The violent revolutions and military upheavals which have forged the modern constitutions of many of our European neighbours are things which Britain as a nation is extremely fortunate not to have experienced. But our gradual acquisition of democracy has also allowed us to maintain vestiges of an old parliamentary system which ought to have been abolished years ago; therefore, Ed Miliband’s election promise to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber is both welcome and long overdue.
Miliband is right to point out how parliament reinforces London’s black-hole pull on the country’s economy; 13 per cent of Britain’s population reside in the capitol, and yet government spending on infrastructure in London is equal to that for the rest of England combined. By replacing the Lords with elected senators, regional figures both accountable to the public and able to stand up for the interests of their local communities would be placed at the heart of government.
Unfortunately, the broad experience so crucial to approving effective policy is frequently lacking in the Lords, where old career politicians never saw much of ‘the rest’ of Britain outside of their one track journey from PPE at Christchurch to their first appointment at Westminster. In contrast, by electing doctors, eminent scientists, local business people and representatives from the arts to the Lords, a range of specialist expertise could be drawn upon to ensure policy is both current and practical. The House of Lords is not only ripe for reform, but would be a far more constructive area for reform to take place than other current proposals to diffuse London’s dominance – HS2, anyone?
However, the second chamber suffers from a much broader diversity crisis than just the London Question, and to suggest that it is in any way representative or accountable in its current format is entirely laughable. We should be shocked that 92 hereditary peers (of whom 90 are male) continue to owe their seats not to ability, but to aristocratic ancestry. Conservative peers in Lords significantly outnumber those of all other parties combined, and similarly, the 26 Church of England bishops in Lords disproportionately represent a dwindling minority in an increasingly agnostic, and multi-religious population. As for the overall male to female ratio? It is a measly 6 to 1.
This is entirely unacceptable. That the majority of the Lords are extremely well educated and intelligent is not in doubt, but how can we call ourselves a democracy when our highest political offices remain dominated by an oligarchy of white, wealthy, conservative males? The House of ‘Lords’ may no longer be that of Victorian Empire, but it most certainly does not represent modern Britain. An elected senate would allow a much broader swathe of the British population to have their interests represented in the heart of legislature, and the suggestion that this is somehow too radical seems ignorant and faint-hearted in the face of the many nations with a successful elected senate.
However, after Labour’s opposition the 2010 Lib Dem attempts to reform Lords, scepticism of Miliband’s election promise comes naturally. The tuition fee fiasco in particular is still fresh in the minds of most young voters. And yet despite this, history shows that major policy reorientations are neither rare nor necessarily fraudulent. Certainly, since the Scottish referendum, nationwide calls for devolution and increased local representation have been gaining traction in parliament.
However, if in 2015 this promise does prove to be just hot air, Miliband can rest assured that today’s youngest generation of voters will feel ever more justified in their general dislike of the two major parties, and broader political apathy.