Constitutional reform is not the answer

Lord Norton

Victoria Tower 1 008A number of politicians have rushed in to argue that constitutional reform – be it proportional representation or an elected second chamber – is the answer to the current crisis.  The logic of their argument is far from clear.  The crisis is one of confidence in our political class, not in our basic constitutional framework. 

If letters in the press and blog comments are anything to go by, many members of the  public recognise that the problem lies more with politicians and rules than basic constitutional structures.   They appear to regard the argument for PR as diverting attention from the real problem – it will not obviously produce a better class of politician – and demands for an elected second chamber similarly: there is no obvious enthusiasm for another set of elected politicians.

There is some empirical evidence for this perception.  On Saturday, The Times published a Populus poll (based on interviews conducted 27-28 May) and reported that the poll found that 56% of those questioned favoured PR and 51% supported an elected second chamber.  This was interpreted as a rare piece of good news for constitutional reformers.  Given the scale of popular outrage at the moment, the remarkable finding was not how high the figures were but rather that they did not show a massive increase in support for change.   Surveys in past years have tended to find majorities for electoral reform and an elected second chamber.  Equally significant is the finding, not reported in The Times, that respondents were offered thirteen options for political change.   In terms of the percentage supporting each option, PR came tenth.  An elected House of Lords came in at number twelve.  Only having a fixed number of terms an MP can serve attracted less support (47%).   Coming top of the poll – with 82% support – was having the potential for recall elections.

Far from the people flocking overwhelmingly to the banner for PR and Lords reform, there is still everything to play for.

34 comments for “Constitutional reform is not the answer

  1. ladytizzy
    02/06/2009 at 12:49 am

    I would go a bit further and suggest that an elected second house is more readily understood than the various forms of PR; or is it simply that the reform of the Lords is not considered as importantsince they have not (to date) been subjected to the same scrutiny as MPs?

    “Surveys in past years have tended to find majorities for electoral reform and an elected second chamber.” This would seem to address the above points but you have not given the context of such surveys. Given the shocking state of the Commons and unpopularity of the government today, I wouldn’t give any more credence to this poll than others in terms of understanding what the public do or don’t want.

    The specious arguments for reform on all fronts does seem to be provoking an unwelcome eBay auction between party leaders. Yet again the media is leading, leaving politicians trotting on.

  2. FinnishCowl
    02/06/2009 at 2:16 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I fail to see how the current expenses row has much to do with constitutional reform. At the very least, it is the expenses system that specifically needs reform and perhaps some increased accountability as well. How would PR or an elected upper house stop members of the Commons from claiming expenses on houses they no longer own? The answer is that it wouldn’t. It irritates me (and I am sure that I am not the only one) that many are misusing the current situation to piggyback their own agendas that have only a very loose connection.

    Furthermore, from the Populus poll you quoted, it seems that the proposed reforms that are getting the most press are the ones that are the least desired by voters (with maybe the exception of recalls). As you say, I think many are trying to divert attention from more targeted and effective solutions. However, instead, it seems that many are trying to throw out every constitutional reform that they can think of as the solution, as if they can hope to extinguish a fire by dousing it with every liquid they can find. You may hope for water, but you may get gasoline.

    Much of what I have read on the subject discusses a “rush” by some to complete these changes while the mood is still right. Some estimated this at a year where the public will be sufficiently angry enough to support many of these reforms. I can only hope that the momentary anger of the public will not be allowed to irreparably damage parts of the British constitution. The immediate actions that need to be taken are punishments for the serious offenders and targeted reforms to prevent such problems in the future. I can only hope that this will be the main business taken up by Parliament over the next year as tempers cool and the constitution is moved safely from danger.

  3. 02/06/2009 at 3:11 am

    The crisis is one of confidence in our political class, not in our basic constitutional framework.

    People lack confidence in MPs because of how MPs behave, in part because MPs are seen to take their orders from the party whips instead of from the constituents they supposedly represent. MPs, like everyone else, respond to incentives: the reason they take their orders from their party is that its the party hierarchy that has the power to make or break their career, not the constituents.

    A mixture of recall elections and AV would make it a lot easier for a constituency to replace its MP, and would therefore make MPs more responsive to constituents.

    many members of the public recognise that the problem lies more with politicians and rules than basic constitutional structures

    Constitutional structures are rules; if you want people to behave differently, you must change the rules, specifically you must incentivise them to behave in different ways. Exhorting MPs to behave better, on the other hand, will not have any long term difference to their behaviour. Politiicans are not angels, nor are they devils, in fact they have about as much moral probity as the rest of the population.

    the poll found that 56% of those questioned favoured PR

    The way you’re reported that is misleading. 56% were in favour of PR, 11% against and either didn’t know or said it would make no difference. Therefore of those who expressed a preference, 83.5% favoured PR, which is a large majority.

  4. lordnorton
    02/06/2009 at 8:50 am

    Cabalamet: There is a difference between the rules within an institution and the fundamental structure of that institution. In the poll, only 29 percent of those questioned thought that PR would ‘significantly improve’ the way Britain’s political system works. That few expressed a negative view is not that surpising given the way the question is worded: it veers towards the ‘are you against sin?’ type of question. Other surveys show that, if people are asked if they favour the consequences of a PR system, you get a very different result.

  5. Adrian Kidney
    02/06/2009 at 9:54 am

    That’s an enlightening poll, Lord Norton. I agree with you: the debate on constitutional reform bears no relation to the crisis we have with our MPs right now. If anything PR will make MPs even more insulated from popular scrutiny as elections will no longer be direct. Those at the top of Party Lists will be utterly immune.

    I also oppose this notion of recall elections as promoting extremely negative campaigning, and fixed elections and completely incompatible with the parliamentary system.

  6. Croft
    02/06/2009 at 9:57 am

    cabalamat: A little history will tell you that recall elections, much as personally I like the idea, are rarely if ever successful in those countries where it exists. The question asked gold plated this to near invulnerability by requiring that they had to have broken the rules. The majority of MPs attacked in the press haven’t broken the rules however much we may think they have morally.

    I’d agree with Lord Norton’s basic point these are pitifully low majorities for the middle of a maelstrom for most of the proposals. Though somehow I doubt based on his past comments LN is too pleased with the 77% for referendums 🙂

    I slightly disagree with one point. The evidence does seem clear that MPs who have the safest seats have disproportionately been those who have abused the system (either actually or morally). Now this may not be strictly related to the safety of the seat because I’ve not seen it contrasted with length of time in parliament which may show that as a partial or major factor that merely coincides with those holding the safer seats. Either way a reduction in the number of MPs may provide a useful opportunity to consider the boundaries in such a way as to tend towards more contested seats.

  7. 02/06/2009 at 10:13 am

    Swinegate is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. At different times, on issues each of us cares about, we have all felt that politicians are up to no good in their various machinations, but now we’ve caught them red-handed at the same time.

    The great news is that this has alerted a wider community of people to consider what goes on in Westminster. But it’s early days in this process of awakening. And it’s way too early to constrain debate by saying this or that is or is not the answer. Let’s get the whole sorry institution laid out on the table and then figure out how to reform it.

    More light, please.

    • Professor Plum
      06/06/2009 at 4:27 pm

      Just abolish the place, it’s an affront to democracy !

      • lordnorton
        06/06/2009 at 6:09 pm

        Professolr Plum: Abolishing Parliament may create a few constitutional problems. Not having a parliament would be the affront to democracy, given that no democracy exists without one.

  8. lordnorton
    02/06/2009 at 10:19 am

    Croft: Quite right on referendums! However, the figures aren’t much different from earlier polls. If you ask people if they favour referendums, they are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. If you hold one, they stay at home. I agree with your point about constituencies. I favour a reduction in the size of the House.

    Pragmatist: I very much agree that one should not constrain the debate by rushing in to say this or that is the answer. A great many people have reform agenda, but agenda that have little coherence. People suggest this reform to the Commons, that reform to the Lords, another change to another part of the constitutional structure. We need to look at Parliament, and indeed our constitutional arrangements, holistically.

  9. 02/06/2009 at 10:55 am

    I had wondered what your view on the proposals was – and proposals for constitutional reform seem to be coming from both main parties. As far as I can see, the proposed reforms have nothing to do with MPs’ expenses. How is an elected House of Lords going to solve the problem? Surely it will just create another House full of career politicians who think their salaries are too low and so milk the system. As for PR, if they choose a system similar to that for the European elections (and this seems likely, given than the central parties like to stay in control) that would mean voters would have absolutely no say over who their MP is. The biggest expenses cheat could be almost guaranteed a seat simply by being at the top of the list!

    • lordnorton
      03/06/2009 at 8:00 pm

      Jonathan: I agree entirely. There is no connection and I think electors are not unaware of that. It would look like an attempt to avoid a problem – and indeed create major news ones – rather than solve one.

  10. Croft
    02/06/2009 at 11:59 am

    ‘are you against sin?’

    Lord Norton’s ‘quiz questions’ are definitely getting harder 😉

    Jonathan: It’s pretty much relational that the most proportional systems require lists to work and that those few ‘PR’ systems that don’t on analysis prove to be not that proportional. Even on constituency based preferential voting systems, probably the most preferred UK option, it’s still perfectly possible to have the Condorcet candidate lose.

  11. B
    02/06/2009 at 2:20 pm

    Lord Norton,

    Your willingness to take polls seriously combined with your reluctance to do the same with a referendum continues to baffle me. No time for that today though, we are after bigger game.

    I would argue that the latest scandal is just one more indication to the public at large that the system is broken. In the past decade the UK has been dragged into a war no one supported, watched as the most bland and paranoid politicians turned a country once famous for its love of liberty into a virtual police state, and then its financial system collapsed into ruin in a matter of days (to the point that now even the Economist thinks the French model is enviable by comparison). Moreover all of this has occurred with no structures in the system kicking in to provide a counterweight to these trends. The best opposition to these, almost wholly unpopular, measures came in the form of street demonstrations which the government dismissed as extremist and then sought to suppress in the same spirit.

    And now with the barn door wide open and the horses no where to be found, you parse a poll as though it reflected anyone’s considered opinion on the matter. All the while, real proposals that would have produced serious impediments to all but the rather piddling abuse of allowances by already aloof MP’s don’t even make the list or are not mentioned in discussion at all. Freeing MP’s from the party whips as a matter of course not in ‘special circumstances’, setting up a robust and enforceable written constitution with a bill of rights, making it a requirement that issues of sovereignty and war need a super-majority or a referendum to pass. These are solutions to the freewheeling ‘flexibility’ granted to the party in power and would serve the country well no matter who is in power. They would also substantially change the culture of government and its perception by showing clearly that there are, and ought to be, limits to government authority and that even the party in power is not above the law (or the legitimacy granted by the people).

    While I have no wish to see the UK become a clone of the USA, and that country has a host of problems all her own, even the worst administrations (i.e. Bush and co) faced significant obstacles in the form of structural impediments to carrying off their grand plan. Indeed, to do what they wanted they were forced to break the law and suffer scrutiny from the courts and an admittedly weak opposition. These obstacles made governing more difficult for them and made the clean up afterward far easier. I would suggest there is a reason for this; it was the failures of our system which inspired theirs. As such, we could learn a thing or two.

    • Mark Shephard
      02/06/2009 at 3:54 pm

      B – interesting point re: opinion polls vs referendums (the Churchill quote on talking to the public for five minutes comes to mind for both polls and referendum). That said, comparisons with the US are interesting – 174,000 dollars per annum in the US vs. 64,766 pounds in the UK (basic legislative salaries) + contrast the pensions… Also, I’m not sure anybody in the current administration cleaning up Guantanamo would say that this was ‘easy’.

  12. Bedd Gelert
    02/06/2009 at 10:09 pm

    Ah, Lord Norton, you are falling into that old trap of actually wanting to evaluate whether something is worthwhile, helpful and would actually improve matters when considering whether something should be implemented.

    We are dealing with a crisis, man, and don’t you know what the first step is in a crisis scenario ??

    A completely futile sacrifice – that’ll send a message to the enemy !!

    • Croft
      03/06/2009 at 8:37 am

      Bedd Gelert: The best humour is based on truth 🙂

      Looking for something else I happened across this from 2007 discussing peers abusing the expenses system which seems worth repeating now when everyone seems ‘surprised’ that this was happening and couldn’t have been foreseen.

      I do wish the house would make more of an effort to keep the public up to date as to what is going on. The Telegraph has made expenses accusations against a number of peers now but I’ve seen little or no comment about what the house is doing about each allegation.

      In the spirit of a positive to balance the negative do I read the expenses correctly that the Earl of Listowel didn’t claim a penny for the 95 days he attended 07-08! On that theme the Lord’s expenses seem to cover April-March but we’re now June and no figures for 08-09?

  13. lordnorton
    03/06/2009 at 8:12 am

    B: I fear that what you propose is something of a clone of the US system with all the potential undesirable consequences of that system, not least a lack of collective accountability and an inability to translate the wishes of the people into legislative outcomes.

    I was against the war with Iraq (I wasn’t even persuaded at the time by the sexed-up dossier) but Britain was not dragged into a war that no one supported. I get extremely irritated by those who protest against something (for example, by marching against war) and then say ‘we were ignored’ or ‘we weren’t listened to’, when what they mean is ‘we didn’t get our way’. People are listened to, but so are people making the other side of the argument. There is also the danger of assuming because there are large numbers on your side that you are in the majority: that is not always the case (as I recall, opinion polls suggested majority support for action against Iraq initially – and indeed before it took effect, the poll tax). One has to argue one’s case, and the parliamentary process remains the best way of resolving issues of conflict.

    On the collapse of the financial system, how on earth would a written constitution have prevented that? This is my point about constitutional reformers. Whenever there is a problem, constitutional reformers rush out to argue that a change to our constitutional system will solve the problem. And where was it, as we are regularly reminded, that the financial crisis originated?

    Bedd Gelert: I think that the preceding paragraph coincides with your concluding observations.

  14. Bedd Gelert
    03/06/2009 at 11:41 am

    Lord Norton,

    Of course the phrase I was struggling for, and which my brain wouldn’t ferret out was the Monty Python reference to a ‘completely [or was it a ‘totally’ ?] futile gesture’ !

    But I bet you could divine that. This from Paul Mason is quite interesting, as he is a good journalist with his finger on the pulse.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2009/06/pr_is_on_the_agenda_as_early_a.html

    Take care, Lord Norton. And if you are up for a cull, we shall start a ‘Cityside Alliance’ to protect you from being hunted to extinction !!

  15. Croft
    03/06/2009 at 12:21 pm

    lordnorton: I’m glad of your second para, I was tempted to write the exact same but thought I was too exasperated and it might show in the post so I did some work instead…

    Bedd: I thought ‘We need a futile gesture’ was originally a Peter Cook (Beyond the Fringe) sketch?

    I was in London at the time of the countryside march and the spectacle of old farmers still in wellies and overalls held together with bailer twine, struggling with the concept of ticket machines and sliding doors on the tubes left my eyes watering with laughter. I had assumed a perfect ‘Cityside Alliance’ involved leaving sections of the chattering classes in the middle of the cairngorms to fend for themselves 😉

  16. Bedd Gelert
    03/06/2009 at 3:02 pm

    Croft, How right you are !!

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Beyond_the_Fringe

    Although I suppose, in a way, it does illustrate the perils of relying on the ‘cult of the amateur’ when proposing constitutional reform, does it not ??

  17. Len
    03/06/2009 at 3:30 pm

    Lord Norton – in light of these revelations Bedd has presented, do the pro-appointed have any plans for letting Newsnight or Question Time know that there are defenders of appointment available?

    I can only say that as you said, you need to get your message out there. As you said, there’s all to play for, and the debate has not yet fully begun, but I think you need a prominent media outlet to tell people about it.

  18. 03/06/2009 at 6:00 pm

    @lordnorton, thanks for responding to my comment. You mention that “a great many people have reform agenda, but agenda that have little coherence… and We need to look at Parliament, and indeed our constitutional arrangements, holistically.”

    I agree, yet this process can’t be something engineered from the top down in a nice orderly fashion. A dynamic, open, democratic approach which encourages broad engagement by all stakeholders cannot realistically appear neat and linear. Of course, the Internet affords the opportunity to capture, rationalise and unify apparently messy data contributed by disparate opinion-holders whose views tend to be missed in the current formal processes.

    The BBC heralded a shift toward an interactive, dynamic political process at the “E-envoy” conference in 2002 http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/esummit-info/$file/kevill-transcript.htm :
    “Currently…we are all used to… top down provision of information …whether it’s [from] a media company or the Government to you the audience or citizen. What we want to move to is this interactive model which has lots of conversations in lots of directions. Not only do we communicate to the users in this model, they can communicate back to us and they can communicate with each other, both through us and actually independently of us… Through digital media, like interactive TV, SMS text messaging and the internet, we can create very new networks of information exchange, ones we haven’t seen before.”

    Well we’re seeing it now…

  19. lordnorton
    03/06/2009 at 8:09 pm

    Len: I agree with your point and we are alert to it. The only problem is that making the case for the existing House is not exactly headline-grabbing. That means much of our work has to be ensuring that people in the media are aware of our case, even if they don’t write about it at the moment, as well as taking our message out directly, addressing meetings as well as by-passing the mainstream media through the use of the Internet.

    Pragmatist: I don’t disagree with the need for some body to examine the constitution holistically – I have advocated a Royal Commission or at least a commission on the constitution. By its nature, it needs to be open to all, not just the usual suspects; new technology provides the means for wide consultation. The main challenge will not be employing the new technology, but rather persuading people to submit their views.

  20. 04/06/2009 at 9:45 am

    @lordnorton Excellent. I trust we won’t be short of views:
    http://sdj-pragmatist.blogspot.com/2009/06/parliamentary-reform-must-be-messy.html

  21. B
    04/06/2009 at 1:31 pm

    Lord Norton,

    While I agree that it may be difficult to see how constitutional reform could have prevented the financial crisis, it is not difficult to see that freeing MP’s from the influence of whips might have reduced the level of debt spending and so at least mitigated some of its severity. But this is speculation and given that it is not at all clear that the this would be the outcome I will let the matter drop.

    But, while I agree with the general sentiment that one should not equate “we were not listened to” with “we didn’t get our way” it is extremely disingenuous to suggest that anything like a fair debate was conducted on the Iraq war. It is the equivalent of saying that a ‘fair election’ was held after the party in power places a listening device in the headquarters of the opposition. The fact is both the British and American govts clearly fixed on a policy and decided to, at best, play fast and loose with the truth and, at worst, invent evidence and destroy, through smears and leaks, the careers of those who disagreed. Perhaps you were able to rise above all of this and think through the evidence on your own. If so I applaud you, but we ought not pretend that this was just normal debate or political wrangling. It may be true that “One has to argue one’s case, and the parliamentary process remains the best way of resolving issues of conflict.” but it is hard to see the Iraq debate as anything but aberrant and so not keeping with the spirit of liberal government. That seems to me to justify the attitude that ‘we were not listened to”.

  22. lordnorton
    05/06/2009 at 9:06 am

    B: The debate on Iraq was, in effect, manipulated to ensure a particular outcome (that is quite clear from the Butler report). That, though, was the case in both the UK and the USA, the latter, of course, with a written constitution, and a strong Congress. In the UK, the PM may not have been listening, but MPs were, which is why Tony Blair had to work hard to persuade the House of Commons to support action. The problem was not the debate but the information available to make an informed decision. That has been just as much a problem in the US as in the UK.

    • Croft
      05/06/2009 at 12:28 pm

      I do feel there is an unreality to this. Very few people were in any position to ‘know’ the truth of the claims put and the majority of parliament as the rest of the country could only make their decisions either on the basis of trust in the government and/or their various political prejudices on the issues or about the countries concerned and/or their limited personal knowledge. So you had (on each extreme) sections of the left with post colonial guilt/dislike of America, the unions, peace campaigners -v- those on the right who believed that they had to stand with America come what may. These were ideological above and beyond the details in the dossier. The parliamentary vote had a 250+ majority so I have a deep scepticism that an de-sexed dossier would have made any difference.

      That all said I have long favoured the Intelligence Services being moved more at arms length and the various heads appointed by parliament and reporting (on request) to parliament as a way of preventing the government having any involvement in or ability to put pressure upon them over their reports. Under such circumstances both parliament and the country would have more confidence that the report was unbiased.

  23. B
    05/06/2009 at 2:04 pm

    True the decision to go to war was made by both governments and so it is true that the changes I advocate may not have made a difference to that decision. But my claim was that some of the more pernicious effects of the terror policy could have been mitigated by a written constitution and a strong congress and that, by and large, has been borne out. Bush had to spy on US citizens in secret and, largely, illegally and as a result the practice couldn’t be extended to petty crimes because the evidence derived from it was inadmissible. And, even the worst laws, such as the patriot act, have not been subjected to the kind of mission creep that has been a constant feature of counter-terrorism legislation in the UK. I would also argue that the US has seen less erosion of core liberal principles like freedom of speech and habeas corpus protection than the UK. Further the legal persecution of Muslim minorities on charges that cannot be substantiated in court, while problematic in both countries, has largely abated in the US but still seems to be going strong in the UK.

    Some of the benefits of these kinds of institutions are cultural as well. For instance the police actions at the G20 were atrocious and heavy handed they show a contempt for the right to protest and those attitudes combined with the foot dragging of the IPCC seem to reveal a kind of institutional reluctance to criticize the police or hold them accountable. When the police know this, they ride roughshod over the most valuable aspects of free political systems. Is this a problem in the US too? Sure, the police always tend toward the authoritarian, but do we see the same contempt, the hiding of identification, the death and beatings of innocent bystanders without serious consequence – absolutely not!

  24. lordnorton
    05/06/2009 at 9:20 pm

    B: That’s the liberal USA with Guantanamo? A US President, as Commander in Chief, can commit forces to action with few constraints. The War Powers Act is seen by some jurists as strengthening rather than limiting the President. Congress is usually unwilling to deploy its power of the purse when troops are in action and the Supreme Court will treat legal challenges as non-justiciable. The real issue is one of information, not formal structures. As for your point about police action, is this a problem in the USA? Er, yes, in spades. When you say ‘absolutely not’ you got one word wrong.

  25. Len
    06/06/2009 at 2:21 pm

    Lord Norton – fair enough. I’m sure much is going on behind the scenes, but I’d hate to see the House of Lords go down without a fight.

  26. senex
    07/06/2009 at 6:27 pm

    Lord Norton: I sense from your replies that you are in a robust mood? I also sense some frustration at the emotionally reactive nature of ‘shop floor’ politics, something at odds with the quiet considered life of an academic. If this is the case then you have my condolences?

    The expenses affair is nothing more than a leftover from a time when Parliament felt it knew best and that the electorate were not equipped or responsible enough to have the type of democracy that now serves us.

    It is as though the stereotype of both houses has somehow become exchanged.

    The Commons with its privileges and power and a House of Lords desperate to be heard, served by its many political pensioners, on no salary, who mingle freely and unobserved within the electorate taking on board their concerns, hopes and ambitions.

    The government executive increasingly relies upon appointments to the upper house just to serve in cabinet. Is there nobody in the Commons that can do these jobs? How can MPs representing their constituencies interrogate these peers when they park their backsides on the rosy benches of the Lords?

    Now we have a ‘street trader’ celebrity, with attitude appointed to the house, not to serve as a working peer but as window dressing to a government. He will not prosper by doing this and should reconsider his options.

    A latter day Moses takes his followers across a sea of debt and red tape into a political wilderness in search of a land of goat milk and money. Who will part the waves for him? An almighty Lord, Baron Mandelson; he will provide the industry as manna from heaven. Moses must know that the covenant he holds to be true will never allow him to set foot in this Promised Land and he will stay forever in the wilderness.

    Lord Mandelson declares that constitutional change will arrive before the summer recess. I smell Parliament Act in the air, the stench of whips and a Commons ochlocracy at work.

    If the Commons now imposes it appointments on the upper house willy-nilly then perhaps the house should give a designation to peers as working and non-working, with only working peers being able to sit in chamber and vote. Maybe the designation could change especially upon change of government?

    Would this require constitutional change?

  27. 08/06/2009 at 12:13 pm

    Ah – but are arguments ever about what they’re about? And furthermore, is Westminster so preoccupied with the weaknesses and threats in the current situation that it is blind to the strengths and opportunities?

    Reformists, of course, come in all sizes of “r” from superscript to 144 point capitals. Radical questions, though, I have yet to see on the agenda. But the expenses saga has led to many opportunities for open debate about the nature of our governance.

    For example, however they are constituted, through election or otherwise, all manner of questions could be explored concerning both Houses.

    Should Parliament continue to meet solely in London? After all, it has not always met there. Granted, one has to go back several centuries, but the chapter houses of Lincoln and York Cathedrals come to mind. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of rock to meet on, and just about anywhere else would be far cheaper to house MPs, while today’s world of wireless internet connections and mobile phones removes barriers to communication with the civil service etc.

    Perhaps Parliament could be peripatetic, moving around like Any Questions? Indeed, the web has now developed to the degree that it is questionable whether Parliament needs to physically meet at all, or whether webcams and software could enable the smooth, democratic running of the country without MPs and Lords having to so much as move out of their homes and offices. I am absolutely sure this will happen with the passage of time, and it would be interesting to trial such a system with a couple of councils.

    It would, I concede, be very soulless, though, and a periodic get together might be necessary to overcome this.

    The more I see the Commons in action, the more resistant I for one become to election as a sole method of constituting the Lords. It seems to me that such a move would totally compromise its function as a revising chamber. Furthermore, the qualities necessary to rise to the level of a Law Lord or a Bishop are surely not necessarily the same ones that easily lend themselves to banging on doors and drumming up votes. Yet they are most valuable input into our legislature.

    My conclusions on Lords reform and electoral reform are similar, in that while reform of both seems popular, there seems no consensus on the reforms to be made.

    Personally, I remain an AV+ man. Unlike PR, it retains constituencies and enables local party members to select their own candidates.

  28. skistar123
    17/06/2009 at 5:45 pm

    I am fully in support of electoral reform and of an elected upper chamber. However, the issue at the moment is with the MPs’ expenses and I fail to see how electoral reform is going to correct the current expenses problem.

    I can see why Constitutional reform is being discussed – if we had a codified Constitution like America, there might be safeguards against such behaviour put in place, however there are pros and cons to going down this route.

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