. It would mean no new layer of political class, and would tick many of (my own) criteria. It would also solve many of the problems about primacy of the Commons, as well as introducing an element of democracy. Throw in a 100 nominated ‘Lords’ and maybe a handful of annually selected experts dependent on the legislative program and I think it’s a neat little solution.
However, I’m sure there are holes in it, and if we are going to discuss this we must understand there is no perfect answer. Every proposal will have its weaknesses. But let’s not do what we have done for a hundred years, a stand up or down vote on the proportion of elected peers. Let’s not get consumed with the democracy element, and think about what we want it to do.
We could have a jury style grand annual selection, 300 random people. We could have a 100 seat senate, purely as a revising chamber, we could have a whole host of options.
The Lords really does need to change, but first, can we have a actual debate, some thought perhaps. Because at the moment, all we have is political posturing and tactics, people worried about their future, their Party’s best interest. Isn’t that just so typical of MPs, I wish they could be more like the Lords sometimes.