Following some of the links from the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen, I found this post by Richard Morris suggesting names for potential new Lib Dem members of the House of Lords.

As I’ve stated many times before, I’d like to see the House of Lords replaced with an elected chamber – it’s the 21st century, I think we’re in a position where the British people should elect their own Parliament – but as reactionaries and opportunists in other parties happily conspire to prevent that from happening, we remain with a house of patronage. As a result, it looks like Nick Clegg will get to name fifteen people to the Lords (and for this post, I’m not going to open up the can of worms that’s the party’s Interim Peers Panel)

However, I noticed something in Richard’s post that of the 14 potential new peers he suggests, only three are women. This isn’t to single out Richard – I’m sure most Lib Dems when asked to come up with a similar list would come up with a similarly male list of the great, good, worthy and safely uncontroversial – but if there’s one thing the benches in the Lords aren’t short of at the moment, it’s men. Looking at the list of peers on the party website, there are 94 Lib Dem peers, of whom 66 are men and 28 are women (those figures do include Jenny Tonge). In terms of representing women, that’s slightly better than Have I Got News For You, but still pretty poor when compared to reality.

Assuming that Clegg doesn’t take the attitude that the best way to win the game of House of Lords appointments is to not play and appoint no new peers, why not take a bold approach and announce a list of fifteen women? It would still leave the party’s representation in the Lords well short of equality – but another list of fifteen would bring that close – but it would be a statement that if we do have to have an unelected chamber, the party is committed to making it representative. I could quite easily come up with a list of fifteen Lib Dem women who’d all make very good peers, so surely it’s not beyond the ability of Nick Clegg and his advisers to come up with one?

Doing that would be a way of making the statement that the Liberal Democrats are still committed to doing politics differently, and I expect it would serve as a way of making us look very different from the sort of list that Cameron and Miliband are likely to propose for their parties. And for anyone complaining about positive discrimination, it’s quite clear from the list of existing Lib Dem peers that there’s clearly been discrimination in favour of men over the years, and this is a chance to show that we’re not going to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.

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Via Jennie, Michael Crick on how many new peers need to be appointed to make the House of Lords representative of the votes cast at the last election.

It’s an absurd number, but then it’s part of an absurd system where people get appointed to jobs for life on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day to serve in half of the legislature of a country that’s ostensibly democratic.

One thing from it stood out for me though, from David Cameron’s interview in the House Magazine:

I think it’s important to keep refreshing the talent in the House of Lords

I can think of a system that would allow the upper house of Parliament to actually be refreshed on a regular basis. It would ensure that anyone who’s been in their for a long period could be replaced, or if they wanted to stay on, they’d have to prove that they could still do the job to a large number of independent people. The number of members of the house could be fixed, and over a period of time, the whole place could be refreshed without having to resort to the anti-democratic absurdity of needing to appoint people.

But then if he really did believe in refreshing the Lords, he wouldn’t have allowed the reforms to create a democratic Lords to disappear. Yet again, Cameron’s actions show his real priorities, not his words.

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It’s Monday, and so it’s time for a new week of silly proposals from obscure Tory MPs. First there’s Michael Fabricant batting his eyes enticingly at UKIP, and then there’s this as well: (via)

For individuals aged under 25 who have not yet paid National Insurance contributions for a certain period, perhaps five years, unemployment benefit should be in the form of a repayable loan. An unemployed teenager would still receive the same amount of cash as now, for example, but they would be expected to repay the value once in work.

Like many proposals from the nuttier fringes of the Tory party, it reads like a parody – it’s not enough for the poor to be poor, let’s put them in debt to the state as well! – and the information at the bottom of the piece left me just as confused:

Chris Skidmore is MP for Kingswood, and a member of the Free Enterprise Group.

The name, the constituency, the ‘Free Enterprise Group’ – they all sound like things that could exist in Britain and the Tory Party, but do they actually exist? Is Skidmore just the Richard Geefe of the Tory right, perhaps Craig Brown sneaking something under the radar?

Apparently, no. Like James Delingpole, and so much else that passes for ‘commentary’ at the Telegraph, it’s entirely and depressingly genuine.

But it got me thinking – how hard would it be for someone to create an entirely fake MP and get people (including the media) to believe they were real? Kingswood, for instance, is one of those generic-sounding names that could be anywhere in the country (it’s actually to the north of Bristol), but if an article told you that it’s author was the MP for Queensbridge, for instance, would you question it? After all, there are 650 MPs, and who can remember all of them and their constituencies? Then if your fake MP was spotted, you could always invent a fake Lord to take their place – even political obsessives can’t name more than a handful of crossbench peers – though that is a trick that someone else has tried to pull recently. (But then again, surely Christopher Monckton is a parody that’s gone out of control?)

And finally, if you’ve had your fill of Parliament, you could always try setting up a fake Council. The 1974 Local Government Act gave us lot of names that can fool even the most experienced geographer – Vale Of White Horse, Three Rivers, Dacorum, Adur – as well as a lot of Mids, Wests, Easts, Souths and Norths, so it should be easy enough to come up with a name. Of course, there’s no chance of the media paying any attention to you, no matter what you do, unless you find some way to make them think you’re actually a London borough. Still, you’ll likely get lots of invites to attend and speak at Really Important Conferences.

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There are many obvious reasons to be glad that Donald Trump’s not British, not least the fact that it gives us another reasons to be dismissive of American politics and pretend ours are somehow better, but one specific one occurs to me.

Look at it this way: Donald Trump is a rich man who’s involved in politics and is known to give money to causes he supports. If he was British, he’d be free to give as much money as he likes to political parties – we can probably assume he’d be a Tory, at least initially – and wouldn’t be limited by any of those pesky donation limits that sometimes apply in American politics.

Now, one curious fact about British politics is that people who make large donations (or loans) to political parties are very often the same people who are appointed to the House of Lords. This, of course, is a total coincidence, and there’s no formal connection between being a major donor to a political party and a recipient of favours from that party. However, coincidences do occur, and any British Donald Trump could very possibly find himself becoming Baron Trump of Trumplandia. So, unlike in the US, where his attempts to achieve powerful political positions have failed because of the lack of interest from the electorate in giving him that power, here he’d likely find himself granted a powerful position for life.

So be glad he’s American, because while our House of Lords contains no end of strange people that we can’t remove from power, at least none of them are Donald Trump.

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Let us be glad that Hansard, which has recorded great debates in Parliament for years, was still around to capture this piece of high-level intellectual debate:

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Prime Minister jests about what words are allowed and not allowed in this Chamber; on the Opposition Benches, we would quite like to hear one word more often from his lips: “growth”.

Further to the question from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the problem of corruption in Russia is manifest. On 7 March, this House unanimously agreed a resolution, supported by the Government, calling on them to introduce legislative proposals to make sure that those involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption that he unveiled were banned from this country. When will those legislative proposals be introduced?

The Prime Minister: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the word I am waiting for from him, because he introduced a point of order claiming that I had misled the House, is “sorry”. To be fair to him, he has said sorry to everybody else—you, Mr Speaker, I think, and to the House in general—but the person he accused of doing something wrong he has yet to say “sorry” to. So, until I get that apology, I think I will leave off the answers.

Yes, that’s the Prime Minister of this country refusing to answer questions in Parliament because someone hasn’t apologised to him properly. That’s the sort of behaviour that would shame a playground, so why do we accept it from him?

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I noticed something interesting yesterday in the various discussions of what I want to call ‘sitting-on-the-fence-gate’ but until that becomes commonly understood parlance, I’ll just have to call it the Commons vote on Jeremy Hunt. I noticed two different responses to the idea that the Lib Dem MPs would abstain on the vote. Various ‘political’ types were happily falling over each other in the rush to proclaim what a good idea abstaining was (see here for an example) while more ordinary people I know were completely baffled by the decision, not quite able to understand why such bizarre contortions were going on.

It reminded me of a few weeks ago when I announced I was stepping back from my role on the Cabinet, to give me more time to do other things. I’ve had a few conversations with political types who seem confused by my doing it, and had a bizarre conversation with an anonymous tweeter who insisted I should disclose ‘the real reason I’d quit’, whereas when I told non-political friends about it, they completely understood.

I think these are both symptoms of the same problem in British politics – it’s become completely separate from the world it’s supposed to represent. I don’t believe there was a golden age when everything was perfect, but we seem to have come upon an age where the idea of politics being about a contest and debate between different ideas and ideologies has completely disappeared, to be replaced by a big game in which everyone chooses their team and then cheers them on against the others. Elections are now no longer ‘we need to win so we can do this’, it’s ‘we need to win to stop them winning because they’re bad’. It’s no longer a case of trying to engage the public – look at the turnout figures in all elections – but of merely trying to motivate the supporters of your chosen team to come out and vote, possibly because we haven’t worked out a way to determine an election in terms of who can cheer and clap the loudest.

And it’s not just the politicians who are to blame. The media buy into this because it’s much easier for them to report on a game (especially if they can simplify it to a two-sided one) than it is to report on the nuances of a debate. We don’t discuss the content of Prime Minister’s Questions any more, we discuss who ‘won’, and every new initiative is discussed in terms of how it well affect the polls, or what it might do for someone’s standing in the Cabinet. Let’s not discuss the nuance of whether it’s right that Greggs can claim hot food isn’t hot to stop paying VAT, let’s turn it into a contest as to which party leader can show the most enthusiasm in wolfing down a pasty.

This is why politics looks so ridiculous to most people. The House of Commons looks like nothing more than a middle and upper-class version of Big Brother, as well-educated imbeciles hoot and bray at each other in an effort to win press coverage. I listened to some of the coverage today, and the only sensible-sounding person was John Bercow, asking them to try and behave like vaguely human beings.

British politics says to the people that it’s all a game, that politicians aren’t concerned about changing things, but just want to score points off each other at the best-funded debating society in the world. Things need to change, before most people decide to really stop taking it all seriously and then only the really crazy people will vote.

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A couple of weeks ago I linked to this piece by Desmond Swayne MP, explaining a Christian perspective in favour of equal marriage.

Swayne’s back in the news today, but this time not doing anything worth praising. Instead, he’s been revealed as the chief orchestrator of idiots within Parliament. Yes, it turns out that Tory MPs are so useless, they need someone else to tell them who they should be barracking and howling at like crazed howler monkeys, otherwise they might just end up sitting quietly in the Commons and expecting people to engage in debate like adults.

But no, luckily we’ve got Swayne to give us this wondrous contribution to the history of the Mother of Parliaments:

Given the ‘shivers’ of Christine Lagarde I hope you will agree with me that it will be appropriate for Ed Milliband to be greeted when he rises for the first time (there are no tributes to-day) with vociferous demands for an apology.

“There are no tributes today” Never has a minor bit of information felt so appropriate and relevant. No tributes at all to our gallant Parliamentarians, last seen desperately racking their brains for clues as to why the public might despise them so, then forgetting that quest for answers in favour of indulging in a bit more playground banter and abuse.

Swayne, of course, proclaims himself a Christian. I wonder if he can point to any verses in the Bible that justify his emails. I can only imagine how much the Sermon on the Mount might have been improved if it had been trying to fight for people’s attention above a vast chorus of insults being traded between Romans and Christians.

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We all remember some of the shameful things that happened in Parliament during the last Labour government. Chief among them, of course, were the repeated times when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats used their majority of votes their to repeatedly block any attempts to discuss House of Lords reform. Then, when it managed to get through, they repeatedly voted down Labour’s proposals for a 100% elected second chamber and referendum on the issue. They certainly weren’t a government who got extremely half-hearted about Lords reform after removing most of the hereditary peers, and allowed whatever meagre Parliamentary time they allocated to discussing it to end in inconclusive votes that achieved nothing beyond kicking it into the long grass for years.

I don’t recall any of that happening, but it must have done for this to make any sense. Otherwise, it’d just be someone blocking the chance to have any further reform of the Lords in order to play political games.

Oh, and the whole ‘we should be concentrating on the economy and not doing anything else in Parliament’ argument? Take a look at this list of bills announced in the 2009 Queen’s Speech when the economy wasn’t doing too well either. Oddly, that seems to have a number of bills included in it (including ones on constitutional reform and Lords reform) that are nothing to do with the economy. Perhaps the Labour Party of 2009 – unlike their modern-day counterparts – were able to understand that it’s possible for a Government and a Parliament to do more than one thing at once.

What might have happened if someone had told William Beveridge there was no time for him to waste writing reports on social insurance while there was a war on?

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One of those little things that’s crept into our internet usage over the last few years is the customer satisfaction query. There’s probably another name for it, but what I’m referring to is the little question you often get asked when you’ve queried an FAQ, a support database or help system. Did this answer your query? they’ll ask at the end of your reading, checking to see if they’ve understood what you were asking and have provided the answers you require.

Why I’m thinking about this is because I was watching David Cameron’s appearance in the House of Commons yesterday. And what I was thinking is ‘how much would it change the way Parliament works if the Speaker could ask that to MPs when they’ve asked questions?’ Of course, part of that would be the fun of seeing John Bercow regularly popping up to ask ‘did that answer the Honourable Member’s question? Yes/No/Partially’ but more fundamentally, it would be interesting if an MP could have some reaction, however minimal, to the non-answer that’s been prevalent in the Commons for years. Just a chance to say ‘I’m sorry, but that wasn’t even an attempt an answer’ might make people wonder just what they’re supposed to be doing there other than braying like idiots.

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Job hunting

It seems my search for a comfortable sinecure will have to continue, as Parliamentary tradition has been upheld now Gerry Adams has decided to end the rather pointless deadock over his resignation by accepting the role as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. He may, of course, have noted that David Davis For Freedom took the job of Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds and immediately resigned from it in 2008, so is likely planning the same course of action.

It would be interesting if he could keep the role for just a little while, if only so fans of political trivia can pose obscure questions about holders of offices of profit under the British Crown and seats in the Dáil Éireann.

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