House_of_Lords_chamber_-_toward_throneMark Pack has news of a call for any Lib Dem appointments to the House of Lords to be used to bring more diversity to the Upper House.

However, I’m reminded of a suggestion I made a couple of years ago, and want to develop that further. What we should do as a party is quite simple: announce that we’re only appointing women to be Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords until we have parity in our group there. Obviously, I’d like to see the Lords abolished and replaced, but until such time (at least five years, as things stand) as that happens we should be taking steps to make our representation within there as representative.

I’d also suggest something else: our selected representatives should be people who’ve never been in Parliament before. Too much of the House of Lords consists of what’s little more than a comfy retirement home for ex-MPs (including those rejected by the electorate) and we should be casting our net much wider if we want to create a radical and diverse group in the Lords. Just putting more former MPs in there doesn’t do anything to promote a wider range of voices in the Lords, and we should be taking what few opportunities we have to do things differently.

Solving the problems of the House of Lords and political party funding at the same time

For just £50, you too could sit on these benches.

For just £50, you too could sit on these benches.

So, the last time I wrote about the House of Lords, it didn’t spark a widespread movement to abolish it, and from the look of this year’s election manifestos, there’ll be no attempt to do so over the next few years.

Which means it’s time for me to come up with a new idea, and I think this is a good one because it provides us with a number of things:

  • A new way to appoint members of the Lords
  • A way to encourage more people to donate money to political parties
  • And, a way to make explicit what’s always been implicit in appointing Lords
  • My system is quite simple. Any donation over £50 would have to be made through a central bureau, which would record the donation and pass it on to the intended recipient. Donations could be made online, and arrangements could also be made for donations to be made through the post or at certain banks and post offices. Meanwhile, every year, a House of Lords Appointment Commission would determine how many vacancies there were for the Lords that year, given the number of members who had died, retired or been removed over the past twelve months. The Appointments Commission would also determine how many of the new peers needed to represent each party, based on its current strength in the Lords and the number of votes it had received at the last national election.

    Then, every person who had made an official donation to a party in that time would be given one entry into a Lords Lottery for every £50 they’d donated. Each party entitled to a number of appointees to the Lords would then have their nominees chosen at random from the people who had donated to it. Parties who did not make the threshold to be allocated direct seats in the draw would be placed into a draw for at least one peerage in each year, thus ensuring there was a motivation to donate to them.

    With this system we recognise the traditions of the House of Lords and ensure appointment is still linked to how much you can donate to a political party, but we add that element of chance to ensure that every donor has a chance of an appointment, and that even the smallest party could get someone appointed to Parliament to life to speak for them. Now you may say that a randomly chosendonor is not necessarily the best person to speak for a party in the Lords, because they might just have donated on a whim and may not understand that party’s ideology and beliefs. I say yes, that could be a problem, but it’s already a flaw with the current system, and why should only rich donors get a platform for their silly ideas?

    Just like the regular lottery, there could be Superdraws every few years, in which all donors are eligible and the winner gets a hereditary peerage. No longer do you need to have had the lucky break of being the descendent of a King’s mistrees to be the Earl or Countess of somewhere, now your family could get a title by pure blind chance.

    Just think how much money this could bring into politics, once everyone sees that their donation can not just only help the party they support, but it can help them too. Sure, we could have chosen the Lords by pure sortition but where’s the educational value in that? Let’s make it clear to everyone that yes, you do have a chance of getting to be in Parliament and having your views govern the nation, but it’s going to be an infinitesimally small one compared to the number of opportunities rich people get.

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    A rare shot of the Lords, featuring no one who acquired their seat in a dodgy way.

    A rare shot of the Lords, featuring no one who acquired their seat in a dodgy way.

    Thanks to some fine academic work by Andrew Mell, Simon Radford and Seth Alexander Thevoz, we now have what comes as close as possible to proof that there’s a link between donating large amounts of money to political parties and finding yourself with a seat in the House of Lords. I know that this is unsurprising news to many of you, on a par with a study into the Pope’s religious habits or bear’s defecatory practices, but it’s important evidence in making the case for a better democracy.

    This is one of the rare areas of politics where I find myself in total agreement with Nick Cohen, especially in just how hard it is to explain the concept of the House of Lords to someone with no knowledge of British politics, let alone the practice of it.

    “You want to know why they’re there? Let me see – there are still hereditary peers in Parliament for the unimpeachable reason that a long-dead ancestor slept with Charles II. We’ve Anglican bishops with nothing better to do, party loyalists appointed by leaders who expect them to remain loyal, and plutocrats who have given hard cash to a party and ended up – with the help of a process no one is anxious to explain – sitting on their haunches in the legislature of a democracy.”

    Remember that one of the outcomes of the recent revelations about Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind was that they likely wouldn’t get their expected seats in the Lords when they left the Commons. Just imagine the future: an ennobled Jack Straw giving you the benefit of his opinions and making your laws forever, regardless of what we might wish. Now remember that the Lords is already littered with people like that who’ve bene utterly discredited, even sent to prison, and by letting it remain, we’re allowing our democracy to be thoroughly corrupted. Half of our Parliament is made up of legislators who have seats for life, can’t be removed by the people and gain their positions there through an opaque process where appointments are in the hands of a small group of people. It’s a perfect recipe for corruption and that corruption rots the rest of the system along with it.

    There’s a lot more wrong with the British system than just the Lords, but we’re now past 100 years of trying to reform it and ending up with that traditional British fudge of a tiny symbolic reform that leaves the underlying problems in place and turns out to add even more problems as time goes by. Reform of the Lords isn’t working – the whole chamber needs to be removed and we should start again from scratch. Cut out the whole corruption and then work on sorting out the rest of the system.

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    Worth Reading 130: Nothing like the sun

    Trend piece – ‘Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword. Isn’t the buzzword on your mind now? Perhaps it is on other people’s minds? Read on or you’ll be clueless, dated, and without any friends in the world. Buzzword again!’
    The by-election in the House of Lords – Nicholas Whyte collects the statements of the candidates.
    How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics – Fascinating look back at the political culture of 1987.
    The Rules of Enragement – Why some professional troll pieces do better than others.
    After the ‘No’: Constitutional Reform must not be by the Elites for the Elites – “The irony of this whole process is that political class have provoked a crisis that exposes the anti-democratic features of the previously dominant British political tradition. Their response is to try to control the process of reform in order to protect their shared vest interest in preserving the Westminster model.”

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    An easy opportunity to get more women in Parliament

    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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