Sunday, 26 February 2012

If we have to have Lords reform can we at least try to break the party stranglehold on politics?


So the Lords Reform bandwagon is off and rolling as the Liberal Democrats return to their obsession with putting changes to our constitution ahead of less important things like sorting out the public finances, getting a balanced set of rules for the financial sector and improving those core services to the public – schools, hospitals, social care.

And the Liberal Democrats want what it says in the Coalition agreement:

...a 300-member hybrid house, of which 80% are elected. A further 20% would be appointed, and reserve space would be included for some Church of England bishops. Under the proposals, members would also serve single non-renewable terms of 15 years. Former MPs would be allowed to stand for election to the Upper House, but members of the Upper House would not be immediately allowed to become MPs.

This, we’re told by its advocates, is a ‘radical’ solution – quite why defeats me. We replace a wholly (more-or-less) appointed body with one where people are elected for a very long time by a partisan, party-driven system. Instead of a house filled with independent-minded folk bringing expertise from a host of different backgrounds, we get another load of politicians. With all the flaws that go with this – closed party selections, central campaigns, funding problems and a disconnection with the electorate.

If we want to change (and, as a conservative, I tend to subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of politics), let’s make a bigger change than just handing control of the Lords over to political party hacks. 

We could use a lottery to create an electoral college (or even to choose the members of the Lords).

We could get local councils to nominate members – perhaps proportionally across regions or sub-regions.

We could have elections without campaigning or party labels.

And we could relocate the House of Lords to Bradford.

These are radical changes. Simply electing the Lords – regardless of the system used but especially if it’s on some regional party list system – isn’t radical but is a retrograde step that gives power to dying political parties in preference to a real extension of democracy.


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