Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The House of Lords and constitutional reform

So while we are in the worst recession in living memory, the government attempts to create a distraction by going for some populist and traditional-voter-appeasing policies - Lords reform - removing the remaining hereditary peers.

The hereditary peers should never have been removed in the first place - they provided a good check on illiberal policies and the executive, something seriously lacking since Blair's gerrymandering of the late 90s. Now they have been shown to be the least sleazy - the bad Lords are generally appointed Labour lords.

The problem here is that the Lords has become a glorified quango - a means of elected dictatorship, a bit of window dressing. There's no accountability when the people you are meant to hold to account appoint you!

However I don't see the hereditary peers returning, so we have to look one way - to democracy. I don't want to see a carbon copy of the Commons. The Lords has to be a chamber of experts and local politicians - I'd like to see elected mayors sitting in the Lords, as well as other elected "experts" - although how an "expert" is determined for election is difficult, since you have the regulating the regulator problem.

It really is an open-ended question, but whatever happens, it must be more accountable. At least there's one good speck in this bill - the ban on protests outside Parliament that have been affront to British liberty for too long would be ended. However it's just a small part of the bill, and not one everything else should rest on.

Britain constitutionally needs a renegotiation of the EU arrangement and a localist agenda to devolve power as locally as possible, with each budget-setting authority raising its own funds. This is more important than the issue of the Lords.

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