Saturday, May 28, 2011

An attempt to spread democracy to that unlikeliest of places : the United Kingdom

Thought I'd give a quick plug to an Unlock Democracy petition I've just signed calling on the coalition government to deliver an elected second chamber within the lifetime of this parliament. Although Nick Clegg recently unveiled plans to do just that, there have been a lot of mutterings from the usual suspects suggesting that there isn't a cat in hell's chance of it actually happening, because nobody cares about the subject and it's all far too difficult anyway. There have also been siren voices telling the Lib Dems that they can't afford to preoccupy themselves with 'process' anymore, and need to focus on (if you'll forgive the phrase) the things that really matter. So any small steps that we can take to stiffen their resolve can't do any harm - after all, try telling gay men that 'process' doesn't matter when it was the Lords who blocked equality before the law in the 1990s, on the basis of no popular mandate whatsoever. It's high time the UK was dragged kicking and screaming into joining the rest of Western Europe in the democratic age.

If you'd like to sign the petition, it can be found here.

3 comments:

tris said...

I agree that we MUST have Lords reform in the next 3 years and 11 months, or at least some movement on it, but I am not enamoured with what appears to be on offer.

Why, for example, would we want people elected for 15 years? What kind of democratic mandate would run for that length of time? Clearly none!

What kind of 21st century chamber includes bishops from an “established church”? And why is it necessary for the people who are hereditarily responsible for ceremony (Duke of Norfolk and Marquess of Cholmondeley) to have a seat in parliament? Why can’t that be a job like any other.

And why, apart from to facilitate prime ministerial bribery, would it be necessary to have part of the house appointed?

Brown seemed to think that every adviser was required to be in the government, and therefore a Lord. Some of them lasted only a matter of months...Sugar comes to mind... and then went off to other things complete with a title and a guaranteed £300 a day salary for life.

It has not been made clear, as far as I can see, what is to be done with the 700+ who are there now with their guaranteed income in their gentlemen’s club, nor has it been made clear whether or not the title Lord will still be handed out, even to elected members.

And what of the numbers? If America can do with 100 senators, why, with less than1/6th of their population, would we need 300 (a figure I heard suggested)?

A radical solution to all these problems would be to remove the second chamber altogether. Scotland has, under both Liberal/Labour and SNP governments, passed perfectly sound laws without having them scrutinised by a second chamber. Is the quality of English law any higher for the lords? Is the expense worth it?

Clegg will have to move fast and make his ideas known as soon as possible. And he will have to understand that 21st century means 21st century.

I'll sign the petition, although for my money it doesn't go far enough. Hopefully Scotland won't have to concern itself much about the Lords in future.

James Kelly said...

I agree with all your objections, Tris, although as with the AV referendum it seems to be an imperfect choice between this version of reform and nothing.

tris said...

Yes, you're right, James.

Are we to be given a referendum on this?

“Status quo or changes as follows”?

I think that in the period where they are debating it we need to make our views known to MPs and any members of the "upper" chamber with whom we are in contact (none in my case), or by letter to the Lord Speaker, Nick Clegg, Cameron... the Queen.

We really mustn't be saddled with this, albeit lesser, disastrous waste of money.

I have, nonetheless, signed because, as you say, it's better than the current operation, and any move towards some sort of democracy in this most undemocratic of countries, has to be welcomes, however unenthusiastically.