The narrowness of the UK’s public, insitutional and Cameronian mindset about how equitable government can be achieved is illustrated above all by the erroneous belief that mass election is the only defence against authoritarianism.
The wooden, unimaginative debate about Lords reform is illustrated rather well I think by this extract from a press release of earlier this week (my emphases):
‘Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“If the Prime Minister is worried about a constitutional crisis following today’s House of Lords votes, he should reform the chamber so that it’s elected – instead of trying to pack it with pliant Peers.
“We need a fairly-elected upper chamber that has a clear definition of its responsibilities – instead of the government claiming that an unelected upper chamber is a wonderful revising body, but then threatening to pack it with cronies if it doesn’t vote the way Ministers want it to.
“A chamber built on vague conventions and illegitimacy is no way to deal with legislation, and is simply asking for constitutional chaos and confusion.’
The ERS is right in saying that Cameron doesn’t care a fig about the Constitution – he just wants results: he has demonstrated this over and over again….he wants all opposition cleared out of the way as if government policy might be an HS2 rail construction project.
But note Mr Hughes’s categoric inability to even contemplate another unelected Chamber. Elected good, chosen bad. And just to make sure nobody thinks too much about the real alternatives, let’s add an illogical sideswipe at “vague conventions and illegitimacy”. Voted is legitimate, chosen illegitimate.
A reformed house based on vague conventions and illegitimacy would indeed be a failure: but why the assumption that elected would be better? What might be wrong with an imaginatively and legitimately chosen second chamber?
- The Commons is elected. Is its track record that good? Voting at present is no guarantee at all of a ‘better’ legislature
- If the New Lords is elected, what on earth would its purpose be? Would it be a check and balance against the Commons Executive? Highly unlikely
- Hundreds of institutions throughout our culture are unelected, and very much the better for it. The one elected Chamber we have is dominated by a controlling Executive crammed with Parliamentary vandals who behave more like a dictatorial oligarchy with every week that passes.
Now today the Electoral Reform Society sends me another email proclaiming that ‘48% of the public think the Lords should be an elected chamber, while 22% back abolition. That compares to only one in ten who back the unelected status quo.’
Well frankly, if 1 in 10 think unelected and unreformed is fine, then it already makes me wonder what those people are about above the neck – apart from grouse shooting and golf. But if 22% back abolition, what do they want in its place – nothing? If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then they’re clearly asleep, daft or both. And if under half still think the Lords shouldn’t necessarily be elected, then that doesn’t make a majority case for democratising it…but again – WTF do they want?
Democracy is fine when the electorate is well-informed. I doubt very much if the average UK voter’s opinion on this issue is remotely valid, because the results of the study done already suggest they’ve no idea what the opportunities and dangers are.
For this reason alone, a lot of referendums are per se bogus: the UK is due to have one (at some ill-defined point in the future) on EU membership, but the low level of understanding of the real issues involved even among intelligent people borders on woeful. Nigel Farage has chosen to make immigration the Big Issue, but there are other more important ethical, practical, fiscal and libertarian issues of far greater importance for the future. More immigration into Britain now is a potty idea because of limited space and strained infrastructral resources. But successive British Governments completely ignored the majority of Britons from all ethnicities for decades on the issue: had they not done so – and the UK population was, say, 20% less than it is – would Mr Bombastic have us believe he’d be for staying in the EU because there’s plenty of room for new entrants?
Of course not. Nigel wants out of the EU because it would regulate and reduce the power of his beloved City of London. The Tory and Whitehall Establishment wish to stay in because it’s a gravy train for them. Boris Johnson is sitting poised in the middle, waiting to pounce on everyone weakened by the referendum.
I believe we should leave the EU because first, it has been hijacked by an anti-libertarian bureaucracy, an anti-democratic form of banking corporatism, and a controlling German élite backed by the US; and because it is corrupt, indebted, dishonest and uncompetitive. But to be honest, I’m not remotely interested in what Dean and Tracey think, because they don’t know, and they don’t care.
Would I want them to elect a second chamber? No I wouldn’t: I’d like a new House chosen for all the right reasons – on a par with a Commons elected for all the wrong reasons. Because what we need is a counterbalance….one wherein accountable experienced wisdom is given the chance to overule unaccountable spin obsessives with no vision beyond power for its own sake….won by puerile TV debates.
No Commons Executive is ever going to agree to that, because it is controlled by unrepresentative Party donors. And without a President with powers to break any deadlocks, the whole thing would be counterproductive anyway.
In short, there’s no point in reforming the Lords without kicking the money out of electoral power-politics, and the Windsors out of Buckingham Palace.
Adolf Hitler and others up to Mugabe et al have proved beyond doubt that ‘manipulated apathetic electorate politics’ (of the kind Britain has now) is the fast lane to fascism. They represent incontrovertible evidence that one can turn a ‘perfectly designed’ democracy into a dictatorship without changing a single Law. House of Lords reform is irrelevant to the much bigger issue of cultural reform. And the depressingly boxed-in nature of debate about a new second chamber should tell everyone all they need to know why that culture of uncreative, disengaged attitudes is in need of wholesale reconstruction.
Yes, we in the West need electoral reform; but mainly, we need voters who can think.
Earlier at The Slog: the quietest econo-fiscal crash in history