Cameron flooding the Lords prepares the way for its abolition

House of Lords, by UK Parliament, file at http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/2701203056/sizes/m/in/set-72157606364064387/The House of Lords is beyond redemption. While recent scandals have brought this issue to the forefront of politics, the reality is that the Lords has been an outdated and defunct institution for over a century. At the last election Labour proposed to replace the Lords with an elected Senate representing the regions and nations of the UK. However, calls to reform and indeed abolish the House of Lords have been proposed by the Labour Party since our foundation.

The Lords is a chamber of privilege and patronage. There remains the old guard of hereditary peers granted their position by accident of birth as well as the theocracy consisting of 26 bishops of the Church of England known as the Lords Spiritual. Alongside privilege sits patronage, with failed and retired politicians sitting beside party donors granted their position based upon their ability to sign a cheque.

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Whatever happened to the two party system?

5689489675_9272fa186e_bThe British political system is based on two parties electing the Prime Minister, who has to command a majority in the House of Commons. The ruling assumption was that there will be only two parties, an alternating government party and an opposition. There has never been much call for proportional representation and a multi party system, and coalitions have been rare. The current Lib-Dem/Tory coalition is unusual: there have been very few coalitions and the first past the post voting system is popular. Yet looking at election results shows that since the 1870s, three parties have been the rule, sometimes four, and currently more than four parties in the House of Commons.

Trying to make sense of the situation for media purposes, the TV companies recently tried to arrange political debates in the election of 2015 on the basis of four leaders, the three main Westminster parties plus UKIP, which has made an electoral breakthrough this year. However other parties at Westminster objected and the Greens threatened legal action if they were excluded, as did Respect and the nationalist parties. While the result of media negotiations remain to be concluded, one thing is now clear. The UK no longer has a two party system, which creates an unstable future. Continue reading

The human rights act is not enough – we need a codified constitution

Statue of LibertyFor centuries the liberty of the British people was grounded upon the concept of negative liberty. People held the freedom to do as they wish up until they were limited by statute.

The 1998 Human Rights Act changed this. Finally people were granted positive liberty: a set of apparently inalienable rights for all citizens, and to which all parliamentary legislation must conform. All good in principle, but it has become clear that codification of rights merely through a parliamentary act has significant weaknesses.

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Do we really need a House of Lords?

With the Euro getting ever nearer to collapse, the world economy moving deeper into recession, unemployment in Britain predicted to surge above three million and the IMF warning that we are facing a decade of depression unless the government does a massive u-turn, there are definitely more important matters to deal with than House of Lords reform. The recent Commons vote was a political game designed to give Nick Clegg a little more credibility in his coalition dance with the Conservatives. It did not work. Continue reading

When Labour (almost) threatened to abolish the House of Lords

Ever so briefly, it was official Labour Party policy to abolish the House of Lords. A resolution demanding exactly that was carried with a two-thirds majority at the 1978 conference. As the rules then stood, that qualified the proposal for automatic inclusion in the following year’s manifesto.

Indeed, in his autobiography, the late leftwing MP Eric Heffer revealed that the commitment was even included in a draft manifesto drawn up by the National Executive Committee, theoretically the party’s supreme body. Continue reading