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.