Category Archives: House of Lords

What to do with the House of Lords

The following blog post is a plea to journalists, activists and politicians. The country has entered a period of intensifying debate over the future of its Upper House, and this proposal (not solely forwarded by me) must feature in the argument. If readers support the idea, then please email a link to this piece to your local MP.

I am getting tired with repeatedly seeing fresh calls for the abolition of the House of Lords, or with demands for the second chamber to be an elected one, so I want to use this blog to help push forward a proposal for real Upper House reform; the kind not being discussed by the very people who would appreciate and support it most. I will present a case against abolition of Westminster’s Upper House entirely (with particular emphasis on the dangers of a possible referendum), a case against electing the House and a case for a system of citizen juries, known more formally as sortition.

The first thing that needs to be said about this new wave of anti-Lords sentiment is that, were it not triggered by Britain’s EU withdrawal, it would not exist in such vitriolic form. Politics, as I feared post-referendum, has become a battleground entirely transformed by the Brexit vote. The public is now viewing issues from the perspective of its referendum camp, which has resulted in a skewing of objectivity. The Lords debate is not the only evidence of this, either. By-elections, too, such as that of Richmond, are being manipulated according to how voters voted in last summer’s poll, and results are being translated in the same fashion. I hope, therefore, by writing this and avoiding EU-related tribalism, I will present a reasonable case (though likely untenable at the present time) for radical reform of the Upper House.

 

Why we shouldn’t abolish the Upper House

Without meaning to condescend, I believe that much of the anger of the abolitionists is down to short delays to the Brexit process and not principled opposition to the House itself. The public were told many months ago that March 31st would be the deadline by which Article 50 was triggered. I don’t think anybody remotely sensible ever thought that this would be over quickly, given its obvious constitutional magnitude.

I also think the reactionary behaviour of Leave voters is dangerous because they fail to present us with a viable alternative or safety mechanism. They simply say: ‘Abolish the Lords!’, without proposing any legislative reform or telling us either what will come in its place, or how the Commons and its operations will adjust to being the sole source of law-making in the UK. Overzealous reformers can sometimes, as problems in our education system show, be the obstacle to positive progress. 

Those calling for the abolition of the second chamber should remember, firstly, that due to timetabling restrictions, the House of Commons often has to rely on the Lords to introduce smaller bills. Commons ‘sessions’ do not manage to get through all proposed legislation, so the second chamber plays a useful role in introducing Bills which would otherwise be forgotten about. In the 1983-87 parliament, for which we have easily accessible data, the House of Lords introduced 88 Bills[1] out of the 209 tabled in total. It may be argued, therefore, that the Upper House often speeds up the legislative process, despite popular allegations to the contrary. Readers may like to give the current table of Bills a glance. Please pay particular attention to those with [HL] in their titles. This means that the relevant Bill was introduced in the second chamber. I would put it to those calling for the Lords’ heads that, if they got their way, legislation beneficial to their interests may be slowed, ignored or not introduced to parliament at all.

Unicameralism, for good reason, is not anywhere near as common as bicameralism across international legislature[2]. Another reason why this is so could be down to harbouring appropriate scrutiny of government. Those who take a look at the map provided will quickly note that some of the most authoritarian countries in the world, such as Iran and China, opt for systems that do not allow for the executive to be held to account. I acknowledge, also, that many civilised and democratic countries appear in the list of unicameral legislatures, but thorough examination tells me that most are either rife with corruption or authoritarian in nature. Part of the reason for this could be a lack of monitoring of government operations, and so I think that Britain benefits from having strong measures of scrutiny throughout its parliamentary process. The Lords have also shown unity with public opinion on many occasions, proving their worth when voting on major changes to the law. Halting George Osborne’s tax credits plan, showing their support for same-sex marriage and voting against Blair’s anti-terrorism legislation are three such examples. As James Forsyth wrote in ‘The Spectator’ recently, “the House of Lords has a strong self-preservation instinct: it knows its limits.”

 

The absurdity of a referendum

If readers recall, the last time we held a referendum on substantial change to Britain’s constitution, we found ourselves stuck in the position we are currently in. Delays, anger and confusion have become the three pillars of British politics. Referendums require Bills, and Bills require filtration and inspection, so I doubt that those sitting in the Upper House would be convinced that a simple national poll is provision enough for major constitutional change.

Referendums are a fun exercise of direct democracy (not because people vote, but because they get to decide themselves on an issue rather than hoping somebody else will), but they aren’t usually congruent with the constitution, as the incessant delays and stoppages attached to Britain’s departure from the European Union illustrate. Referendums are, by their very nature, simplistic and often binary. In their make-up, they ignore the nuances that become apparent after votes for change are cast.

 

Why we shouldn’t elect the Upper House, either

I hear constantly the term ‘unelected’ being used pejoratively. This is primarily because the public has been conditioned, after many years of propaganda by politicians and parties, to conflate ‘democracy’ with ‘elections’. I will delve further into this at some point in the future, but democracy, firstly, predates elections, and secondly, most democratisation has absolutely nothing to do with government (see, for instance, the introduction of the daily newspaper in the early to mid 19th century).

There are three main reasons why electing members of the Upper House is a bad idea. The first concerns general voting patterns, marginalisation and plummeting turnouts. I would at this point ask the reader to consider, hypothetically, that the UK is about to hold a national Upper House election. What do you think voter turnout would be? European elections in Britain have historically produced very poor turnouts[3]. Turnouts at General Elections have for very many decades been on the decline[4]. What makes anybody think that voter turnouts would be anything other than miserable? I don’t, myself, see a scenario in which voter turnout for Upper House elections reaches even 30%. Low turnout is important because we are told that the purpose of elections is to provide those in power with a mandate.

My suspicion is that, given immense electoral fatigue – thanks largely to the digital age and the information saturation that comes with it – and widespread public disengagement from politics (that voter turnouts highlight), most British people would not care enough to venture to their nearest polling station and vote for members of the second chamber. Increasingly, we don’t bother to vote at General Elections, so electing a senate would prove no less purposeless.

Secondly, electing the Upper House would transform it into a mirror-image of the Commons. One of the great features of the House of Peers was that it was supposed to act as an objective, politically-unaligned chamber more able to provide the executive with appropriate scrutiny and amendments. In a scenario where members are elected, they are more easily forced to think along party lines, as they are constrained by campaign promises, manifesto commitments and may view legislation more tribally and ideologically, perhaps reducing space for independent thought and concern for others. I also think it could be the case that Peers may see their democratic mandate (however small) as not subservient to the Commons, but as equal in its validity. This could create a situation in which there is unnecessary competition between chambers, and long periods of ‘ping-pong’.

A third issue with Upper House elections is that they will consume unnecessary resources and eat into time and budgets. The legislative process is long, drawn out and requires a lot of thorough examination and re-examination. Taking a couple of months out of a parliamentary session to focus on being re-elected would seem to me to hamper the ability of Peers to carry out their primary function: scrutiny of government. Election campaigns are expensive and have a noticeable draining effect on both the public and those involved in them. They also, crucially, subvert attention away from getting on with the job. We begin to focus more on people and less on issues.

 

Proposal: Replace the Lords with citizen juries

Most people are not familiar with the meaning of the word ‘sortition’. It is a political structure that has proven successful in British life, most notably in our courts, where juries of randomly selected citizens come together to decide upon the fate of another person. Juries were first constructed shortly after the Norman Conquest more than 1,000 years ago, but have undergone several reformations since. Sortition is the process of allocating to office or duty a jury of citizens selected at random. I mention our courts because, before we proceed, it is important that we respect both the liberty the system has given us and its use in Britain’s criminal justice system. Most people report high levels of trust in criminal juries, despite the lack of legal experience of those sitting on them, and consider taking part an ‘important civic duty’[5].

It is my belief that an Upper House comprised of a jury of citizens, cycled on periods lasting a few weeks, with those from afar allowed to expense either travel or accommodation expenses, would be a much more democratic and fairer alternative to its current formation. By bringing together randomly-selected, representative members of the public (on a scale closer much closer to 600 than 800) to scrutinise Bills presented by the House of Commons, vote on legislation and contribute to committees and initiatives that they care about, Westminster will be enriched by more cognitive diversity, democracy will be enhanced through the introduction of more people into the legislative sphere and we will have an excuse to end the slow, painful suffering of the peerage.

I mentioned earlier that scrutiny is perhaps best provided by a chamber that is objective and non-partisan. It is also true that most people think in terms of issues and not in terms of ideology. To propose, therefore, an Upper House comprising of randomly-drafted members of the public is to join together these two premises. And I think ordinary people will jump at the chance, too. The House of Lords is an exotic place, especially for those living in distant, forgotten parts of the UK. Introducing jury service may also act as a way for Westminster to reach out to forgotten communities and perhaps ease some of the discontent and mistrust that has grown substantially in the modern political climate.

There is also no technocratic argument against this proposal. Members of the public have skills, knowledge, expertise and common sense, and are able to think rationally about the effects that Bills will have upon individuals. They will also, upon initiation, be aided by secretaries, parliamentary assistants and researchers with experience of the inner workings of the Upper House and legislative procedure. We trust our fellow man to make important decisions over matters of justice, so we can do the same in other aspects of public life. I am not saying that jury service in court is logistically identical to service in the Upper House, but as research shows[6], people approach civic duty in a conscientious and serious manner. I do not think this would change under this proposal. 

 

The suffering of the peerage

Back in November, Jacob Rees-Mogg instructed the Prime Minister to create 1,000 new sunset peers in order to help speed up the Brexit process. This may sound like a good idea for those who support Britain’s departure from the EU, but this sort of political puppeteering has profound consequences for the legitimacy and value of the peerage; one of the oldest – and now most devalued – honours anywhere in the world. One of the main causes of the suffering of the peerage has been the temptation displayed by governments (often acted upon) to give peerages to party representatives, usually donors or political advisers behind the scenes, purely for the purpose of aiding legislative efforts in the Upper House.  Tactical posturing on the part of parties is cynical and undermines the importance law-making. It is, after all, about what is best for the country, not what is best for preserving electability.

 

Final comments

I invite readers (whom I thank sincerely for reading what has turned out to be a necessarily long post) to leave their feedback in the comments below. As I said in my opening remarks, this idea is not unique to me. In 2008, The Athenian Option: radical reform for the House of Lords was published by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty. The argument about the future of the Lords cannot be a binary one. If a perfectly reasonable suggestion such as this exists, we must not frame this debate merely in terms of abolition or election. The political potential of sortition has been an interest of mine ever since I became familiar with the pitfalls of electoral representative democracy. I think it should interest you too.

 

Notes:

[1] See third table (section 3): http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/teaching/law6cw/hc-3.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicameralism#/media/File:Unibicameral_Map.svg

[3] http://www.ukpolitical.info/european-parliament-election-turnout.htm

[4] http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm

[5] See table 3.1: http://www.icpr.org.uk/media/10381/Juries%20MOJ%20report.pdf

[6] See page 2: http://www.britsoccrim.org/volume4/004.pdf

 


UKIP will not pose a threat in 2020, but this may be bad for British politics

I now think that UKIP will play no considerable role at the 2020 General Election (provided, of course, that there isn’t one sooner). My conclusion is partly informed by uninspiring quarrels between its senior figures and partly by the result of last year’s referendum, which now seems so far away I can scarcely believe how time has flown.

Notice that I use the word ‘uninspiring’. Of course, squabbles in political parties – despite the fact that they can open up debate – aren’t usually very helpful, but with UKIP, matters are made worse. The party was primarily a one-issue political force, acting as a battering ram and driving home an agenda that had been forgotten or deliberately ignored for far too long.

At present, UKIP lacks purpose and direction. Its primary goal has almost (barring a few late hiccups) been achieved and it must now attach itself to other issues worth pursuing. Indeed, Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, thinks that proportional representation and House of Lords reform are two such issues that the party can use to maintain its foothold in British politics.

This is a false trail. These areas of policy are fringe issues not capable of rallying a significant portion of the electorate. UKIP’s divisions are therefore uninspiring because neither side is offering any credible path towards long-term relevance in the current political climate. Arron Banks, who funded UKIP at the last General Election, claims that Paul Nuttall is week, but the problem is in fact much deeper.

The party has reached its sell-by date, and as the party only ever truly planned for a referendum, it is unsurprising to me that it finds itself a little hollowed out and purposeless afterwards. This is itself causing internal doubt and frustration. Being the leader, Mr Nuttall will find himself in the crosshairs, but truth be told, even Nigel Farage would struggle to keep UKIP on the map.

I do not write this gleefully by any means. I have always been fair to UKIP and stood up for the party when under unjust attack. This is because I believe that its impact on British politics has been largely productive. Its success transcends electoral representative democracy and, perhaps ironically, was aided largely by its very inconvenience to the establishment parties and their pocketed media tycoons.

UKIP’s most profound influence on British politics was to apply serious pressure on the Conservative Party to be conservative; to stop supporting Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, to stop imposing on the country unprecedented levels of mass immigration, to strengthen and illuminate the national culture and character. These simple premises had long ago been abandoned by a party that knew that all it had to do was mirror Blairite values and – as the Labour Party was hollowed and left demoralised in the ensuing post-Blair years – it would guarantee electability for years to come.

The Conservative Party knew that it had become New Labour. How could anybody have missed the many glaring parallels between its leader, Mr Cameron, and his now infamous predecessor? The trouble was, so too did many of its members. Its most disgruntled supporters switched their allegiances and opted instead to seek refuge in a growing party that believed and said the things conservatives had been saying vainly for so long. It is no wonder that UKIP became a force in such a short period of time.

Nigel Farage shrewdly spotted a few years ago that if he could only (but correctly) associate mass immigration with EU membership, and raise awareness to a possible referendum, his and his party’s political legacy would be secure. Though what he still does not recognise, to his discredit, is how ineffective the Leave campaign would have been had UKIP been spearheading it during the country’s referendum period. Alas, it no longer matters. Our side won it, all that remains is for departure to be negotiated and executed.

But what of the future of UKIP? I would love for my prediction to fall flat. They have been a useful kick in the backside for the Tories down south and northern Labour who, shamefully, have resisted public opinion (even that of its own voter base) and insisted on fighting – rather than listening to, UKIP. In the run up to the triggering of Article 50, backsliding on Brexit was widely suspected. But come the inevitable collapse of UKIP, a party almost too combustible for its own good, more serious backsliding may be seen.

The Tories, knowing full well that much of conservatism is damage limitation, may not see a battle worth fighting, and we could well see them revert to their old, disingenuous ways, freed of the UKIP-led electoral pressure that so many took for granted.


Brexit: the House of Lords has not let anybody down tonight

And still we are yet to trigger Article 50. This time thanks to what is actually quite a reasonable intervention from the House of Lords, who have attracted the wrath of Leave voters now agitated to get the exit process under way. Being one of them, I understand their frustrations, but tonight’s government defeat was actually an example of the Upper House at its most useful, not at its most destructive or contemptuous of democratic procedure.

The amendment, which proposed that the government commits to protecting the rights of EU citizens living in Britain within three months of triggering Article 50, defeated Mrs May’s Brexit bill by 358 votes to 256 earlier this evening. At first I sighed at what I thought would be yet another bump in the road to leaving the European Union, but then I took the time to consider a couple of things.

Firstly, the amendment (despite its lack of concern for British citizens living within the EU) is a sensible one. Being the leaving party, it is down to Britain to set the negotiating standard and settle the nerves of other member states who are concerned about damage to diplomatic ties. By enshrining in law protection for the rights of those who came to the UK legally throughout our membership, we lay the groundwork for productive talks and calm EU-born immigrants living in Britain, who in many cases will be uneasy about committing to long-term projects, like finding a mortgage or setting up a business.

Certainty, after all, was exactly what was promised in the government’s White Paper a few weeks ago. It seems to me to be reasonable, as the responsibility for this entire process lies first and foremost with us, that we take the moral high ground on this particular issue. If EU departure is organised poorly and in slapdash fashion, then Britain is the party most liable to political and economic damage. Even Nigel Farage, not known for his humility towards Brussels, agreed with me on his LBC radio show a few moments ago (or, rather, I agree with him).

Since immigration was a major factor in helping to determine the outcome of last year’s referendum, I think foreign-born citizens living in the UK will appreciate a vote of confidence in their worth to the country and support for their stay, especially given the noted rise in levels of hate crime and lingering anti-migrant sentiment after almost two decades of mass immigration from the continent. I also think that other EU member states will be more willing to engage constructively with the UK during negotiations, knowing that their citizens’ rights are to be respected.

Another cause for concern tonight has been the emotional outrage from Leave voters who have emerged in their droves to try to undermine Westminster’s second chamber in calling for its abolition. This is odd, given that most Brexit supporters self-identify as political conservatives (that’s small ‘c’). I can only deduce that they are not thinking rationally whilst their unjustifiable anger consumes them. They only tend to make noise when our Peers behave in ways that they do not personally approve of, and not usually at any other time.

The main problem with a unicameral legislature is that, due to timetabling constraints, the House of Commons simply isn’t able to oversee all legislation put before it. It must, from to time, rely on the Upper House to vote on and scrutinise bills; perhaps one of its more crucial and underappreciated functions. My suspicion is that a unicameral legislature would struggle to get to grips with the sheer wealth of legislation it would have to deal with. And to simply say: “Well, let’s pass fewer laws” seems on the face of things a little naive. It is not possible to predict the country’s future political challenges – especially after substantial constitutional change.

Secondly, as we have seen this evening, the House of Lords has consistently proved itself able to scrutinise government intelligently, reminding them of where they are going wrong and proposing amendments where necessary. This process cannot be understated. It is likely the main reason why the Upper House has remained a fixture at Westminster for such a long time, and while I disagree with the composition of Peers and the manner of their selection, I acknowledge the importance of holding the executive to account.

Those who voted for Brexit may, therefore, want to save their strength. This is not a battle worth fighting, and given the circumstances, it is hard to tell what challenges lie just around the corner.

 


Some thoughts on UKIP’s struggles, purpose and future

First, a little personal history about my involvement with the UK Independence Party:

I joined UKIP around the time of the 2015 General Election, knowing at the time very little about British politics but for the fact that the European Union wasn’t particularly democratic and that crucial powers had left the jurisdiction of Westminster for the jurisdiction of Brussels. Nigel Farage was primarily responsible for igniting my interest in Britain’s EU membership. My reasoning for joining was always to help pursue Brexit. I never really had all that much interest in the rest of the party’s manifesto. I left almost a year later, upon gaining employment with the Vote Leave campaign. To clarify, I was not asked to leave and did not feel compelled to, rather I chose to in order to focus on one campaigning avenue and set of messages.

Unlike most of UKIP’s detractors, I have actually been inside the party. This means that I know where faults lie (especially at local level) and I know where to draw the line between fair and unfair criticism. UKIP is not a party of racists and homophobes. In fact, it mostly comprises of former Labour and Tory voters, disillusioned with their former party’s messages around issues like EU membership and immigration. The oddity was that as UKIP drew more scorn from their rivals, they became more popular, as other parties began to reek of sneering, establishmentarian arrogance.

It took the main parties quite a long time to realise this, which has always surprised me. The Labour Party still makes the mistake of referring to UKIP’s message as the politics of hatred and division, despite its ongoing battle to overcome lingering internal anti-Semitism. The Conservatives, who had the most to lose from a strong Independence force, reacted a little more proactively, and ceased labelling UKIP figures and voters in uncomplimentary terms because they knew that it would backfire on them. What is even more interesting is the number of Tory youth members – of which I know many – who like UKIP and credit them for giving their party a kick up the backside across various policy areas.

It is correctly argued that UKIP does best as a radical party, but it is also worth remembering that the sheer scale of immigration for the past two decades, and the party’s ability to link it to a referendum, shaped their success. UKIP will still portray itself as a radical party, but it will not be aided in the same way going forward. Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, believes that his party needs to get back on the offence and take the lead in policy proposals. He mentioned on the Daily Politics today that House of Lords reform or proportional representation could be areas of policy that UKIP may try to influence – but these things simply do not have the same value for them. They are not issues that unite or rally their voter base, and they are not big enough issues to attract very many swing voters. This is especially true of the country’s Remain supporters, who would sooner barbecue their own children than be pulled in by even a sentence of any UKIP manifesto.

The in-fighting quite clearly isn’t helping things either. UKIP squabbles aren’t new and they most certainly aren’t surprising. But, in previous years, hostile sections of the party could put their differences aside much more easily as they knew that on the horizon lay an issue not worth dividing over. Even Farage and Douglas Carswell, who I got to meet several times during the referendum campaign and rather liked, simply ignored one another in the weeks leading to polling day, knowing full well that it was better to enter battle united that it was to entertain pointless feuding.

For the record, I believe Douglas Carswell was a little petulant in not backing a proposed Nigel Farage knighthood. I think it was quite clear why he did it. Just as it became clear that his defection from the Tories softened UKIP’s jagged voice as the referendum debate was under way. For anybody who has not yet read it and is interested, my blog on the case for knighting Mr Farage can be read at the following link:

https://norgroveblog.com/2017/02/25/why-nigel-farage-deserves-a-knighthood/

I am therefore unsurprised to learn that Arron Banks, who I’ve often thought will prove to be more useful behind the scenes in political life, is preparing to challenge Mr Carswell for his seat in Clacton. I don’t believe the UKIP donor will win the seat – in fact, come the next election, I believe it is highly likely that the Conservative Party may reclaim it…even if Douglas Carswell does re-stand for election. Between the by-election of 2014 and the General Election a year later, the Tories gained seven and a half thousand votes, and with the Leave vote now under the country’s belt, it is entirely possible that this increase will continue in 2020 (provided that another election is not called sooner).

I will always defend UKIP from unwarranted attack, and I greatly appreciate their efforts in fighting for an ‘in/out’ referendum on the question of EU membership. It was at least sincere, unlike the false promises made by former party leaders over the years (Tony Blair in 2005, David Cameron on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009). But their time as a credible political force, radical or not, has come to end in Britain. The Conservatives will soon be able to sleep easily.


Why Nigel Farage deserves a knighthood

It is clear to me now why Nigel Farage gives much better political interviews than he does personal ones. Last night’s ‘Life Stories’ with Piers Morgan highlighted Mr Farage’s understandable hesitancy with regards to talking about his private life, despite the host’s repeated and reasonable attempts to extract the juice from him. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to.

The former UKIP leader teased the audience with mentions of his relatives and those in his personal life, but kept his guard up and refused to be drawn into lengthy, informative storytelling. Perhaps ironically, Farage was at his most emotive and engaging when asked about topics he explicitly did not wish to discuss (like accusations of racism). Mr Farage’s personal life and professional rise are extremely interesting, and I felt he should have expanded upon some of the more personal aspects to his interview. I invite readers at this blog to watch the hour-long show for themselves and let me know what they thought in the comments below.

Towards the end of the show, however, the question over his future was raised. I was reminded, as Morgan asked him about his future plans, by Thursday night’s Question Time discussion on the issue of a potential knighthood (on which I should add that I completely believe that a Farage knighthood was blocked by his public nemesis Douglas Carswell). It would seem to me entirely reasonable for Nigel to be knighted given his standing as this generation’s most impactful and important politician.

And yes, he is a politician, much as he may pretend not to be. His impression on Britain’s political climate outweighs even that of Tony Blair’s. Liberals on both sides of the spectrum utterly despise him, but he retains significant support amongst older voters and traditional English, patriotic conservatives (a bracket that includes many Labour voters, we often forget).

Mr Farage deserves a knighthood because he truly embodies what it means to be a difference maker. His legacy is far more profound than that of most world leaders. He exudes a determination not seen in other political figures and his role in directing the single biggest democratic decision taken by British people can’t be overstated. He sacrificed his reputation and time with his family for a single goal that, against all the odds, he is on the cusp of achieving. It is hard to name a politician more driven and more focused, and one who overachieved in such a manner. It is indeed what public service is really all about.

I have met him several times, always surrounded by others and never getting the opportunity to get to know him, and each time I bumped into him (which included two public meetings, a Leave rally in Bromley and an occasion where he came into Vote Leave HQ to speak with Dominic Cummings) I was astounded by his stamina. He’d give up his time to talk to just about any curious passerby if it meant furthering his dream of Britain leaving the European Union. It was really quite inspiring.

Of course, his opponents will look to his stance on immigration and apparent status as flag bearer for the alt-right as an argument against a knighthood. I think this is nonsense. Mr Farage opened up the immigration debate at a time when nobody else even dared to, which proved beneficial for the country and especially for the silent (as we now know) majority who were left sidelined by the establishment parties they thought they could trust.

Also, it does not make sense to politicise and categorise the requirement criteria for a knighthood in this way. In doing so, we allow only for a certain kind of person with a certain batch of views to be given knighthoods. If the honours system does not facilitate the inclusion of a man who did more for Brexit than just about anybody else, then what exactly is it for? Knighthoods must recognise achievement – they should not be the plaything of metropolitan liberals.

It is also true that Mr Farage should be awarded a knighthood and not a peerage. As we have already discussed at this blog, peerages have been devalued almost beyond grief. They are handed out like sweets to well-behaved children and tend to be awarded for the purpose of political posturing. Governments increasingly create Peers out of nothing simply to boost the chances of their legislation being approved by the Upper House.

A knighthood symbolises exceptional achievement, and nobody – not trendy, mainstream celebrities or campus Lefties – can argue that Mr Farage’s efforts in creating the conditions through with Britain voted to leave the European Union were not an exceptional achievement. He cleverly forged an unbreakable link between mass immigration, which frustrated many communities in the country, and membership of the EU. Had he not tied those two issues together, the UK would not be on the brink of triggering Article 50.

All the pieces are in place. Mr Farage meets the criteria for receipt, the arguments against are personal and petulant, and the honours system needs a figure of his magnitude to truly validate itself. Even The Queen, said to be herself a supporter of Brexit, would be up for it I’m sure.


Yes, some peers are useless, but so too are elections!

Once again, the House of Lords finds itself squirming in the spotlight of British politics , this time as our peers attempt to weigh in on the triggering of Article 50. I do not think they will try to block Brexit. The House of Lords has shown that if it cares about anything, it is its own preservation.

For all the scandals, trials and tribulations that have rocked the second chamber over the years, the way in which the Lords remain relatively unscathed really does amaze me. And they know it too. Even Baroness D’Souza, a former speaker in the Upper House, believes that there are peers who offer nothing and get away with the bare minimum. 

She has told the BBC ahead of next Monday evening’s documentary on the Upper House that “many, many peers contribute absolutely nothing, despite receiving the full allowance.” Lords are allowed to claim a daily attendance allowance of up to £300 – but do not receive official salaries. If it wasn’t for absurdly generous allowances, I doubt many peers would bother with the parliamentary process at all.

Most are uncomfortably rich, often businessman or career politicians and do not need to claim hundreds of pounds every day. I don’t usually have any qualms with politicians accruing travel and accommodation expenses, as time taken out of the day to travel between home and Westminster can eat into casework, committee or legislative obligations, but attendance allowances (like those offered to Members of the European Parliament) are nonsensical.

But whatever dissatisfaction with peers lingers, I would reject calls for members to be elected to their posts. Some months ago I wrote an article for ‘Reaction’, which you can read here, on the political and practical potential of sortition (randomly selected citizen juries) in the arranging of Westminster’s Upper House. The article still highlights my position today, but like most of my work, it went largely ignored.

I do not think the Upper House should be an elected chamber. This is primarily because I believe that the British electorate simply doesn’t have the energy or the care to bother with voting for them. European elections consistently attracted embarrassingly low turnouts and even General Elections have revealed the same trend over the past seven decades.[1]

Many do not fully – or even partially – understand the role played by the Lords, and any Upper House elections would struggle to draw in even 20% of those eligible to vote. This would be in part due to electoral fever (made worse by social media) and in part due to a lack of understanding and emotional investment. Peers, after all, are not policy makers and need not produce enticing manifestos.

Another reason for avoiding the electing of peers is that it would help to transform the second chamber into a mirror image of the Commons. At present, Lords do not have to worry about toeing party line in order to keep their jobs. This is good, as it allows them to scrutinise government on a level playing field and operate according to their beliefs and consciences. The entire purpose of the second chamber, after all, is to hold the executive to account; an apolitical obligation almost on its own terms.

Juries of randomly selected citizens in the House of Lords would revitalise, or at least strengthen, the public’s enthusiasm for politics, introduce more cognitive diversity into the second chamber and would allow for more individuals to play a role in the legislative process. There is certainly no technocratic argument against it. Ordinary people have expertise, would be aided by researchers, secretaries and assistants, and we’d have the opportunity to do away with a stale honours system.

Peerages have become disgraced relics, handed out for political, rather than meritocratic purposes. Incumbent governments have been known to add party-political individuals to the Upper House in order to assist their efforts to have legislation passed through. This kind of tribal posturing is exactly what has led to the devaluing of honours and general mistrust in the House.

Committees do not have to be set up by former chancellors or founders of beer companies. Travel and accommodation expenses would indeed be paid to members of the public, just as they are today. The public can read, vote on bills and scrutinise serious issues, as proven by the unmistakeable success of court juries and a plethora of sortition-based research experiments.

Why, then, do we clamour for an elected system that we know perfectly well we wouldn’t care for?

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm