Elections are imminent, and parties are scrabbling for headline issues over which to outmanoeuvre their competitors. At a Blackpool conference on the 1st November, Ed Miliband resurrected an idea that the current Lib Dems had tried and failed to push through: reform in the House of Lords.
However, whilst Nick Clegg aimed to halve the number of Lords and elect 80%, Miliband has promised a fully elected Senate should Labour come to power next year, citing a heavy London bias and lack of representation in the current system. He would instead have Senators elected from the various regions of the UK in order to remedy this. The problems Ed Miliband highlights are real, and in many ways the House of Lords is in need of reform, but his plans for a Senate are simply a step too far.
There would be no use pretending that the Lords has many elements that seem antiquated. By all means scrap the tradition of hereditary peers, who should not interfere with the running of the country, even in the upper house – we have enough elitism in the Commons as it is without such practice remaining entrenched in the Lords. The number of bishops, too, should be reduced, ideally in favour of greater representation for the other religions and denominations in the UK.
All of this could be achieved with relative ease and minimal disruption of the current political system; in contrast to the transition to a Senate, which would fundamentally change the way in which the country is governed. With the promise of election comes the worry of re-election hanging over the heads of every senator. All the criticisms of disingenuous politicians would begin to apply to both houses. This pressure could lead to a general unwillingness to look beyond the next election when policies are considered.
Even worse, elections mean election campaigns. A great deal of time and money is required to convince a largely ambivalent and disillusioned population to vote for a senator, which would effectively close off the post to many in professions which do not pay highly enough and who don’t have a pre-made election fund. Career politicians are good at winning elections if nothing else, and it seems to me a very real possibility that we would see them invade the Lords with alarming rapidity. Those who we want to see in the Lords; professionals with a great deal of specific experience in an area which is only partially understood by the Commons, would be forced out by slicker candidates who don’t necessarily have the same skills.
Regional representation is something of a buzzword in the current political climate, but the Commons already serves this purpose. They have the legitimacy to carry out decisions as specified in our constitution, whilst the unelected Lords accordingly act in an effectively advisory role, and even in this they are heavily limited by centuries of Parliamentary bills convention. If Ed Miliband really wants to solve the issues of London-facing politics and lack of representation, he would do far better championing the spread of industry and education in other areas of the UK and targeting the great swathes of disillusionment, rather than swelling the ranks of career politicians, with which parliament is already saturated.