THE SATURDAY ESSAY: How to best reform the Second Chamber:

Don’t elect it & don’t put any politicians in it

Part 2 of The Slog’s idea for a better Second House

Benedict Brogan of the Telegraph posted a tweet yesterday that said ‘A summer winner from the Lib Dems: parking fines should go up, according to Norman Baker. One for the manifesto’. I’ve met Baker and he is indeed a complete penis, but the tweet sums up one of the baser assumptions of politicians and those who report on politics: that it should be about winning votes, not doing the right thing. This seems to me like a suitable start to today’s two-for-one banded-pack offer, aka part 2 of reform and the Saturday Essay allowing me to get a haircut and then slob about by the pool. And no, o resenters, I do not apologise: it took me two depressions, an ulcer and 35 years to get the bloody pool. For the first 7 of those years, I paid 83% tax, so FOSE if you can’t handle that.

To pick up from where we left off in last Wednesday’s Episode of Daredevils of the Redblue Vicious Circle: ‘I’m thinking of a Second Chamber that will replace the Lords: but be driven by the best motives for controlling the elected potato-heads.’

I’m indebted to Greek Slogger Cristina for pointing me at this New Statesman piece about the dear old House of Lords, God Damn it to Hell. It falls under the heading of things that make me think again rather than just think – and this is a telling extract:

‘Since the 1999 [New Labour] reform, the balance of power in the chamber has been held by the Liberal Democrats and numerous Crossbench independents. When Blair was prime minister, he faced considerable problems with the Lords over civil liberties matters, when it blocked proposals such as restrictions on jury trial and detention of terrorist suspects without charge. More recently, the coalition has faced difficulties over its cuts programme, on matters such as welfare and legal aid. For the first time in 200 years, the government thus faces credible opposition in the Lords from the left.
The chamber’s new assertiveness has also seen it pushing at established conventions, and there have been clashes since 2010 over the Commons’ traditional financial privilege when the Lords has tried to protect public spending. Such pressures would – ironically – be even greater if the Conservatives were governing alone, and the Lib Dems were teaming up with Labour to oppose them from the Lords.’

Now there is a very interesting lesson in this. First of all, the Lords aren’t elected. And secondly, those Lords now in the majority are not hereditary: they were appointed under a ghastly corrupt system of ennoblement. And yet, they seem to be thinking more in the citizens’ best interests than the clones who were elected by those same citizens.

So this leads me to my first level of free thinking: is elective democracy the only way to get represented?

I do think, by the way, that the current House of Lords should be abolished with all speed. But what attracts me to this result of a half-arsed New Labour reform (what else is new?) is that it has produced some kind of useful result. Now you can put this down to the monkey/typewriter thing, but I’m not sure doing that helps. What we need to do here is analyse why it seems to have been some sort of force for good….in the sense of being a protector of citizens’ rights.

The thing that sticks out like the proverbial canine testicles is that none of them ever give a thought to getting reelected, because they aren’t elected. The second thing is that, between them, those of a cross-Party and/or ‘liberal’ frame of mind have a clear majority. Baroness Frontbottomley might be in there purely to represent the grubby interests of private medical concerns, but she’ll have to persuade a lot of people to think like her….something she does, by the way, tirelessly….and the only consequence she has in mind when doing so is the size of her bank account.

Thus in the American sense, at the moment the Lords is an archetypal ‘Check & Balance’ against The Other Place. Except of course it can’t at the moment, because since 1911, the Lords’ right to hold things up very much has been diluted several times.

I think the Lords can become a force for genuine resistance to the opportunism, sleaze, and gangsterism of ruthless elected pols who keep cloning themselves – while operating a closed shop against new incomers. Bear in mind that by far the biggest ‘new’ political movement of the last thirty years is UKip…and it still doesn’t have a single seat at Westminster. So the need for this is real. But to make it happen, those in favour of it are going to have to put up with acres of ‘concerned right-on’ regiments of folks who still think we have a functioning democracy to defend.

An almost immediate assumption is made by 80+% of Brits that elected = good, chosen = bad. Now you can say well, that’s a clear consensus: but a consensus is often a monopoly using an alias. The fact is that since 1911, very few unelected people have had much political power (Alistair Campbell, Lord Ashcroft, Rupert Murdoch and the Barclay twins do/did, but they did it illegally). Yet the result of elective power has been a decline in every standard, ideal, ethic, and aspiration involved in the political process. This happened because the drones elected under that system have become less and less able to resist the so-called ‘moral hazard’. And that happened because the culture went down the pan once, between them, the Sixties and the Eighties opened a Pandora’s box to let out everything from AIDS to investment bankers. The deadly residue from both decades is the depoliticisation of the Citizen which is now both endemic and chronic.

I am once again making the ‘sod the system, improve the culture’ point, but rather more immediately: if we get a better quality of Member into the Lords, make it lobbyist-free – and relatively free from Commons control – then providing the choice criteria are sound, it should act as a bulwark against dictatorial governments….and in the UK, all of them since 1979 have been terrifyingly dictatorial.

This is, of course, why ‘elected’ MPs wouldn’t even dream of allowing such a reform, as it would dramatically curtail their power. Somehow – like all great moves forward in Western democracies – the Reform will have to be forced upon the Establishment. But leaving that one to one side for a few paragraphs, what’s the point of doing this if we just get the same braindead ‘professional’ politicians at the end of it? And the answer is, we don’t choose politicians in the first place.

This is a rough outline of how it might work: regardless of political leanings, we take a number of successful, honest folk who represent the most successful careers of creative change in their field. The ‘we’ here does not include any politicians or lawyers: they had their chance, now it’s our turn. I would pull a representative jury by random computer selection out of the electoral list, and pay them to take three months off in order to choose the Members of this new body.

The tricky bit would be deciding who draws up the long list from which the jury chooses its (say) 200 candidates. To do otherwise would be to slow down the process – but the key thing here would be not to let any pols, mandarins or lawyers within a mile of the process.

What these people bring to the table is decency, experience, wisdom, achievement, aspiration and freedom from corruption – thus making them the perfect Balance against elected Commons MPs. They’re then put in for a Seven Year term, at the end of which they retire for good (no exceptions) and an entire new House is elected. This at least tries to minimise any chance of corruption – although the really important thing is, naturally, to choose incorruptible people in the first place. I realise that this will be like looking for a virgin in a bordello, but we have to at least aim for the stars.

Referring back to the obvious fly in this ointment, there is the devilish issue of how we force the Commons to accept this reduction in their license to dictate, and then how big the reduction should be.

I would shoot for giving this Second Chamber the right to hold up any legislation for up to two years – with, at some point in the process where necessary, a large opinion poll being undertaken to see what a representative sample of electors thinks about the particular issue in hand.

A two-year blockage means the new Chamber could easily wreck a central plank of Government policy, so one would have to balance this against (for instance) whether it had been clearly visible in the Party’s Manifesto. This could only be a good thing. But the knotty issue of forcing this antabuse down the throat of the hopeless alcoholic in the first place remains.

I think this is where the Unaligned Front for Decency would come in. Where the UFD goes from here – Tom Watson has already stepped outside his tribe to join, so that’s a reasonable start – is hard to see. It was a slow start yesterday (Friday, good weather) but as the day went, interest steadily climbed. It ended up being the most viewed post by a margin of 100%. I’m thinking now of how to recruit some further high-profile, credible joinees…and what to form the UFD into.

The obvious answer is a mutualised cultural pressure group where the Members own the concept. Any suggestions will be gratefully accepted. Small acorns at the moment, but I’m going to press ahead even if I’m the only member in the end.

In the meantime, gratitude as always to those who helped make yesterday a sound start.

Last night at The Slog: The Indestructible Human Spirit

25 thoughts on “THE SATURDAY ESSAY: How to best reform the Second Chamber:

  1. The problem with no politicians in the Lords is that the new people will be left to the tender mercies of Sir Humphrey who will offer gentle guidance and prevent “courageous” decisions being made. the age of public service is over in the Civil Service too.

  2. The jury or selectors of the jury could be selected as the jury service is now but I’m not absolutely sure how that is or ultimately democratic it is?

  3. In principal …Yes , JW ! I doubt that it needs 3 months off work to figure out who the candidates should be…that would be corrupting or skewing those who could take that time out of their normal career. It would also require some tests and checks to avoid local cronyism rather than national cronyism. A fortnight (like most jury service) should suffice.

    Once elected first time, I would have all the initial 200 candidates pull an A or B out of a hat. A are there for Seven years, B in this first group only do three and a half. I think that a 50% churn every few years is better than 100% all in one go as it leaves less opportunity for ‘outside’ major (MSM?) manipulation….or from public popular whims of that moment.

    I would allow some senior ex parliamentarians from the Commons to stand…if only to ensure the legislative process is workable….Hopefully the selection panel could cull out the dross. Perhaps any ex commons member would have to renounce all affinity to any political party? But I would not object to the likes of a contemporary Dennis Skinner and a Malcolm Rifkind both being in there….or any younger versions of Tam Dalyell, who whatever their politics, have proved to be true parliamentarians both in their debating skills and their ultimate belief in our democratic process.

    In blocking any legislation for up to two years, the New Lords could make ANY future EU treaty utterly unworkable….(Another very considerable advantage!)….but perhaps the movement towards this idea would need the four remaining years before we depart from the Brussels yoke to develop. After the EZ Implosion, Financial Bank Crash mk2 and the Scottish Referendum (whatever the result) could be a very good time indeed to reform the House of Lords within the ‘Brave New World’ mentality that will inevitably have to emerge from the impending wreckage.

    • I agree that there SHOULD be a handful of politicians included in the new chamber. I can think of possibly four or five of the current lot who stand head and shoulders above the remaining morass and whose general political advice and experience would be invaluable.

  4. My experience of District Councils is that the paid Officers run the show on the whole, rather than the elected Councillors….similar to Whitehall and the Gubmint. ANYTHING that alters this balance back to the people’s will has to be good, and I think this idea is great in principle.
    If the same, or similar, award system works as for the H of Lords, the new ‘second house’ could claim upto £300 a day each in allowances, as they are not paid, but we could do away with the Opposition funding (?!) which in 2012 came to £540k for the Labour party!! Presumably they need this to fill the backhander envelopes?

    How do we join UFD?

  5. I would prefer to see an MP elected for a maximum of two terms then out of politics for a minimum of 10 years. That would have the benefit of destroying professional, slimy politicians and hopefully improve the quality of MP’s.
    Reform the first house, that is where the clutter of garbage has accumulated.

  6. At the risk of attracting a fair degree of opprobrium, I would tentatively say that I thought the old inheritance based House of Lords had a fair bit going for it. Yes, certain of the ancient families threw up some real pearlers and dick-heads, but I believe that the fools were outnumbered by people who felt a real attachment to country and to doing the Right Thing. The fact that they were there through an accident of birth is neither here nor there in the end – I submit that if the general push is in the best interests of the country and its people, it doesn’t matter where they come from. It is only embittered envy and some general feeling of “it ain’t right, is it?” that has led us to the piss-poor arrangement we have now. Lord Prescott, Lord Kinnock, Lord (Michael) Martin, Lady Mandelbum, Baroness Warsi … all splendid refutations of the theory that the best people are always appointed by an impartial Establishment to guide this nation in a selfless and humble manner.

    • By ” a real attachment to the Country” I presume you mean an attachment to the land and money which their families have accumulated over the centuries by unfair or criminal means. “Your Country needs you”, as advocated by Lord Kitchener in 1914, was an exactly similar call; the plebs laying down their lives to protect the nobs. Question: Lord Blair, late of the Metro. Police – why was he ennobled exactly?

  7. Pingback: John Ward – The Saturday Essay : THE SATURDAY ESSAY: How to best reform the Second Chamber: Don’t Elect It & Don’t Put Any Politicians In It – 20 July 2013 | Lucas 2012 Infos

  8. Would it not be good idea to first establish a Constitution with set boundaries which could not be breached by any future government, (amendments by referenda). I think this is what is missing from our so called democratic system. I would feel a lot safer if future governments were thus constrained.

  9. Interesting post, but – Why not go the whole hog and just choose the whole chamber in a lottery, as was discussed in 1998/9? If you trust random people to choose the Lords, why not just let them be in it? Could be weighted for demographics like income, race, religion and sex to ensure a good cross-section of people – this would far more representative of the population than the Commons. This might also have the added benefit that more people would take an interest in how they’re being governed, if they know at some point they could themselves be a governor… (big might, maybe)

  10. We are VERY badly governed. But yet VERY efficiently fleeced.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/is-there-no-limit-to-what-this-government-will-privatise-uk-plasma-supplier-sold-to-us-private-equity-firm-bain-capital-8718029.html

    http://rt.com/op-edge/uk-security-terrorism-finance-256/

    Lord Hah Hah and his merry mafia are proving to be formiddable asset strippers.

    Explanatory note: Hah Hah is both a written form depicting a laugh and too means (hah-hug a hoodie) and (hah-hug a huskie) put together with the word Lord we arrive at Lord Hah Hah which makes me think of Lord Haw Haw. Both enemies of England. one recognised as a traitor one not. Yet….

    Britain has never functioned as a democracy. The voting system was I believe designed to choose between a generally obnoxious bunch of troughers picked by the Party elites to ensure they hold the correct views. Party elites often mass produced by oxford and cambridge with the bullingdon psychopaths segregated and put into dodgy positions to enable future compliance. Our leaders (sic) are literally manufactured, by institutions specially designed to do so.

  11. I was writing this in my head as I was reading the piece; and then you (sort of) picked up on my concern at the end, Smart arse…

    Anyway,my issue is the “honest and successful” folk you suggest we choose to sit in a second chamber,On what criteria do we select them? No criminal convictions? References? What makes you think that your “successful and honest” folk won’t be as venal and bent as the current bunch, given the opportunity?

    Incidentally, i’m not having a go here, i’m genuinely interested. I’m a massive fan of your stuff, and this is piece is excellent.

  12. Why not form a new party,called “the sensible party” . All policies would have to be sensible as in what the majority of the population felt. Thus all today’s issues ,which anyone with a brain knows the answers to,would be adopted.

  13. I think you’ll find that in a grubby, dog-eat-dog world, there are relatively few people who are incorruptible and successful.

    Once organisations have incompetent blackmailers in their senior ranks, incorruptibility is a threat to be weeded out.

    You might like to be more original in your analysis and consider that those who have worked for 40 years on the front line of something, rather than rising a greasy pole, might understand very well what would be in the interests of people like them.

    Have a successful nurse who remained in front-line nursing for 30 years. Ditto with a teacher who stayed in the classroom. Ditto with a sports coach. Ditto with a patent attorney. Ditto with a solicitor. Etc etc.

    If you just select ‘managers’ and ‘the managerial class’ you don’t select ‘leaders’, you select greasy pole climbers.

    The biggest change must be to realise that climbing a greasy pole isn’t representing anyone but yourself.

    Why would those addicted to self-promotion understand the needs of the majority, eh??

    They understand the needs of the small minority who get control and money.

  14. my basic problems with your idea is that:-
    1. there too many separate stages involved.
    2. the relatively large numbers of people involved in the decision-making process.
    3. the (to my mind) lack of transparency in ‘just how did THAT person get chosen.

    the reasons for my ‘problems’ are:-
    a. the more stages involved, the more opportunity exists to intentionally corrupt the process.
    b. the more people and the more complex the selection process, the less understandable it will be and the more the process could be perverted – not necessarily intentionally, but perverted non-the-less.
    c. the more opaque the system (because of a. and b. above) the less the general public will trust and engage with it.

    the great benefit of the fptp system is its simplicity and transparency. you only need half a brain to understand it. any new system MUST be fairly simple – the cocked-up av system we voted on in a referendum awhile age was rejected partly on the grounds of non-understandability. the eu elections are just a massive confusion to elect a massive confusion – almost no-one understands them.

    so, with great humility, i again recommend my system from the comments column of part 1 of this mini-series.

    and my idea doesn’t have tom watson’s approval – which to my mind is a bonus.

  15. Pingback: DETROIT TODAY, LEEDS TOMORROW: Where neoliberalism is going | The Slog. 3-D bollocks deconstruction

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