Thursday, 19 January 2017

Brexit and a New Second Chamber, by David Lindsay

Both Houses of Parliament will reject withdrawal from the Single Market, if it ever gets that far. But whereas the composition of the House of Commons can be changed, that of the House of Lords cannot. At least, not without what would be the ludicrous creation of hundreds of Peers in one go. Giving the Lords a veto is Theresa May’s way of ensuring that the whole scheme is killed off. This has nothing to do with such reforms as there were under Tony Blair. Those reforms postdated the European Communities Act, the Single European Act, and the Maastricht Treaty.

This looks like the real possibility of a new second chamber. But there is no point in waiting for May to come up with anything specific. We all remember the Blairites on this, too. Instead, the Left needs a specific proposal that would maximise the representation of the Labour Left, of smaller Left formations that had the good sense not to use the C-word or what have you for electoral purposes, and of non-party Left activists. There are alliances to be made here.

“Brexit means Brexit,” says the Prime Minister. The democratic will must be respected, says the Leader of the Opposition. They need to confront the mounting anger about the ballooning size of the unelected House of Parliament while the elected House is being cut, and that despite the growing population. The powers of the House of Lords should be transferred to a new Senate, the members of which would be remunerated in the same way as MPs were. Ministers would not be drawn from the Senate, but they would appear before it. Even the Prime Minister might. The Senate’s term of office would be six years.

Each of the nine English regions would elect 30 Senators, namely six Conservatives, six Labour, six Liberal Democrats, six from other registered political parties that did not contest Commons elections, and six non-party candidates to sit as Crossbenchers. Many of us do not like the word “Independent”, since, while not members of any party, we are proudly part of many overlapping networks of political interdependence.

In the first three cases, any member of the relevant party who was a parliamentary elector within the region would be eligible to stand. As electors, each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top six elected at the end. Casual vacancies would be filled by co-opting the next candidate down who was willing and able to serve. The fourth category would use party lists, again requiring candidates to be from within the region. The fifth would replicate the first three, but for non-partisans.

Scotland and Wales would each elect 30 Senators. Five each from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP in Scotland or Plaid Cymru in Wales, other registered political parties that did not contest Commons elections, and Crossbenchers. Northern Ireland would elect 30 Senators. Three each from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, other parties that did not contest Commons elections, and Crossbenchers.

This would give 360 Senators, representing a very broad range of political opinion. UKIP, or whatever came after it, would happily exchange the off-chance of one Commons seat for the effective guarantee of 11 Senators and the serious possibility of 12. The same would be true of the three Green Parties in different parts of the United Kingdom. And practically every elector would be able to point to at least one Senator for whom he or she had voted.


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