Thursday, 22 September 2016

Lords Reform - Essential for Democracy

One of the key points I heard  from Brexiters, in discussion about the EU, ahead of the referendum was that the EU was undemocratic; that it was unelected and unaccountable to the British people. Well, I hate to break it to you, but our own parliament is far more undemocratic than the 100% elected European Parliament. 

In the UK Parliament we have 650 MPs, soon to be reduced to 600, if the Government has its way with the Boundary Review. These MPs are elected by their constituents to represent them and do what makes [the majority of] their lives better. They [are supposed] to meet and listen to their constituents, hold surgeries and take up casework on their behalf. In fairness, most MPs have at least one caseworker who will take up cases and try to get issues resolved for the constituent, on the MP's behalf. Not everyone agrees with the MP, because they either voted for another party's candidate in the election, or they have a fundamental difference of opinion on a specific policy issue. 

We also have a second chamber, whose job it is to review, check and sometimes challenge what the Government is trying to do in bringing forward legislation. That's where the issue lies...

There are approximately 800 Lords, none of whom have been elected to the office they hold. Some of them serve in the Government, some are affiliated with a political party, whilst others are cross-bench. Each of them can claim up to £300 each day, just for showing up, unless they earn a salary for holding a paid position.

So, if the issue with the EU was the perception of an anti-democratic structure, why are all of those people not joining the Electoral Reform Society's campaign for a more proportional system of government, where everyone's vote counts equally and can make a difference. 

Lords Reform should be much higher up the agenda, but it suits the Government to have a second chamber filled with its own appointees, to ensure the legislation it puts forward has a greater chance of successfully being enacted. Undoubtedly, there is a requirement to ensure 'new blood' and changes in the make-up of the Lords, but each of them is a 'life-peer' and can keep rocking up and claiming their £300 for as long as they wish. 

Recently, David Cameron came under criticism for a resignation list that was a roll call of his mates and cronies, whilst more and more murmurings about the need to limit the number of Lords are being heard amongst those who have experienced of Parliament and how it works. 

There is undoubtedly a huge hill to climb, with both electoral and Lords reform; the phrase, turkeys voting for Christmas has been used many times and is to a large degree correct. In areas where the EU Referendum turned up a result that went directly against the views and campaigning of the incumbent MP, (like in my own constituency of Barnsley Central) the parties must take stock and consider that even in traditional strongholds, they cannot depend on voters to go their way, or trust their judgment without question. It is something that, hopefully, will change how political parties and politicians engage with the people they [want to] represent. 

In relation to the Lords, people are even less engaged with the ermine and velvet-clad folks who are often unfairly portrayed on TV as almost-senile old duffers who fall asleep on the red leather benches. A programme of reform can only help to raise the esteem in which a second chamber should be held. Moreover, an elected second chamber can only help to increase democratic engagement, at a time when we should be grabbing the hands of everyone who voted in the referendum and getting them to see that they actually can make a difference.