28 Aug 2015

New peers: time for a constitutional commission

Danny Alexander, former Treasury Secretary, and Vince Cable, former Business Secretary in the former coalition government, are to be congratulated upon apparently refusing to trundle along to sit in the House of Lords.

Although both are well enough known not to need a name changing honour, both have taken a knighthood anyway.

Any Martian looking in on the “dissolution honours” must wonder whether he, or she, had stumbled into “Middle Earth”.

Politicians, it seems, still don’t comprehend the sense of alienation felt by ordinary people across the UK that I have already referred to in my previous blog.


Beyond the old marital habit of a wife taking a husband’s name, normal humans do not go round changing the handle by which they are known.

But then normal democracies do not find defeated or retired parliamentarians turning up unelected in another House of Parliament to influence legislation – after having been either democratically defeated, or self-deselected from the original chamber in which they wielded power on behalf of the citizen.

It is surely a reasonably objective observation to conclude that, taken on a worldwide view of democracy, the House of Lords is nonsense. It currently competes with China for the title of largest legislative assembly in the world – amazing given the relative sizes of the populations. It shares in common with China the epithet “completely undemocratic”.

So why does anyone want this name-changing option? Why does anyone want to indulge in this flummery? Is it a self-sacrificing act of public service? If it is, why take any money for doing it? Is it a class thing? Is it just a simple desire for somewhere to go?

It is hard to exaggerate the over-hang of the MPs and Lords expenses scandals. They too stir the barrel of alienation in the country, together with war and austerity that I also discussed in my earlier blog.

The presence of at least one expenses abuser from the other place sends a grim signal to the citizenry. But the idea that any prime minister or party leader can apparently inflict an individual upon the parliamentary system for the rest of their lives merely stokes the absurdity of the thing.

It is intriguing to note the absence of any SNP participation in this business. And note too that nearly 4 million Ukip voters don’t get a look-in.

Britain is surely the poorer for the squalid deal that is the House of Lords. The solution is surely staring politicians in the face: a Constitutional Commission.

There is so much to resolve, so little time: the size of the House of Commons; the democratisation and duties of the “other place”; the scale and nature of devolving power to regions and local authorities; in short, the reconnecting of power to the people.

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