What a democracy should look like

Anyone that wades through the writings in this blog will know that I am a long time electoral reformer. Electoral reform comes in many forms; all aimed to improve engagement, access and accountability.

About time too, writes Matt Dent in reference to Labour’s proposals for House of Lords reform; indeed. The need for reform is acknowledged by most people, although opinions as to the exact nature of the reform vary.

Let me tackle just three key issues with regard to reform: as stated above, we should address engagement, access and accountability.

On engagement. Despite describing ourselves as home to the mother of Parliaments it is obvious to anyone who goes beyond a cursory examination that all is not well with this mother. We still have some seriously important aspects of how this country is run that are not subject to the scrutiny of an election. The democratic deficit, in the humble opinion of this observer, does much damage to trust in the system, and certainly fosters the belief that those in charge are not listening to ordinary people. The House of Lords is an undemocratic body. It contains 678 life peers (appointees), 85 hereditary peers (elected by all hereditary peers, there by fluke of birth), and 26 Lords spiritual (a by-product of our state religion). It is a growing institution – an irony is that whilst David Cameron wanted to reduced the size of the House of Commons, whose members are elected, he is keen on expanding the House of Lords.

Even its name is an affront; Lords and Commoners are terms that belong to the Middle Ages, not the twenty-first century.

Access to the House of Lords comes in three forms: patronage from the Prime Minister, being born into an aristocratic family, advancement through the upper echelons of the Church of England. Access is blocked for everyone else. Whilst there are apologists for this who claim that the upper chamber for Parliament is largely filled with experts and leading lights from the world of business, the arts, politics, etc this largely insults those not considered worthy of consideration. As in so many ways in our society, rewards appear to be given to the already over-rewarded.

Once in the House of Lords removal is all but impossible. Even imprisonment merely interrupts service. One of the keystones in any democracy must be the ability to remove those in charge; the absence of this facility makes for dictatorship. Elected members have to account for themselves on a regular basis to their electorate. As flawed as the electoral system is in the UK, it still requires MPs to persuade voters to back them. Those in the House of Lords are not subject to this inconvenience. Their Lordships do not even have a constituency – they are accountable to none.

The governed should be governed by consent. This consent is conveyed by means of the vote. Whilst elections do not deliver governance that everybody wants, it does deliver governance that the majority want. It also delivers governance that can be changed by those governed, and the governed can become the Government. An open, free, and accountable Government is the only way to stop tyranny.

One Response to What a democracy should look like

  1. Whilst elections do not deliver governance that everybody wants, it does deliver governance that the majority want.

    So how often are we governed by a party “wanted by the majority”?

    It also delivers governance that can be changed by those governed

    So how often do most people change those who govern them?

    In about 40 years of voting I have
    – once seen an MEP change
    – never seen my MP change
    – once seen a councillor change
    (apart from due to retirements – when selection committees kindly make the change for me – whilst keeping the party unchanged).

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