Thursday, March 08, 2007

Can opened; worms everywhere

So the Commons voted, in a bizarre alliance between the idealistic and the cynical, to turn the Upper House into a fully-elected body. This is not yet Government policy, no bill has been promoted and no timetable laid out, but it does look as though the times are a-changing and the British Constitution will need a comprehensive overhaul.
Something had to happen. The current Government, by ejecting all but a handful of the hereditary peers, had made the Upper House a body of legislatures appointed by the executive - vast numbers appointed by this executive. This was clearly unsustainable. Whatever the arguments, time-worn and always controversial, for an unelected House whose members were drawn from broadly non-party lines (as the hereditaries predominantly were, conservatives mostly, but not always Conservatives) the demolition of the status quo has been so complete that radical reform was needed.
Blair, it must be said, has always given the impression that he was quite happy with an appointed body - why wouldn't he be? That way it will mostly follow along behind him, and when it doesn't its views can be dismissed as non-representative and inferior to the supremacy of the Commons. The arrival of an elected body would be the death of that argument.
But goodness does the heart sink at the thought of who these elected representatives will be! Party lists, proportional representation, a combination of retirement home and political remedial class: these are what await. One of the benefits of punditry, even on such a tin-pot scale as this, is that the inevitable short-comings of proposals can be pointed out and bemoaned, without the pundit having to put forward any better ideas. So it is here. I though the old idea of a hereditary house, supplemented by modest appointment of life peers was, while entirely indefensible on point of principle, and never an idea that would be suggested as a model, still better than most of the alternatives. Wholly appointed removes the raison d'etre of an independent house; wholly elected removes the basis for the supremacy of the Commons.
Sumus ubi sumus (says he in execrable Latin). I hope that our politicians can see a way out of this mess that neither transforms the House of Lords into a second-tier house for second-rate politicians, nor entails the destruction and remaking of the entire British Parliamentary system. I'm not enormously optimistic though.

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