Replace the House of Lords with a House of LosersPosted on February 2, 2012
Less than a year after their walloping in the AV referendum, the Lib Dems are pushing for constitutional change again. Their obsession with their hobby horse regardless of its electoral irrelevance has led them to resemble a bluebottle banging its head against a window, desperate to move ahead despite the battering it gets from its repeated failure.
This time it is House of Lords reform that forms their windowpane of choice . Supposedly, Clegg is demanding that it is prioritised in the Coalition’s legislative programme.
They will face all sorts of problems – the question of whether there should be a referendum on constitutional changes (A: Yes), the question of whether we should be discussing this while the economy is struggling (A: No) and most importantly the question of what a new House of Lords should look like (A: Who knows?)
This last question is the most important – even the Lib Dems, who have thought about little else for the last 50 years, haven’t agreed on an answer. Should it be 100% elected, or partially elected and partially selected experts? Should it be done by STV, a list system, AV or another PR electoral technique? How long should the terms be, and how great should the powers of the chamber be? For that matter, should it be called the Lords, or the Senate or something else?
Personally, I do think Britain should have an elected Upper Chamber. It is perverse to have an unelected, unaccountable chamber disrupting and sabotaging the work of a legislature elected by the people.
I emphatically do not think we should be prioritising Lords reform now, however. People want the economy boosted, and growth restored – if we had a proper system for initiating popular referenda, I strongly doubt we would see Lords reform jumping to the top of the list.
However, if the Lib Dems insist on changing it now, what should the new Lords look like?
For a start, I’d prefer to keep calling it the Lords, because I’m a bit sentimental like that. “Senates” and so on all sound a bit trendy, which is one thing Westminster definitely isn’t.
So how should we select it? The system would need to satisfy several requirements:
- it would need to be in keeping with the verdict from last year’s AV referendum that the people have no truck for obscure forms of PR (no matter how much the Lib Dems may love them)
- it would need to be affordable and efficient
- it would be important that it did not have a claim to greater legitimacy than the Commons
- it would be pointless if it simply produced a second house identical in makeup to the Commons
- if possible, it would be good if it did something to answer the concerns people have about votes being wasted in the First Past the Post system, while maintaining a constituency link where possible
I have a proposal that would fit each of these criteria. We fill the House of Lords with all those who come second in elections to the House of Commons – a “House of Losers”, if you will.
Let’s test it against the above criteria. We continue to use the First Past the Post system, which the people clearly don’t want to get rid of. We wouldn’t need to spend anything extra on holding another wave of elections. There would be no challenge to the legitimacy of the Commons, given that those on the green benches would have beaten the red benches at a general election. The new Lords would be a counterbalance to the Commons in their political makeup, providing for energetic scrutiny. Finally, millions of votes currently viewed by many as “wasted” on candidates who come second would in fact count for something – dramatically upping the proportion of voters who get a representative they voted for.
The important thing would be to get the powers of this new House of Losers right. Too little, and it would become redundant as a scrutineering chamber, too great and it would deliver gridlock. But that goes for any reform of the Lords – at least under this system we wouldn’t waste a fortune and we would improve the proportionality of our Parliamentary democracy.
Tags: AV, AV Referendum, British Constitution, Coalition, Conservatives, David Cameron, Electoral Reform, First Past the Post, House of Lords, House of Losers, Liberal Democrats, Lords Reform, Nick Clegg, No2AV, opinion, Parliament, Politics, PR, Referenda, Referendum, STV, Westminster, Yes2AV