Oh, Lordy!

“Oh, goody,” or words to that effect, may have been my first thought when I got home and found Parliament had opted for a fully elected chamber. Then I sat down, had a couple of tea and a think, and got a bit confused.

The Guardian leader praises the decision, but notes:

“It is not yet clear how the elected members will be chosen or who will stand”

Quite, and therein lie a few nagging doubts.

Now, hereditary peers were just wrong. Plain bloody wrong. Somebody, who once had a family member, who once got on well with the monarch hundreds of years ago shouldn’t be any kind of basis for having a say now. Although it’s only somewhere in the middle of things I especially dislike, the idea of somebody who happens to be posh, has a a title and a bit of money ordering me around makes my blood rise to at least lukewarm. They may, however, buy me lunch and after a few glasses of wine, I’m sure it’ll seem like a better idea.

Appointed peers as well don’t sit easy. Cash for honours, obviously, show how easy the system is to abuse. Plus the idea of political parties just filling the upper chamber with friends, ex-MPs and whoever else will advance their cause seems just as wrong as Quentin Fotheringsop III passing laws on the basis his dad was well connected.

I’ve slightly less of a problem if they’re experts [1] and don’t quite buy into Freedland’s argument why why Lord Winston shouldn’t sit, but even so it’s not entirely comfortable with me.

But then, if we’re going to elect the buggers, what makes them any different from the Commons? The only thing I really like, in a I-don’t-really-approve-of-the-idea-but-I-kinda-like-it-anyway way, is that the Lords is markedly different from the Commons, so you’re not just getting a load of parrots repeating the same thing over and over.

The fact they’ve stuck it to Blair numerous times, while enjoyable, isn’t necessary cause to stick with them. Hell, Blair could come up with the perfect plan for world peace, and you’d still feel the need to punch him in the face, just to be on the safe side.

So, if we have an elected Lords, I’d want guarantees it would be substantially different and a way could be found to make it in some way different from the Commons. Ideally there’d be less party politics, but that’s just personal preference. I don’t like political mudslinging in any quarter at the best of times.

Great, they’ve voted to elect the Lords, but voting for the sake of it without having something substantial behind it is much like asking somebody if they want a pie or a sandwich, then, when they say pie, giving them steak despite the fact they’re vegetarian. In other words, I don’t trust whoever ends up carrying out the reforms not to cock it up and make it ten times worse, something this lot are renowned for, and the other lot are just as likely to do.

Plus, this isn’t, to my mind,the absolute in democracy. Taking it from it’s original Greek roots, democracy is essentially rule of the people and Westminster is so remote from the everyday person it’s always struck me as the most undemocratic democracy you can have in a non-dictatorship. What we have at the moment is some form of democracy, but nowhere near the mythical idea our elected officials appear to have. Hell, how hard is it to have a say these days, if cabinet members dismiss tools to get us closer to the inner workings.

I’m getting slightly sidetracked here…. something for another time, maybe. But while I support the principle of an elected Lords, I’m deeply deeply nervous of the execution. There’s a great chance, with an almost blank canvass, to create a masterpiece, but I’ve got a horrible gut feeling they’ll just recreate Dogs Playing Cards instead.

[1] Don’t ask me why. Possibly because I view them as less likely to be idiots. Yes, that’s a rare nugget of approval for humanity from me.


4 Responses to “Oh, Lordy!”

  1. 1 Toby Bryans March 8, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Yes, given the general lack of people who can see any point to voting for the commons, there is no reason (IMO) to think that voting for the Lords will be any better. More elections is not a good solution. I can already hear the future voices of friends echoing back to me saying “why bother, it’s not going to make any difference anyway”.

  2. 2 Alex Cooksey March 8, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve always thought the point of the Lords is that they’re not elected.
    Where they’ve been so successful in sticking one to Tone is that they are critically examining legislation away from the braying hordes of Rupert Murdoch’s hack army. This means that they can work out how legislation should be enacted for the long term good of the country in a way that is going to last more than a few years.

    They also don’t have that much power – they can send legislation back to the Commons 3 times only, so stalling bad legislation until it’s out of the spotlight and can be enacted in a future proof way – or not at all in some cases where it’s proven to be a bad idea. The only person who can actively block legislation is the Queen by refusing to sign it. It’ll be an interestign day for the constitution when that happens.

    As to who actually does this reviewing, I hope it’s plain that it should be someone with a long term interest in the wellbeing of the country. Preferably it should be somebody who does not stand to gain significantly from the outcome of thir review. As Douglas Adams eloquently pointed out in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy it should probably not be someone who desparately wishes to do it either. Which leaves us with hereditary peers as being (until the second world war at any rate) perfect for the job.

    Looking at the being posh with a title and a bit of money ordering people about idea, the simplest part is that they’re not ordering people about – they’re quality assurance for the countries law. They also, for the most part, don’t have a lot of money that they haven’t earned – 2-3 generations of death duty put paid to that. They’re pretty cheap too – they get expenses of, I think, somewhat less that minimum wage and a subsidised bar – no armies of civil servants and six figure salaries for them, with the upside of some good old-fashioned pomp and ceremony for the nostalgics and tourists alike.

    I’m not sure how to replace them (as they must me replaced – no new hereditary peers since WW2) but I don’t think election is the way – it gives the second house into the hands of the journalists. I don’t think party politics is the right way either. Tone doesn’t believe in appointing neutrals let alone Lib/dem or Tory lords to get in the way of his progress, and has been appointing them at an astonishing rate compared to his predecessors. Deciding the selection criterion is nigh on impossible (too many vested intrests) but to my mind peers should be independant of politics, at or approaching retirement, for a fixed term of no more than 10 years. Essentially the Great and the Good. A cliche for sure but it pleases me to know there are some sensible heads (even if some of them are a bit posh) saying “hang on a second” every so often.

    That was really for Toby who pointed me in your blog’s direction… Sorry to take up all your space – just something I’ve thought about a bit.

  3. 3 garyandrews March 11, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Interesting points, and many I’d agree with.

    I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the idea of an elected Lords, because I can just see it turning into another party politics chamber like the Commons. But I don’t necessarily think hereditary peers are the way forward. Essentially, with with a few exceptions, there’s no reason why you or I couldn’t do the job equally as well. Independence of sorts would be great, but how? I genuinely can’t think of a way into that.

    I think Plato came up with that idea before Douglas Adams, though. Actually, I always thought the Athenian method of choosing elected officials by lot made about as much sense as the current system. Think of it as extended jury service…

    Bottom line is the Parliamentary system badly needs reforming, but I’ll be buggered if I know how.

  1. 1 Toblog : TCSOTD 2007-03-08 Trackback on March 8, 2007 at 10:41 am

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March 2007

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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