Lording it over us

In the new government agreement, hopefully it’s not just the Lib Dems that will benefit, and the electorate will get something out of it as well.  Hopefully some kind of meaningful electoral reform.

It’s been amusing to watch both Labour and the Conservatives grudgingly accept that there is an appetite for a reform of our voting system, although if either had a governing majority I wonder if it would even be on the table, rather than looking like an attempt to try and get the Lib Dems into bed with them.

Some discussion has been had that one of the flavours of proportional representation could be in use for the next general election in five years time.  But why wait that long, and why not reform a parliamentary body that is the antithesis of democracy first?

The House of Lords is waiting to be scrapped and replaced with a modern, representative and democratic body.  Tony Blair broke his 1997 promise to reform the Lords, instead choosing to tinker around the edges, keeping the key legacy mechanism in place.

‘Lording it over us’ is a cliché, but like many clichés it’s formed on truth.  Even the shorthand term ‘upper house’ stamps the seal of ‘noble’ superiority.  The very fact that those sitting in the Lords do so because they were born to it, or because they were recommended by people of influence, is an insult to democracy and an anachronism to a modern and equitable society.  Sitting peers from special interest groups like bishops and rabbis add to the weight of a massive democratic injustice.

We do need a second house, a balancing mechanism to discard weak, unjust or just downright stupid legislation, and a body with the power to call parliaments to account.  Often the Lords has done an admiral job of challenging bad laws, but equally as often has just rubber stamped cabinet policy.

So if we’re going to bring in PR, then let’s do it in the Lords first.  Get rid of the life and hereditary peers: the cash for favour party bankrollers, school tie shoo-ins, ministerial and civil service retirement plans and the special interest groups, and replace it with a truly representative full time legislature with a fixed term and a system of accountability where those abusing their position can be removed.

I couldn’t care less what we call a new second house, but such a newly constituted body should be founded with a key and important responsibility, one of principle – the creation and protection of written constitution and bill of rights, and with the power to stop government when those rights are threatened by bad legislation.

We have a system that has evolved for over a thousand years to give us what we have today.  It’s done well, but it’s past its sell by date and it’s time to bring in something new.



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