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Ooh, I've just had an idea! - Sally's Journal
March 16th, 2006
01:19 pm

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Ooh, I've just had an idea!
Reading Edith's journal and musing on the House of Lords (What? My kink is OK! I bet you were musing on something even worse, like C pointers ) I had an idea.

Second chambers Generally Considered Good, so that when the government goes insane things get messed up slowly instead of quickly. I don't know, I've never quite understood this one, but I suppose democracy gives people what they want instead of what they need, so having someone to put on the breaks isn't that bad an idea. After all, The People will get what they want eventually, if they can only stay convinced they want it for long enough.

Hung parliaments Generally Considered Bad. Whenever I've been having my wishy-washy-liberal arguments for proportional representation, I always get shot down by "but then no-one will do anything but argue and Hitler will kill us all!". There are days when I think having a parliament that does nothing but argue wouldn't be a bad thing, but I'm prepaired to conceed that I'm not so keen on the latter point.

An elected second chamber would just give us a bigger House of Commons half of which wasn't allowed to meet at the same time as the other half. I mean, you could mess around a bit, but even if you banned traditional party alegiances I'm sure it would boil down to candidates standing as "I'm Fred Bloggs, and I secretly belong to the Labour Party, but I can't tell you that, so I'm wearing these awful red trousers". If you elect your second chamber in the same way you elect your first chamber the Generally Considered Goodness of the second chamber pretty much goes away.

So why not have the first chamber elected by the current system of first past the post, and the second chamber elected by PR? We still have a nice, opinionated party with a majority in power coming up with Policies with a Point*, and we still have a back up chamber who can squish them if they get too mad... except without all the silliness of hereditary peers** and Tony Blair picking people who give him money.

If this is so obviously the right answer, why haven't we done it already? Or are there hundreds of other countries in the world where this is exactly how it works?

*I'm still not convinced this is better than them just sitting around and arguing, but I can see that occasionally trying to improve things might be seen by some as being their job.

** Some bit of my brain is telling me that someone got rid of hereditory peers. As I'm fairly sure Lord Fred Bloggs*** can still pass his title on to Master Fred Bloggs Junior, this must have just been a stopping them being in the House of Lords thing. Which begs the question: who is in the House of Lords? Just people that have given Tony Blair money? Or are there some people the Queen likes too?****

*** No, a different one to the one who secretly belongs to the Labour party. My brain is unimaginative today :-)

**** Doesn't it worry you that a superbly educated 23 yr old who is reasonably interested in government and current affairs really does have so little clue about the way her own country is run? Don't you think that she should find out more about how the current system works before she keeps attempting to improve it?

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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:March 16th, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC)
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What is your kink? Edith? Lords? Politics?

I think in America the intention was that the House of Representatives would more represent popular opinion and the Senate would be elected less directly and contain people with less immediate concerns, and both are required to approve laws; and I believe it's traditional that a different party has majorities in each, but I don't know how that actially works out.

Don't antipodean places also have a partially-PR partially-geographic system in some way?
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From:ilanin
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)
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Originally, Senators were appointed by the state legislature. Nowadays they're directly elected (um, seventeenth amendment, ratified April 1913), but generally for longer terms than representatives. Some US conservatives are in favour of repealing the seventeenth amendment, but it's not a widely-held position.

The idea is really that the House represents the People (because representatives are apportioned demographically) and the Senate represents the States (every state has two senators), and you need a majority of both to get laws through.
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From:fluffymark
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I like the way the House of Lords works. Peers are (usually) chosen so as to match the current proportion of MPs in the commons, so the Lords works as some sort of long-term time-average of past elections (compare to the US Senate works, it's not exactly the same, but it's the same idea). I think this is a good thing. Also, the very fact that peers don't have to worry about getting re-elected (or more precisely, they don't have to be worried about not being picked by the party for re-election) means they CAN do unpopular things and vote against their party without fear. Peers are much more free to rebel than commons MPs if they disagree with the leader. This is a good thing. It's not perfect by any means (and Hereditary peers are certainly a bad thing), but I can't see how any form of elected House of Lords would not just agree with the Commons, which defeats much of the point of having a second chamber.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:March 16th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
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If you're going to draw analogies with the US then the Supreme Court is probably a better example: nine people, elected for life by the then-President.
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From:olithered
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)

linkage

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From:atreic
Date:March 16th, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC)

Re: linkage

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Thanks!
From:stephdairy
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
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The current composition of the House of Lords includes Life Peers, Bishops, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary ("Law Lords") and 92 hereditary peers, these last elected by a party's sitting hereditary peers from a list of eligible hereditary peers.

(S)


From:stephdairy
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
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FWIW, I think the Lords should remain much as it is, but with more categories of people:

* Hereditary peers. Probably as many as at present.

* Life peers, appointed much as at present, though more transparently!

* As well as bishops, include leaders of other major faith groups and probably some overt atheist secular bods too.

* Some elected members, perhaps representing regions, with terms of a decade or so. You could do this on a strongly PR basis if you liked.

* Short (2 year?) "Lords service" members, selected at random from the public.

* Interest group representation: the CBI, the TUC, Liberty, English Nature, whatever. You'd need to come up with a way of selecting which groups were represented, but I'm sure you could do that sensibly.

(S)
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:41 pm (UTC)
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Personally I propose the following solution:

The upper house should be proportionally elected and form an executive chamber. This should be where the government sits.

The lower house should be elected on the current first past the post system we have now. Political parties being banned from the lower house (no one allowed to stand on a party platform and whips being banned as far as is possible, while I suspect that you'll still get voting blocks forming along party lines, these voting blocks would be much harder to enforces and much more susceptable to change).

The lower house gets to propose 30% of the leglislation, the upper house 70% (based on the division of time spent by both houses on debate). The lower house cannot block leglislation given a majority in the upper house but they can slow it down. Other details such as powers to force a general election subject to later settlement.

Oh and a supreme court with a written constitution. I like that too. And regional government, although it would appear Prescott's screwed that one up for the next 20 years.
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From:pjc50
Date:March 16th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Political parties being banned from the lower house

How exactly could this be done without conflicting with the ECHR right to free association?
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From:smhwpf
Date:March 16th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
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Don't think hung parliaments (and therefore coalition governments) are necessarily a Bad Thing. Sometimes they work badly, with frequent upheavals and paralysis, or with very small parties often holding the majority to ransom. (Italy the first, Israel the second as examples.) In other countries they work very smoothly, with a general acceptance that the largest party will form the government, and distributing power with allies according to relative shares of vote. (e.g. Germany, Switzerland).

On the other hand, sometimes FPTP gives what many would consider very bad outcomes, with a very small difference in votes between two opposing views leading to an extreme outcome. E.g. George W. comes to mind.

I think it partly depends on what form of PR you choose. STV, for example, will not give that much weight to very small parties, and should give the largest party enough weight that you don't get paralysis - but they won't be able to wield absolute power with only, say, 40% of the vote.
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From:robert_jones
Date:March 16th, 2006 09:07 pm (UTC)
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I've never really understood in what sense STV could be described as PR. My understanding is that STV would give Labour an even larger majority (because of all the Liberal Democrats would never countenance the Tories).
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From:pjc50
Date:March 16th, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC)
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Well, I have to admit that I like the current Lords system, because they have consistently opposed the same sort of illiberal legislation that I have opposed. I've long favoured a jury service-like system to replace it, if people feel that it must be replaced because of "privilege". After that, AV is acceptable. No list system is, that just further consolidates power at the centre.

You should consider that (a) about 70% of our legislation comes from Europe by the Statutory Instrument process, and is not negotiable, and (b) the government is proposing to abolish parliamentary scrutiny for legislation anyway on the grounds that it wastes time.

Also, what is your view on the West Lothian question, in particular in respect to health and education issues?
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From:atreic
Date:March 17th, 2006 08:28 am (UTC)
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Well, I have to admit that I like the current Lords system, because they have consistently opposed the same sort of illiberal legislation that I have opposed.

Hmm. Hitler built nice moterways, just like the motorways I wish were being built in this country*. I'm not sure the enemy of my enemy is my friend...

BTW, is AV different to STV? If so, how? I googled quickly, but couldn't see any difference on this page

You should consider that (a) about 70% of our legislation comes from Europe by the Statutory Instrument process, and is not negotiable, and (b) the government is proposing to abolish parliamentary scrutiny for legislation anyway on the grounds that it wastes time.

Isn't this the "there are starving children dying of AIDS in Africa, why are you wasting your money on a charity that takes social services referred kids from Liverpool horseriding" argument? To which I think I have to answer that you fix what you're interested in, which may just be what you're looking at at the time, and if you become aware of bigger things that you're also interested in and think other people arn't aware of and fixing already, maybe you change your focus then. Picking causes will always be selfish :-(

I didn't know what the West Lothian question was until I just googled for it. I'm very confused about devolution in general. I think it sucks that we get tuition fees and the rest of the UK doesn't, but I haven't developed a more subtle position than that.

*I just lost by Godwin :-)
From:senji
Date:March 16th, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
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Nah, Hung Parliaments and slim Majorities are a good thing.
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From:robert_jones
Date:March 16th, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC)
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Doesn't it worry you that a superbly educated 23 yr old who is reasonably interested in government and current affairs really does have so little clue about the way her own country is run?

*sigh* Yes, but then so many things worry me.

I think the key to a second chamber working well is that they shouldn't be suspectible to party pressure. This is why the government should be chosen from the lower chamber, so they don't have any power of patronage. Similarly, people shouldn't at risk of deselection if they don't toe the line. An unelected chamber is one solution, and I think quite a good one, since I distrust democracy. However, if you must have an elected chamber, it should be for long terms (or for life?) with no opportunity to stand for reelection. Rolling elections of say 20% of the chamber at one time would ensure continuity and guard against temporary madness in the electorate.

I don't really understand why we had to get rid of the hereditary system. It seems to have been just because it looked a bit old fashioned and didn't fit in with the Rt Hon and Learned PM's vision of a young and dynamic Britain. Now we've done it though, there's not much chance of reinstating it. I think an appointed house is probably no bad thing, since it gets non-politicians into the legislature, but I doubt the wisdom of allowing the RHLPM to make the appointments. An appointments committee might not be too bad, but leaves open the thorny question of who will appoint the appointers. I tend to think that a self-appointing house would work well.
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From:atreic
Date:March 17th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC)
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I don't really understand why we had to get rid of the hereditary system

The whole idea of a hereditary system makes me unhappy, probably because of some woolly idea of equality of opportunity*. Or at least, given that equality of opportunity is a myth, and you can't stop it may be very difficult, and possibly not wise to stop individuals and private organisations being unfair**, the actual system of government should be clear and fair, and it should be clear to people how they would go about becoming part of it. Like the civil service, even though I failed the tests I know that to get in, I just have to learn how to pass the tests. But with hereditary peerages I need to have been born someone completely different.

Hmm, maybe that is the same thing more than I like to think.

*which I would have thought, after your mad parenting plans, you were all in favour of.

** I mean, we could bring in your mad parenting plans, which would stop the huge problem of some parents being rich and giving their children lots of inheritance and education, but at the end of the day there would still be a class of children with a better teacher than the class next door, because of randomness. And I still don't think it's a good thing to do. And I think you have to be careful what you legislate against - saying "this is a bad thing, we'll tut at you, take away some of the privaleges people doing good things get, and set a good example" is probably better than "this is a bad thing, don't do it, or we shut you down". I was reading the other day about a Catholic adoption agency in America that was in trouble because it wouldn't give babies to gay couples like the law said it had to***, and about hospitals that won't perform abortions, and I don't think stopping all the good they do for the sake of what they don't is the answer. Although it's different, because adoptable babies are a finite resource that should be shared fairly, whereas the more hospitals people will pay for the better.

*** This is a gross simplification for the sake of argument, the real situation was more complicated and interesting, and involved the bishop in charge saying "argh, what an evil new law, we will fight it" loudly and in public, and then the board saying "what? But we've placed at least 15 babies with gay couples in the past 10 years anyway!"
From:emarkienna
Date:March 16th, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I fail to see why PR is seen as so bad. It means that they'll actually have to discuss and compromise rather than just trying to force through what they want. The main problem with PR is that you are voting for parties rather than individual MPs.

I like your idea - a second identical elected house would be just pointless, after all. A second elected house could also be differentiated on the election term - appointing people for far longer (or even for life), allowing for more long term planning. I don't know how that fits into your plan?

A part of me still likes the idea of having a house which isn't elected at all. I disagree with hereditary peers, but surely there are other ways of doing it (one idea I had was randomly selecting people, sort of like jury service).

Another way round the PR "problem" is to not have it as a linear proportion - i.e., so there's some function which is related to the number of votes, but the larger parties still get a disproportionately higher number of seats. It just wouldn't be quite so extreme as the current situation is (not to mention that the current system can be unfair to the extent that a party with fewer votes gets more seats).
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From:atreic
Date:March 17th, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)
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Yes... but the problem with that (prepairs to get flamed) is that people are stupid, and easilly lead by the tabloid press. I quite like the idea that we have elections because we don't want to be lead "by the people", but by who the people think are good leaders* Also the jury are looked after by having a lot of very intelligent people (judge etc) making it very clear to them what they should be doing. So we'd still need some sort of support for our random people, which would have a huge amount of indirect power, and you'd need to work out how to get that. Some branch of the civil service?

Jury service also has the problem that the brightest and best tend to do all they can to get out of it, because it's an inconvenience to them as they jet set round working 20 hours a day to further their careers. (So it's not even that people are stupid, it's that the people with the spare time, and the inability to think up a loophole are the ones that get to do jury service...) You could get round that by making this something that people really wanted to do though... not sure how.

Long term seats work, I can definitely see the advantage of having a chamber that didn't change its mind about stuff every 5 years. I like Robert's idea of rolling elections of 20% of the chamber at any one time. Maybe we could use STV to find the 20% of the lords that were least popular with the People and get rid of them?

But that would stop the lords being able to do unpopular things, which seems to be at least some of the point of them

And I'm not sure I can bear to admit I've just suggested running the country by Big Brother

Still, it might get Yoof reenganged with politics...

*Actually, I'm not even sure that who the people think are good leaders is a good criterion, but it seems an improvement.
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From:wellinghall
Date:March 17th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
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This isn't a direct comment, but it seems like as good a place as any to post my ideas on a second chamber - which are all mine, AFAIK.

Why not let each large organisation nominate one "Lord" for each (say) 100,000 members? That way the Automobile Association gets say 50 "Lords", the National Trust gets 75, the Church of England gets 100 etc (or whatever the numbers might be - I've clearly made these up). That way, the make-up of the Lords is directly related to peoples' interests.

For some other ideas on this, see RA Heinlein - especially his excellent "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".
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From:ilanin
Date:March 17th, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
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These are called "functional constituencies", or at least they were called "functional constituencies" by the British and the Chinese when they introduced them into the assembly of what is now the Hong Kong SAR in the Joint Declaration/Basic Law. Chris Patten's descriptions of them in East and West is not entirely complimentary, though it stops short of outright condemnation. He seems to think it worked reasonably well with some of the larger groups, but becomes corrupt for smaller interests.
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From:the_marquis
Date:March 18th, 2006 07:28 pm (UTC)
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Late to the table, but I've been unwell, personally I felt that the second chamber worked very well up until now, it is merely that certain politicians don't like having their plans foiled. See megamole's post about this new legislation for ministers.

Other than that there's always the old poster "Guy Fawkes: the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions!!
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