Sunday, 26 June 2011

A suggestion from the left field

"Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what's going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate?"
Will Rogers
Some hold that Britain has already declined, although I would aver that we still have a little way to go before Standard & Poors finally pulls the plug - providing our political elite don't do the job for them before then.

As far back as 2008 the Daily Telegraph was reporting that an elected senate could replace the House of Lords - and this claim was repeated two and a half years later by the Mail. The latest, one could say, frank suggestion comes from the left field with this article in today's Sunday Telegraph, this time linking reform to the Big Society. Frank Field, who I seem to recall being appointed by David Cameron as his 'poverty czar', is one of the more acceptable faces of the Labour Party - although what with Camerons drift leftwards and Fields known aversion to full-blown socialism, it is perhaps surprising they are still in different parties.

Field's article is actually a 'back to the drawing board' plan involving the obvious political ploy utilised by our politicians when they don't really know what to do - the creation of a commission to look at the entire matter. Of the groups Field believes might be represented, the only one of equal unimportance that he appears to have omitted is those representing candlestick makers. Just how much public money this new commission will use is of course not mentioned, nor is any estimate provided. As an aside, for Field to maintain his plan would ensure that power remained with the electorate is laughable, were it not so sad. It is an equally sad fact that until parliamentary democracy is replaced by representative democracy, encapsulating small government and a liberal dose of referenda, power will never, ever, be in the hands of the electorate.

It seems to me that the matter of the House of Lords could well be solved quite cheaply - and at the same time bring some sense of respectability back to politics - by sacking all the political appointees and returning hereditary peers to the role they carried out quite satisfactorily with a gravitas the present incumbents sorely lack.


Anonymous said...

"by sacking all the political appointees and returning hereditary peers to the role they carried out quite satisfactorily"


kenomeat said...

My view is that the second chamber should comprise representatives from professions such as the armed forces, the judiciary, education, health service, the police etc, each nominated from within their own governing body. Perhaps recently retired, they would have reached the peak of their profession and ready to give the country the benefit of their experience.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

k: Problem is that you then end up with 'placemen' also with a 'common purpose' in mind. Such people would no more represent the people than the present collection of prostituting robots.

I have to agree with A above and want the return of heriditary peers.

PeterCharles said...

First as to Cameron and Fields being in separate parties, well, all three parties are social democrat and have been for a long time. One thing people seem not to realise is that the label social democrat is more correctly democratic socialism. I wonder how many people who think 'social democracy' a good thing realise that? Not many I fear, people see what they want to see, reality rarely matters, which is why Cameron gets away with calling himself Conservative.

On creating commissions, well yes it is basically a can kicking exercise and not knowing what to do seems to be standard for any modern government. The one thing no government understands that the best policy is often to do nothing or at the most very little. I rather think in these days setting up a commission is done more to stop government being pushed to do something they really don't like or to give a patina of legitimacy to their doing something the electorate really doesn't like.

House of Lords and hereditary peers. The very worst thing would be an elected Chamber, I would favour a Lords filled by appointment based on proven knowledge, professional success and experience from all professional walks of life, expressly excluding politicians. Appointments should also be by a non-political body, the monarch could serve a good role in that, but I suspect our present queen would be too ready to follow political orders and Charles would fill it with eco-nuts and Charity workers. A pity his father is too old I suspect he would do an excellent job.

kenomeat said...

I need to make a further point on the House of Lords. I think Peter Charles largely agrees with me (and has put it better than I have). I would suggest that a small number of nominees could be put forward from each profession and that either they could stand for election within their own profession or, where nominees are known to have political views, the presiding body could ensure a political balance instead of an election. This supposes that two or more representatives from each profession enter the House. This has to be better than a national vote , political placement or hereditory entitlements.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

PC: Aha, at last something we do not agree about (composition of HoL!)Were we to be faced with a fait accompli and hereditaries were definitely banned, then it must be by election with a recall mechanism and not by appointment. Otherwise what will have been created is a miniture EU commission. And before anyone points out that peers were not elected I would refute by making the point that hereditaries were generally far better educated, had a wealth of experience and far better brains. They were of course more right than left wing - which is why Blair wanted the HoL 'reformed'.

k: See above re standing for election within their own fields or being appointed 'balanced' - totally unacceptable, sorry.

PeterCharles said...

The Hereditaries were all that you say and in addition many had a strong belief that 'service' to the country was a duty and a privilege.

However, I am not too sure that another generation of modern Lords, even hereditary ones, would show that same ethic.

The Lords have done a great deal of good over the years, revising and making workable a lot of legislation and successfully blocking some particularly nasty ideas.

But it has to be admitted that the relentless dilution of hereditary peers with the political class and the civil service class effectively accomplished its ruin, as intended of course, even before Blair's thoughtless butchery finally eviscerated it.

An elective HoL would quickly degenerate into a 'our electoral mandate is better than yours' fight with the HoC, it would be composed of the same political class as the current Party system with exactly the same faults of expediency and self interest. Ideally the function of the Lords would be to examine legislation purely from a public interest, politics and ideologically free perspective. I suppose if an elected HoL could be arranged so that there was always an opposition majority to the HoC it wouldn't be so bad. Very little law would then get passed which is a very good thing.

No, I would have an appointed HoL who could only amend legislation and would be expected to do so in accordance with public opinion and I would make it mandatory that their amendments had to show 'how' they were in tune with that opinion.

I would take away the HoC right to refuse to consider HoL amendments and force legislation through, if the HoL blocked part of a Bill the government insisted on then the recourse would be a simple, binding yes/no referendum. I would also put the HoL in the position of an 'auditor' for the Civil Service so that the top tier of incompetents and those who manipulate government and policy through their bureaucracy, the MoD and Dept of Ed. especially come to mind here, could be confronted and maybe even sacked for a change.

This system should act as a tight brake on politicians, negating much political ideology, social engineering and sheer political spite but not in itself becoming an alternative government and limiting the chances of a mini EU Commission forming.

It would be tempting to insist the budget was subject to Lords approval but that might skew the balance of power too much.

Obviously just a bare bones suggestion, but I'm sure it could form the basis for a meaningful reform that would severely inhibit the political class which is the aim of us all, of course.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

PC: You make important points as ever and I suppose a return to the heriditaries is out of the question for the reason you state.

If we are to have therefore an elected or appointed HoL, then I must choose elected so that there is some link between those that can effect law and those on whom that law is imposed.

If we were to limit the HoL to amending only then would we not get the battle twixt the two you suggest? Does not one house need to have supremacy?

Of course, as you hint, were "Referism" and referenda to be introduced then both Houses would be limited in what they could do.

Negation of the Parliament Act may well be a good idea as it might concentrate the minds of those who draft laws.

You may well have something here - but needless to say, on the basis that any change to our laws should only be with our approval, with true localism, small government, Referism and referenda the 'power' of either house would be reduced to that of admin centres anyway, so whats not to like?