The media are getting very excited over the prospect of the Coalition Government splitting over the Lords Reform Bill. The Guardinistas in particular are anxious that Labour should support this ‘historic opportunity’ to bring some sort of democracy to an anachronistic second chamber. That, I shouldn’t need to remind anyone, is the newspaper that threw their support behind the Euro, the AV referendum, City Mayors, and Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in the 2010 General Election. Well, pardon me for pointing it out, but if you think this measly mish-mash of a Bill is a victory for democracy, you’ve got it wrong again boys and girls!
The current Bill aims to keep 20% of the new chamber based on jobs for the boys and girls, although allowing the Church of England to maintain its institutionalised sex discrimination means that they will be chosen just from the boys. So the power of patronage, once a prerogative exercised by Kings and Queens will continue to be exercised by Prime Ministers in exchange for services rendered by ultra-loyal MPs who have trooped through the lobbies like sheep, or business folk with large cheque books boosting party coffers. The remainder elected for 15 year terms, ensuring the principle of accountability is lost almost entirely by having one-off single terms.
If it was possible to devise a selection system even more undemocratic than the one we have for Parliamentary elections, (cue hysteria from G. Elsby) it would be the one proposed for the lords elections, and currently used to elect MEPs. If it wasn’t for the fact that MEPs are so ineffective, ineffectual and remote from their electorate, people might even be outraged by the ‘Party list system’. It really means our current bunch of appointed Lords would be replaced by those selected from a list drawn up by the Party machines. A former MEP who lives in my Ward worked his slats off a decade or so to win a rural seat from the Tories under first past the post, only to upset Blair in a letter to a newspaper, thereby ending his career at the stroke of some bureaucrats pen. He wasn’t deselected…just banished to an impossible place near the bottom of ‘the list’, replaced by some Blairite TV personality. The mafia were slightly more subtle with the stiletto.
So, I won’t mourn the passing of this ‘reform’ Bill any more than I would if we were dispensing with the existing anachronistic shower. If it went through it would end any realistic chance of proper democratic reform for generations. It took over 600 years from the creation of the ‘Model Parliament’ through to the ending of the University and Business vote and universal suffrage on the basis of one person one vote. If this Bill falls, we can at least live in hope that we might get a democratically elected second chamber slightly quicker.