June 06, 2015

Horse 1912 - Reforming The House Of Lords

In the the recent General Election in the UK, the Tories were elected to government in their own right for the first time in 18 years. Not since John Major's cabinet met for the last time on that spring evening of April 1997 has a Tory only cabinet met in the offices of Number 10.

Yet there's something decidedly daft about this. A party which gained 36.9% of the vote gained 50.7% of the seats and their main opposition got 30.4% of the vote and 35.6% of the seats.
This means to say that 33.2% of the population who didn't vote Labour or Tory only got 13.5% of the seats.
North of the border the SNP  gained 50.0% of the vote but got 94.9% of the seats which means to say that the other 50.0% of the vote only took 5.1% of the seats.

The distinct problem with single member constituencies and a first part the post system (which itself is an idiotic description - it should be called "the most votes wins" system), means that you don't even need the approval of half the electors to take the majority of seats. It might have been entirely possible for the SNP for instance to only get 40% of the votes and take all of the available seats.
Clearly this is daft.
The party that lost out the most from this arcane election system was the United Kingdom Independence Party who despite taking 12.9% of the total vote but only won a single seat. Apart from the fact I find their policies repulsive, I still think that this denies almost 4 million people their say on the chamber of the floor. That just isn't democratic.
On top of this, the House of Lords isn't even elected. Democracy hasn't even come to the house of review of the mother of all parliaments; that has in the past created some strange dilemmas including the blocking of a budget by an unelected body of ermine coats.

The solution to this as far as I can tell is to reform the House of Lords. Clearly I'm suggesting something which will never happen and probably not in the way I say but it's fun to think about. Stranger things have happened, as in the case of the Queensland Legislative Council which in 1922 voted to abolish itself.

As I've already stated in Horse 1893 my solution would be to shrink the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 420 and then shrink the size of the House of Lords from an utterly ridiculous 787 to just 210. The Australian model of an upper house which is roughly half the size of the lower house has proven itself over 114 years to be excellent.

To make up those 210 Lords, I'd use the existing nine English regions and double the current number of regions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; thus making 15 in all.

The new regions which would act mechanically the same as the states do in Australia in sending members to the upper house would be thus:
- East Northern Ireland
- West Northern Ireland
- East Scotland
- West Scotland
- North Wales
- South Wales
- North East
- North West
- Yorkshire and Humberside
- West Midlands
- East Midlands
- East of England
- London
- South West
- South East
In addition to this, I'd have the Lords democratically elected which itself is a novel idea and then I'd have it decided on the basis of proportional representation.

I know that this might sound odd but using results from the election for MEPs, I think that its possible to extrapolate what a House of Lords elected under proportional representation might look like. I've only done this for UKIP but it illustrates a point nicely.

There is a clear geographical pattern: in London or the large Northern cities, or in the Tory shires that ring the capital, Ukip will be irrelevant to the outcome. But in seat after seat along the east coast, through the former mining country of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and across the South West and rural Wales, Ukip’s showing could prove decisive. Indeed, in the European elections, Ukip topped the poll in nearly all of these areas, often posting above 40 per cent.
- Robert Ford and Ian Warren, The Telegraph, 26th May 2014

The point of the article was looking at what UKIP's influence might be on the lower house but they were still kind enough to generate a map of the voting percentages of the public. If the regions are then overlaid on this something interesting emerges:

UKIP would win no Lords seats in Northern Ireland or Scotland but across the UK the breakup of what they might have won looks like this:

0 East Northern Ireland
0 West Northern Ireland
0 East Scotland
0 West Scotland
3 North Wales
5 South Wales
4 North East
2 North West
0 Yorkshire and Humberside
1 West Midlands
5 East Midlands
3 East of England
0 London
3 South West
3 South East
Total: 27

This makes 27 in all and 27 in 210 is 12.8% which is a heck of a lot closer to the 12.9% of the vote that they got in May's General Election. Instead of a solitary seat, they would be a block in the upper house which would still be madder than a hat full of tacks but the majors would have to negotiate with them. This is closer to the spirit of democracy, even if they are a bunch of nutters. Also, if UKIP actually wanted to pass legislation, it would need to be somewhat sensible because it it was too bonkers mental, it would be canned by the majority in the Lords and if it was sent to the Commons, it would be thrown in the dustbin.

Unlike the Australian Senate which apportions an equal number of senators to each of the states, or the Canadian Senate which weights the number of senators on the basis of population to the various provinces, I've deliberately awarded an equal number of Lords to each of the English regions and then have over egged the pudding with regards to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. By itself, England has more than ten times the population of any of its co-constituent countries and this does mean that it should probably have a greater weighting in any house of review but I don't think that it should be so heavily weighted that England can simply railroad through legislation without due consultation of the others. I realise that this is going to mean that the balance of power might be held by the SNP, Plaid Cymru or even Sinn Fein but if the Tories or Labor have to negotiate with anyone to pass legislation, then that's a better system than now where although the Lords aren't compelled to pass legislation, they usually do with little fuss.

The current first past the post system which elects members to the House of Commons is rubbish for so many reasons, it's not funny. I'd switch that to Single Transfer Voting like we have in Australia because it means that people can send a message through the ballot box that they do or don't like a particular candidate or party, rather than deliberately throwing their vote away.
For the House of Lords though, Proportional Voting is I think, the only sane option. Australia has proven over many years that the major parties still take the lion's share of the seats but it does more accurately reflect the will of the people.
Under a Proportional Voting system, I seriously doubt that Scotland would have sent so many SNP members to Parliament. Unless the SNP truly did scoop the pool and take out 90% of the vote, then they would not be sending 28 members to the Lords. Under a proportional system there might even be to the shock and horror of all, Scottish Tories and Scottish Labor members. Heck, there might even be English SNP Lords or English Plaid Cymru Lords. This does mean that there'd be the odd UKIP Lord but seeing as legislation needs to pass both houses to become law, there's probably more chance of my cat winning the Grand National then there is of UKIP passing truly vile legislation. It does mean that the major parties might have to at least listen to the fruits and the nuts if they want to pass their own agenda; this was exemplified in Australia when the Liberal Party in thrashing out the GST legislation had to listen to the Australian Democrats to get it through and that resulted in an exemption of GST on food.

As it currently stands with an unelected House of Lords, if a party were to win government in the Commons and face a hostile House of Lords, then no amount of coersion or campaigning is ever going to change those members. In Australia, Canada, Ireland and just about every democratic bicameral system in the world, elections for the upper house do at least hold out some grain of hope that the composition of the house of review might change in future; even in the United States which has the most arcane and ridiculous legislature in the world and which frequently results in deadlock, at least once in a while the population does have the chance to effect a change. In the House of Lords, that never happens.

No comments: