I’ve been trying and failing to decide whether to begin this piece with the theme “You couldn’t make it up …” or, alternatively the truism that some things in life generally (let alone in Britain) are so ridiculous that they’re quite beyond parody.
On the back of last night’s House of Lords defeat of the Government over its plan to cut tax credits for low-paid workers there is a constitutional row of apparently tsunami proportions building up as politicians of all persuasions, media political correspondents/pundits and ‘know it alls’ analyse the entrails and indeed the Government’s options as to where it goes from here on the thorny issue of House of Lords reform, which almost everyone agrees is urgently needed, with the main issues being both ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do it’ (in terms of political realism and practicality).
In this context you might have thought – as indeed I did – that at this point nearly the last thing needed is a lightweight contribution to the debate from the likes of me. Plainly, for a more rational and detailed expositions of the subject, Rust readers should turn to the outpourings of any one of the cohort of specialist journalists and political observers who, like vultures, have been – or are about to begin – picking over the carcass.
What follows therefore is simply my inexpert take on the issues and what might or should happen in the future.
Let’s face it. Given the low esteem with which the British political class is rightly held by the majority of the public – a fact which of course has for decades now had it wringing its metaphorical hands as to how to re-engage voters with ‘Establishment’ politics and the process of voting – it hardly needs stating that in the 21st Century the last repository of corrupt disreputable behaviour and dishonour that is the House of Lords remains an anachronistic relic from a bygone era.
There are two stark and contrasting views on the Lords.
The first (held by, amongst others, even my own father) is that – contrast this with the gang of boobies, half-wits, bores, loonies, miscreants, time-servers, deviants, pompous twats, nonentities and formerly non-political career failures that get elected to the House of Commons by our hapless electorate in the absence of other, better, choices – the one advantage of having an appointed second chamber is that at least it provides an avenue whereby leading achievers in all walks of life, not least visionary captains of industry [is that an oxymoron?], can apply their hard-earned wisdom and experience to great matters of our day and also perhaps a dollop of straightforward common sense to Government legislation as it passes through Parliament.
The second, caused by general cynicism at its historic example down the ages, is that the Lords represents nothing more than a means whereby sundry wannabees and clapped out/rejected ex-politicians, no longer able persuade the electorate to vote for them, can wallow in a cloak of comforting self-importance and retain their connection with the Westminster ‘bubble’ (and indeed keep their noses in the trough of parliamentary expenses) and/or – this, of course, a classic legacy of patronage – those with the ambition and wherewithal can still buy themselves a title in this day and age by laying donations and/or favours at the doors of the ‘established’ political parties.
Here’s my simplistic proposal to improve things:
Point One, abolish the House of Lords, period – and no shilly-shallying about. Life peers, hereditary peers, the incongruous Church of England clergy: all of them to go at a stroke. In proposing this I’m not suggesting that they cannot stand to become members of a new (elected) Upper Chamber – that’s a decision for them.
Point Two, establish an elected second chamber called the Senate with just 250 members.
The Senate constituencies would cover the entire United Kingdom with the proviso that if Scotland ever votes to go completely independent its ‘Senate representation’ would be automatically rescinded.
Each senator would be elected for a one-off period of ten years, subject both to their right to resign at any time and a mandatory requirement that none of them can serve beyond their 75th birthday.
I would add the latter stipulation simply because, although I acknowledge different people age – or should I say mentally deteriorate? – at different rates, I believe 75 is a reasonable cut-off point for anyone to hold any authority in public life and anyway, when push comes to shove, somewhere along the line they should be obliged to give someone else (younger) a chance.
There’s nothing more pathetic that seeing some doddery old boy (or girl) being wheeled out to give an opinion when they either don’t have one anymore and/or have been simply programmed (as voting-fodder) to peddle a political line they don’t even understand.
Either that, or perhaps we should adopted the Guy Fawkes option – and why not(?) – after all, it’s almost that time of year again …