The excitement is difficult to miss. There’s a buzz, a democratic fizz in the air. In pubs and bars, community ‘hubs’ and shopping centres, people just can’t stop talking about it. That ‘it’ is, of course, the very real possibility that the UK will have a mainly elected House of Lords. I feel electrified just typing those words, ‘mainly elected’.Yes, so it's totally dull and mostly irrelevant political deckchair work. The Ship of State may have had her run in with the iceberg, but things can only get better if the passengers can sit over there.
Still, I must admit that I do feel a bit electrified at the idea of Lords reform. I'm the sort of person to whom this sort of person in whom this sort of abstruse political stuff does provoke a mild degree of interest. Which is probably why I'm stuck here pecking away at the internet (with a worryingly high readership in Norway, according to Blogger stats) when I should be doing something much more fun, or at least pulling up the epic weeds that have seized control of the garden.
Lords reform is the British Wimbledon Hopes of politics. There is continual interest in it among a very small group of people, but nothing ever comes of it. Just like Andy Murray briefly made it seem possible that a Brit might actually win the bloody trophy, so do we experience brief moments when it seems the House of Lords might finally be junked. But nothing much ever comes of it, and nothing much will come of it this time. If Tony Blair couldn't do very much in 1997, with a majority of about 10 million and a (short lived) genuine interest in reform, I predict a half-hearted effort, driven by the (doomed) minor party in a Conservative dominated coalition, seeking to achieve nothing much, will also fail. And so it should.
I say the above not because I have suddenly become remorselessly Tory, but because the current reforms are almost as witless as the House of Lords as it is currently constituted. The problem with the Housel of Lords is not that it is unelected: the problem is that it is superfluous, anachronistic and irrelevant; it has few real powers; it is crammed with cronies who buy their titles or get moved on up after undistinguished careers in the Commons (take a bow, Lord Prescott).
In answer to this, the hapless (doomed) Nick Clegg proposes a 'mainly elected' House, failing to see how utterly uninteresting this prospect is to people at large. Even people such as I can not get very excited at voting for members of the second chamber. It's another bloody imposition and waste of time, frankly. Don't we vote people in to office to take care of this sort of stuff for us? We don't mind the taxes - we expect that - but when they come whining to us demanding further efforts on our part to 'legitimise' their actions, it becomes a right bloody chore.
House of Lords reform is essential. That much is obvious to everyone with a brain. The Clegg reforms are also idiotic. That much should also be obvious to everyone with a brain. I see no need for a directly elected upper chamber. We elect the Commons directly, and power should. Putting in yet more elections for yet more bodies only dilutes the importance of the elections to the Commons. All central government power should stem from there, not from a bunch of secondary elections. No-one, bluntly, other than tragic political spods such as myself, will care enough about voting for the second chamber to make an informed choice about it; the reforms proposed would only reproduce the current irrelevant, disconnected nature of the Lords, under a patina of democratic legitimacy.
Let the Commons sort out the House of Lords. Make it an appointed, smaller chamber, with some genuine powers, say 400 members, made up of representatives chosen by the parties in the Commons (plus some other supplementary members, like legal experts, philosophers and scientists). Members hold their seat for 10 years, staggered so that ten percent are replaced every year. Replacements are allocated based on representation in the Commons; so if you hold forty per cent of the seats in the Commons, you get forty per cent of the new appointees to the Lords. This way, a democratic link is maintained, but the second chamber is insulated against the extremism of results like 1945, 1983 and 1997. And they can still call themselves the Lords, and retain their fancy titles and so on, because I actually quite like all that historical stuff, and only Year Zero mentalists think democratic, socialist reform means doing away with tradition and history.
It can be that simple. Only Clegg seems to have become obsessed with the need to get something, somewhere, elected through proportional representation. Having been stymied by his coalition partners in the attempt to change the Commons voting system, his seizing this consolatory bone from Cameron's - the chance to reform something that isn't important and isn't going to be powerful, and thus doesn't need to exist at all. What a sorry sight this is!