Wednesday, July 11, 2012

House of Lords reform

For me this is one of those "Ow my brain hurts" type of dichotomies. Having an unelected group being able to alter or block legislation passed in this country is highly undemocratic (i.e. non people-rule) and therefore it should be removed, but should it be replaced?

As it stands the current House of Lords is supposed to act as a buffer against a totalitarian government; a Party in power with enough of a majority could in theory pass any legislation it wants to including (in theory) a Bill disbanding all other Parties and rescinding voting privileges. So as a check and balance a second House is required , the Founding Fathers of the newly independent America realised that so why not emulate that?

As I see it there are multiple problems with a second elected house. First is that it's unlikely they'll be elected by a majority; what with the poor turnouts and the AV rejection fuelled by outright lies from the other side and insider sabotage by those who saw it as a stumbling block to a referendum on true PR (how's that going for you guys?) we'd just end up with another House stacked with people that most people didn't want there.

Secondly it would mean holding multiple elections. Holding both a first and second House election at the same time would remove the point of having a second House. Those voting for Party A for the first House are likely simply to vote for Party A for the second House too. That means that the elections would have to be held a year or two after the first House elections and that lends itself to reactionary voting. If Party A gains control of the first House and balls-it up the second House is likely to get stocked with other Parties. Legislation wouldn't be slowed down but ground to a halt; we've seen this in the US system.

To prevent this would lead to the same large amounts of party politicking of tit-for-tat and there's already enough of "it's who you know" present to want to add more opaque dealings to the mix.

The third, and to me perhaps the largest problem, is that said House would be democratic. "Huh?" I hear you ask. That means the elected body would be held accountable to the electorate, which in principle is a good thing; or it would be if it really was to the electorate. It's not. Politicians are held electable to the media. If a large enough segment of the media dislikes the current government all they'll publish is their mistakes and masses of negative criticism which in turn feeds into the electorate who then turf them out at the next election.

This wouldn't be such a large problem if a) the media was unbiased b) the electorate didn't simply believe whatever the media stated, and c) if the electorate voted for politicians by their actions locally rather than their Party nationally.

So an elected second House isn't necessarily the ideal solution. In theory a bunch of people who have no loyalty to the first House and don't have to pander to the megalomaniacal whims of the media would be in a better position to dispassionately examine legislation to judge it in the best interests of the country, which is what we really want.

At the moment we don't have this because the current make-up of the House of Lords is 650 life peers to 115 hereditary peers or bishops. That's 650 potentially appointed to their position due to political favour. Sure once they're in they don't have to pander to whoever got them there any more, but is that likely?

It sounds mad, but the potentially best solution is to reverse what was done to the House of Lords and remove the appointed life-peers and return the hereditary ones. It sounds totally undemocratic, but sometimes that's what's needed to keep democracy from turning into dictatorship.