Horses for courses….

Lord Norton

Electoral systems are means to an end.  The ends can and do differ, so one  selects an electoral system appropriate to the end.   We have, as others have already mentioned, the Alternative Vote (AV) system for electing a replacement peer when an hereditary peer in the House dies.   My objection is to ends rather than the means.  I want to get rid of the by-election provision for hereditary peers.  The electoral system is not a particular problem.   In the election to replace Lord Strabolgi, we will be electing someone to be available to serve the House, should we need to call on their services,  as Deputy Speaker or in some other office.  Through the election, we are not choosing an executive.  That is the crucial difference.  If we were, I would take a different view but it is for a limited purpose and has no wider implications.  Elections to the House of Commons are a different matter since they do have a purpose beyond choosing the individual – electors are choosing a government and the voting system has a relevance for that outcome.

26 comments for “Horses for courses….

  1. maude elwes
    17/02/2011 at 7:09 pm

    Who are the candidates? From which group are they selected? Who can run? Who decides who runs? Does the public get a look in?

    The US Primaries are a good way to find a suitable candidate. It’s like the buying of cattle from the show ring, you get to see his beef before you choose your bull. And then you have at least a chance of coming out ahead of the game.

  2. Lord Blagger
    17/02/2011 at 7:15 pm

    Except that its not choosing what issues get acted on and how.

    Interesting point about AV. It means that people who take a dislike to government and the main parties have an outlet.

    Start voting for the really unacceptable candidates. They won’t win, but if parties get elected on the 5th or 6th votes of the electorate, it does show up the sham.

    BNP, UKIP, Monster Raving Looney, David Icke’s lot are all going to do well from AV.

    • maude elwes
      18/02/2011 at 11:37 am

      Lord Blagger: Ah, but the electorate must get smart. Check out the voting records of those they are thinking they will put their cross to. It’s a big eye opener that. Listen to them speak in closed meetings and find the truth of their agenda.

      And then ask them how they don’t have the clout to change what the party is planning for the people, when they told you they would make a difference. And if unhappy, don’t vote them in. Don’t stick slavishly to a party because your Dad voted for it. Or, because what it tells you sounds good. They suffer from hide the ball when it comes to revealing their true plan.

      Just listen to them on any kind of political talk show. They play a game of cat and mouse with the presenter and hope same presenter will not be able to stay focused on the truth. Mandelson was the biggest creep of all time at that. And that’s why he was hailed as the big saviour. Because he was great at subterfuge. Not open, not honest but an oily mover.

      Don’t vote for oily movers or put up jobs, like those placed in safe seats. Safe seat candidates are, without fail, a set up. The Constituency workers should all be able to recognise this and walk away in honour when they know they are being handed a raw deal. After all, that is being true to the Big Society. Responsiblity to your fellow man and your country.

  3. Matt
    17/02/2011 at 10:34 pm

    I would rather the hereditary by-elections were retained, AND accompanied by life-peer by-elections.

    • maude elwes
      19/02/2011 at 11:54 am

      @ Matt: Why?

      What do life Peers have the others do not?

      Life Peers are the overflow from a disused government. A no longer wanted crowd of retainers. Just look at some of them. No good in government and no good in the Lords. A waste of money in fact.

      The place should be filled by citizens from all walks of life that have not necessarily been involved in politics. And in the main, those who do not belong to any Party or have paid to be nominated, like the party funders. Those who will take each matter on best merrits or issue by issue. Get some life in there and get some fresh ways of looking at matters. For example, what is right for the people and the country, rather than what is it my Party wants me to go along with, whether I should or not.

      Then we may see changes that will suit the electorate as a whole.

      • Matt
        20/02/2011 at 5:09 pm

        @ maude

        I fully endorse the idea that more people from outside the ‘political-greasy-pole’ club should have their voices heard in parliament. We can make room for such fresh thinking precisely by reducing the numbers of life peers in the Lords.

        If we are going to retain the best bits of tradition, mixed in with some new elements, then why can’t we just move towards having a whole range of different ‘memberships’ in there? Some life peers, some hereditary peers, some elected peers, some randomly-selected ‘jury peers’, a sprinkling of bishops and retired judges.

        It annoys me when life peers whinge about hereditary by-elections, when they themselves show no willingness to go through a similar ‘whittling-down’ process. That was my specific point.

    • JH
      23/02/2011 at 6:35 pm

      Matt – do you suggest by-elections or more regular elections? More regular elections (with numbers per party determined by e.g. general election results rather than fixed) could allay some of the thirst for apparent democratisation, allow dignified and temporary retirement and maintain much that is good – see e.g.

      • Matt
        24/02/2011 at 10:52 am

        JH –

        Seeing as you ask, here’s one possible model to work with:

        2015-2020 Parliament:

        220 co-opted life peers. Elected, in the first instance, by all peers of their own affiliation … Example breakdown:

        Conservative 52, Labour 74, Lib Dem 29, Crossbench 47, Other Parties 13, Chair Officials 2, Other Non-Affiliated 3 (There is a bias towards ‘Other Parties’ here).

        This adds to a little under a third of all life peers, and allows for all the committed regulars to carry on, plus a few of the more well-regarded ‘occasionals’. Upon the death of a sitting life peer, the whole house would select a replacement from among the non-sitting life peers (irrespective of party). The minimum number of crossbenchers would be 10% of the whole house (with in-house by-elections restricted to crossbenchers when this wasn’t the case).

        60 co-opted hereditary peers. A one-third reduction among current sitting members. Example breakdown:

        Conservative 29, Labour 3, Lib Dem 4, Crossbench 20, Royal Officials 2, Other Parties 1, Chair Officials 1. (A bias here towards the smaller groups). Again, elected in first instance by all peers of their own affiliation. Again, all replacements elected by whole house. House would reach maximum number of 600, so hereditaries forming 10%.

        80 ‘first wave’ elected ‘county peers’. 120 large constituencies, returning top two candidates each, by FPTP. Vote at same time as vote for MP’s. Divided at random into three waves of 40 constituencies at a time. A county peer sitting for the length of three whole continuous parliaments.

        20 ‘first wave’ randomly selected ‘public-jury’ peers. Sitting for up to 10 years, with a minimum-expected commitment of 2 years. Would be mentored by established members for first few months. Numbers eventually rising to 60 (10% of whole, as with hereditaries).

        10 senior bishops (a reduction from current maximum of 26).

        Up to 10 retired supreme-court judges.

        Assuming an even spread of the new county peers and public-jury peers, the 2015 grand totals would be:

        Conservative 101
        Labour 97
        Lib Dem 53
        Crossbench 87
        Other Paries 34
        Officials/Other Non-Aff 8
        Senior Bishops 10
        Retired Law 10 approx.

        Total house size: 400. Under half of what it is at present. (Rising to 500 in next parliament, then 600). Three quarters of 2015 new-reformed house would be pre-2015 members. The directly elected element rises to 240 after third wave – added to public-jury 60 members, making for 50% of house. So we have here a balance of old and new, and a whole range of different routes into the house. Note also that the new element has a significant say in the life and hereditary replacements, as and when they occur. Nor will it be at all controversial for a PM to give his chums peerages, because they would have the additional hurdle to jump of waiting for a currently-sitting life peer to die, and then perusading the house that they were the best possible replacement, before being able to park themselves on a red bench.

        There you go (for what it’s worth) – a draft bill for you.

        • JH
          24/02/2011 at 8:57 pm

          Matt – thanks. For what’s it worth, I think that your approach would be likely to retain a lot of what is good and avoid some of the problems of hybridity (e.g. two-tier house) by having so many types, but I think a democratically-amended Roseberry/Pearson approach could be simpler!

          • Matt
            25/02/2011 at 1:19 pm

            JH, thank you for your response. Very valuable link you posted earlier – I hope everybody has read it.
            Note that my ‘bill’ is not nearly as complicated as it might appear to be at first glance, because all the ‘infrastructure’ is already in place – ie, life and hereditary by-elections: an adaptation of current hereditary by-elections … public-jury peers: an adaptation of being called for jury service … county-peer elections: larger constituencies would be 5 adjacent house-of-commons constituencies, with only a third of them up for election, at a general election.

  4. anthony_miller
    21/02/2011 at 1:12 pm

    “Elections to the House of Commons are a different matter since they do have a purpose beyond choosing the individual – electors are choosing a government”

    In what sense is the House of Lords not government?
    You’re going to say to me well, yes, but we just scruitinise and block bad legislation.
    Yes, but this can eat up huge volumes of parliamentary time which means other bills never get passed.
    The war over getting the anti-hunting legislation through used up acres of parliamentary time…

    • Twm O'r Nant
      23/02/2011 at 10:30 am

      Anthony Miller

      In what sense is the House of Lords not government?

      In most senses Mr Miller! It’s a good club.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      02/03/2011 at 4:24 pm

      anthony_miller: Er, in no sense is it the Government or part of it. It is one chamber of Parliament.

  5. Matt
    22/02/2011 at 11:40 am

    When confronted by any MP who opposes AV, it will be a useful exercise to see what percentage of the vote he/she secured at the last election. My guess is that most of them will be in the 30 or 40 – something – percent range! That’s what making them jittery. Actually, though, I think the conservatives are being over-jittery about this, and that they will be able to mop up plenty of second-preference votes.

    22/02/2011 at 9:05 pm

    Why not just let all Hereditarians back in?

    I still don’t see why Hereditary Peerage is nowadays seen as bad. What is wrogn withthe Hereditary Principle?

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    23/02/2011 at 10:33 am

    What is wrong with the Hereditary Principle? Insects!

    • MilesJSD
      26/02/2011 at 11:59 pm

      So what’s wrong with being narrow-wasted ?
      Better to be busy-bees than pear-shaped couch-layabouts, isn’t it ?

      What’s wrong with the Hereditary Principle is (amongst other flaws) that it fails to majorly require both merit and willingness-&-ability.

  8. Matt
    23/02/2011 at 1:10 pm

    Zarove –

    Nothing wrong with the hereditary principle, provided it doesn’t result in a house which is permamently ‘out of kilter’ in some way. Thus I support the continuation of an hereditary element (among other elements).

    It is instructive to remember that the very first peers were all life peers. The Lords pressed for their entitlements to become entirely hereditary in medieval times, I believe. This was partly done out of egotism – ie, ‘my nobility doesn’t die with me, but is inherent in my stock’, but also partly as a way of kicking against the executive – ie, the possibility of a monarch packing the place with his own personal favourites of the time.

    • maude elwes
      24/02/2011 at 2:00 pm

      It’s time hereditary privilege moved on. What is it that hereditary Peers have that is not inherent in us all?

      You may say eugenics play a big part in the make up of a man/woman’s character and therefore he/she can be relied upon to ‘go along with the establishment.’ But, in modern Britain is that an acceptable reason to keep a seat open for an unknown entity? I don’t think so.

      They no longer marry within the blood circle and so the rogue uncle, or, the madness of King George, finds its way in. You have to look closely at the new brood. Are they worthy or indeed even interested?

      No, it has to be selection by honour. Kind of Round table stuff. You have a quest, it is the House of Lords. And any man, regardless of birth, can gain his place as Peer. It doesn’t shut those born to aristocrats out. It simply offers them the challenge to be equal. And that must be far more satisfying to the human soul than our present system of whose loins you spring from.

  9. Matt
    24/02/2011 at 6:17 pm

    @ maude

    It is precisely because the hereditaries are more of an ‘unknown quantity’ that we should value them. I come back to a question I posed elsewhere, ‘Would this or that reform make for a more interesting, varied and colourful chamber?’. Clearly, the extinction of the hereditaries would not do this – quite the opposite. It has nothing to do with a foolish deference of my part. (Although, in point of fact, if I was given the choice of employing one of two equally-skilled plumbers, for example, I would most likely prefer the one whose father had also been a plumber, but that’s going off the point).

    It’s also worth mentioning that the elected hereditaries are the best attenders in the house, and that they keep their spoken contributions relatively short. I’m all for that.

    And if it looks like a rather silly way of going about things, well – so what? You could even argue that a little bit of silliness will act as a guarantee of the Commons’ primacy. What’s not to like?

    • maude elwes
      25/02/2011 at 4:43 pm

      @ Matt:

      Well if you choose a plumber on those grounds, you would indeed be up for a fleecing or loss of real innovation. Lets take inventors instead of plumbers. If you had to place a wager on Leonardo da Vinci you would lose profoundly on your bet, wouldn’t you?

      The point being, that on a hunch and more than a pinch of snobbery, you would have passed a talent, so rare, we have yet to see his like again. This then, would follow into the Lords. Here are two people, one the offspring of a Lord. The other the issue of a peasant. One turns out to be another chinless wonder, whilst the second, a man of innate talent, exceptional class and stature. The loss, of course, in this context, not yours but the State.

      The second point that they are the best attenders. There could be many reasons for that, they have nothing else to do, is a good start. It doesn’t make them a better contender though. Just more fortunate. And the part concerning their being articulate. Could be down to a Public school education. Which has now been contentiously stripped from the ordinary man. In fact, you would be lucky to find a person today who was able to speak more than a few words without, like, and, you know what I mean, being the main make up of a sentence. Which according to you, eliminates his/her potential for that big red room. Well, lets see now, who should we be rid of then? Presently, quite a few in there would sound the equivalent. Certainly, Samuel Pepys would not have faired well with you as selector would he? Having been born to a tailor. And certainly not Benjamin Disraeli, a Portuguese Anglican convert.

      The only place you can legitimately fight for the blood line and hereditary necessity is in who sits on the throne. And the reason for that is simple, you cannot claim to be regal and of Royal blood and have none. Then at the same time, expect to still be provided for by the tax payer. Because that would be a fraud from start to finish.

      As I wrote previously, I didn’t propose that those born to aristocrats could not apply. Just that they should have the same requirements as any other person on the list.

      A good way to select on merit alone, is by blind revue. Look at their accomplishments without knowing any details at all. Not their gender, name, address, or any detail of irrelevance, only what they have achieved in honour to date.

      • Matt
        28/02/2011 at 10:07 pm

        @ maude

        You are arguing against things which I have not argued for!

        My overall scheme of thought, on constitutional matters at any rate, could perhaps be described as a conservative/pre-emptive reformer. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, unfortunately, what we usually get is a relentless push for change on one side, and a resistance to change on the other. Eventually, a breaking point comes, and we get some big, whizz-bang, costly, over-the-top all-new thing. Hence the arrival of a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly, for example. The ‘Conservative/Pre-emptive reform’ would have been to devolve certain pieces of legislation to a committee made up of all MP’s from welsh/scottish constituencies, plus MP’s who had been born in Wales/Scotland, or whose main residence was in Wales/Scotland. But, oh no, that would have been far too smooth and easy.

        • maude elwes
          01/03/2011 at 6:41 pm

          @ Matt:

          Mmm, so the answer has to be, ‘be careful what you wish for.’

  10. ZAROVE
    24/02/2011 at 7:43 pm

    Eugenics did not exist in the Middle Ages, Maude Elwes. I simply like the Hereditary Aspect because its independent, and it is natural.

    We often do other things by it. EG, if I die my house can be left to my Children. The entirety of the Human Animal is familial, and it is simply natural to want to leave your things to your own Children or for others to accept that what once was yours is now theirs. A Nation is like a Family, and I see the Monarch as head of that extended Family, and the Lords as principle parts of it.

    That said, an elected Lord, or Senator if they change it, would fit out modern notions of Democracy, but I fear we have too rosy a picture of it based on Romanticism.

    We are told in a Democracy that it’s the will of the people that’s served, but we all know this is a farce. We don’t all gather together in a big room to discuss the matter, then come to a consensus of who should be our Representative in the Commons, and here in the States we certainly don’t Gather all Americans together in one gigantic Stadium to discuss it. We choose our Representative Leaders by elections, which are inherently divisive. People divide off against each other in a massive competition. They support their party or their candidate, and insult those who don’t. Here in America this can be very bitter and I’m sure it’s not different in the UK between Ardent Labour and Ardent Tory.

    The Politician himself is not really better. He encourages his knowing that Raw Passion will yield a higher Voter Turnout and ensure his Victory. Voter apathy in his party amongst the interests that usually vote for his party is a deathknell, so he will say the Robin Party is out for your Jobs to be stolen so you should Vote Raven.

    Politicians by and large are eager for power, and seek it. They scheme, plot, and plan. They also compromise themselves to make backroom deals with special interests in order to secure huge voter blocs and thus gain an edge. They will also sacfifice Princple in the name of Party Loyalty, or in the name of Self Interest.

    Bill Clinton is a good example of this. He was staunchly Pro Life. He wanted ot Run for National Office, such as the Presidency. He was told the mecorat party is Pro Choice, and he’d have to be too. Rather htna stick to his Principles he immediately became Pro Choice, so he codl win he Presidency.

    Whether or not you are Pro Life or Pro Chocie is beside the point here, he sacrificed his Principles to win power. He is not an Isolated exception. Most People who enter Politics are like that.

    Plato even said that this sort of system leads to people who are skilled at running an election campaign, but not skilled at actual governance. Those who are Charismatic, Handsome, and well spoken, who look great on Camera, can excite our passions, and put on the good show will win, regardless of if they are actually competent rulers. Meanwhile, the shy, awkward, short, ugly, and ungraceful who cannot do such will never win. But what if a short man who doesn’t look that good and is not well spoken is nonetheless a Brilliant Legislator? What if the Charismatic and Handsome bloke isn’t?

    It doesn’t matter, the people have spoken. Well, 51% of them anyway.

    Then, once elected they just continue to look at Poll Numbers and their Specific Voter Bloc that supports them and try to manipulate society to see them in the best possible light, an change whither the wind blows to make sure they can hold onto power or that their party can.

    The Hereditary Principle allows for this to be avoided to a large extent, allows for a multitude of Divergent personalities to emerge as opposed to the singular type of person who inevitably becomes a Politician, and ensures us against that sort of dealing. Also, as the Politician owes his power to the Votes of 51% of the populace, it is in his interest to always do whatever is popular at the moment, whether or not it’s the Right Thing. A Hereditarian has a security in his seat that the Politician who is elected lacks and can take a longer view.

    I simply think its better. I actually support a Mixed Government. Part Elected, in the House of Commons, and the Lords as a mix of Hereditary and Appointed Peers. I just wish to strip the power of the Commons from such and abolish the practice of letting political Peerages take root.

    A Peer should be either by Blood, or by actual accomplishment. The 26 Bishops should remain, as well s the Heads of important institutes such as the Royal Society. Certain other groups or institutions should have automatic Peerage upon assumption. The rest appointed by either the Queen personally, or nominated by the House of Lords itself internally.

    But that’s just my take.

    • maude elwes
      26/02/2011 at 6:28 pm


      First of all, the US and the UK are two very different peoples with very different mentalities. In fact, language is about the only true similarity we have. American spelling drives me insane by the way. It is so wrong… And, if you would like to see hereditary senators why don’t you email or blog the White House? I’m sure Obama will be more than willing to help your suggestion along.

      Will you be kind enough to explain how you feel eugenics did not exist in the middle ages?

      Further, if you die and want to leave your assets to your children that is a matter between you and the probate lawyer. However, if you want to die and leave your children a seat in our British government, to which they have no right, other than they are from your genetic make up, you are being presumptuous beyond belief. Additionally, should they have no ability required to do the job, then that is a blight on the nation who will suffer from being compelled to accept such a useless practice. Not simply between you and your lawyer. Where on earth do you get the idea that we should be saddled with unworthy, unachieving people who have no honourable reason to be in our Parliament? Other than because they are a genetic offspring of some individual who has the affront to claim ancient rights, to which it is often doubtful, they are indeed their rightful heir. What will we have next? ‘Line up for the DNA check before you take your seat, Sir.’ What a ludicrous prospect.

      Bill Clinton and his campaign is for you to judge and make your assumptions on whether you were right or wrong in your efforts as a voter. Whether his leanings are toward pro, or, choice, is nothing to do with the British electorate, of which I am one.

      As you are so pro aristocratic privilege I can only assume you are relishing the idea of joining them by marriage. If that is so, you will have to have an enormous amount of money, or, have some other attribute they feel it will be worth marrying down for.

      Why do I write that? The reason, an aristocrat, as in the case of the people in the matter of Edward VIII marrying Wallis Simpson. Sickened by his marrying down. Not only was she twice divorced, but, dear God, she was first of all an American. ‘Why,’ they wept, ‘did our beloved King want to marry so far beneath him.’

      Americans have a lot more things to worry about in their society today than whether or not the British people will decide if they want to continue with hereditary peerage.

      And really, so do we.

  11. MilesJSD
    27/02/2011 at 12:00 am

    sorry, waisted

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