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FPTP for the Commons, PR for the Lords?

Left Futures consistently opposed AV for the House of Commons. The most significant Labour Left organisations (to the Left of Compass) did likewise, though some prominent individuals — Ken Livingstone, John McDonnell, Tony Benn, Billy Hayes and Michael Meacher took a different view. Reform of the House of Lords, however, raises the choice of electoral system in a rather different context and the Labour Left may take a very different view. We may be sick of talking about electoral systems but  reform of the House of Lords is a job Labour left half done.

Traditionally, the Labour Left preferred the total abolition of the House of Lords, and in principle many would still see advantage in a unicameral parliament. However, the continuing domination of the Commons by overly authoritarian leaders (of both Government and Opposition) who rule their domains through their patronage and their Whips is reason enough to preserve a second chamber, provided that the following apply:

  1. The primacy of the House of Commons is preserved as far as the accountability of the executive is concerned (and the government is therefore formed by the party or parties who constitute a Commons majority). This is similar to Jack Straw‘s requirement that the Lords not become a “rival” to the Lords.
  2. The House of Lords is 100% elected. Budgets for the retention of expert advisers would be a more appropriate method of involving experts than appointing them to membership of the Lords.
  3. Its powers are limited to scrutinising and revising, functions the Commons fails miserably to perform as a result of the power of the whips and business managers to prevent discussion of controversy.

In these circumstances, there is much to be said for proportional representation in the Lords elections. The critical principled objection of the FPTP lobby — namely that the PR removes the formation of a government further from the influence of the electorate in a multi-party system with shifting coalitions — does not apply to a revising chamber.

What should be resisted is any system which allows party leaders to maintain central control such as the regional party list currently used in European elections. STV or any system which allows the electorate direct choice is preferable.


  1. unseen says:

    If the House of Lords was elected fully by PR, why should the Commons retain its supremacy?

  2. Daragh McDowell says:

    Except the “The critical principled objection of the FPTP lobby” is utter garbage, as any half competent political scientist would tell you. FPTP supports an oligarchy and said oligarchy supports FPTP in return. It really is that simple.

    IF the House of Lords were elected by PR it would immediately have a far superior democratic mandate, and we would be in the absurd position of governments formed by minorities being lightly ‘overseen’ by an actual democratic chamber.

  3. There are several problems with this. As unseen says, it will cause a perennial argument between the two houses of which is more legitimate. The second problem is that you’ll just get another chamber full of politicians, in which case, what is the point? You’ve just duplicated the House of Commons. The final issue is that you’ll lose the “experts” aspect of the upper chamber – how many scientists are there in the House of Commons? Answer 1. How many are there in the House of Lords? Answer lots.

    My solution will solve all three issues.

    The first part is the most difficult bit: you have to identify the “membership” organisations in the country and allocate them members of the upper house. One way to do is, is identify organisations with more than 100,000 members and give on upper house member for each organisation. Another way is to draw up a prescribed list (professional organisations, unions, religious organisations, sports organisations etc).

    Once you have a list of membership organisations you then allocate an upper house member to each which they will elect through their members. These upper house members will sit for a fixed time, say 3, 5 or 7 years, chosen not to coincide with the lower house election cycle.

    The upper house would then be a revising chamber only and legislation would only originate from the lower chamber.

    This solution would remove the political patronage, maintain the upper house of “experts”, remove the possibility of conflicting legitimacy between the chambers, and still be elected. The arguments between using FPTP, AV or PR for the lower chamber would continue until the end of time 😀

    See my blog post here:

  4. Oz says:

    So pretty much you want a variation of what exists in Australia?

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