Unelected Lords debate elections for MEPs

Lord Rennard

Today, I challenged the Government to improve upon the unpopular ‘closed list’ system for electing Britain’s MEPs.  The debate was foreshadowed by a piece I wrote for Politics home: http://http://www.epolitix.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/more-power-to-choose-meps/

There was a fierce row about this issue in the House of Lords in 1999 when Labour carried out their Manifesto commitment (and a legal obligation) to introduce Proportional Representation for the European Parliament elections. 

Many peers including the Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers such as Lord Alton (for whom I am a former election agent) objected to Labour’s use of a system that puts power in the hands of political parties rather than voters.  The system means that the political parties rank their candidates in order of preference so that voters who support a particular party have no say in which candidates from that party might get elected. 

I asked if “Could not consideration be given to using, for example, the transferable system already in use in Northern Ireland for electing MEPs, which is in use in Scotland for local elections and which the Government propose for future elections to the House of Lords? Failing that, will the Government at least consider using an open-list system, which would give more power to voters and less to political parties?”

The response was disappointing as those who criticised the system in 1999 seem not to have thought yet about changing it before the next European Parliament elections in 2014, although Lord Howell of Guildford did say that it could be considered.

More surprising to me, however, was the attack in the House of Lords from Lord Rooker on  ‘unaccountable MEPs’.  The former MEP sitting behind me, Lord Teverson, was clearly shocked that unelected peers could say this of elected MEPs  and former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock attacked the negative portrayal of the European Parliament .

More annoying to me was the way in which Labour backbenchers (Lord Grocott) and Tory (Lord Cormack) claimed that a referendum rejection of a system (Alternative Vote) that is anything but Proportional Representation was somehow a rejection of PR when this option was not allowed by either of these parties to be on the ballot paper.  It is a shame that so many parliamentarians seem to know so little about the different systems by which people can get elected – and might one day get elected to the House of Lords!

The debate is http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/31/

19 comments for “Unelected Lords debate elections for MEPs

  1. Dave H
    05/03/2012 at 9:02 pm

    Yes! The party list system is an abomination and should be discontinued. I want to vote for the candidates of my choice, who are not necessarily (and unlikely to be) those who’ve been sucking up to the party hierarchy in order to get put at the top of the list.

    • Lord Blagger
      06/03/2012 at 12:53 pm

      I suggest Lord Rennard then resigns from the Lords immediately.

      He was put there under a party quota. If its wrong in Europe, its wrong in the UK. He can be part of the solution by resigning.

      • maude elwes
        08/03/2012 at 7:40 am

        @LB:

        Absolutely right. Anything else would appear hypocritical.

  2. Colin Ross
    05/03/2012 at 10:25 pm

    Well done Chris

  3. sarahherts
    06/03/2012 at 12:21 pm

    I want to see the House of Lords modernised. It is anachronistic, old-fashioned and undemocratic. Also, in times of cutbacks, why is it that there are more than 823 members working there? Expenses exceeding £300 per day… I think perhaps instead of privatising the police service, we should be looking to overhaul our political system and bring it into the 21st century.

    • 06/03/2012 at 12:42 pm

      The House of Lords still costs much less than it would if it were replaced by a smaller, full-time elected house. There may be 800+ members, but most only attend part time, when the debate is related to their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t attend, they don’t receive an allowance. Also, the so-called “Steel Bill” going through the Lords at the moment would introduce a system of retirement for Lords.

      In a time of cut-backs, do we really need the expense of yet more elections? We have far too many already, with the result that turn-out it rather low. I somehow doubt people would be so excited to be voting for the House of Lords that the turn-out would be any better.

      • Lord Blagger
        06/03/2012 at 2:44 pm

        Introduce a system of retirement for Lords.

        =========

        Redundancy for a non-job. ie. More money, more troughing.

        Lets just get rid of the lot. Let MPs do their jobs properly.

        That saves 150 million a year.

        • maude elwes
          08/03/2012 at 7:56 am

          @LB:

          I saw this in the press yesterday and knew you would love the sentiment. It tells us MP’s are to get a £90,000K pay off when they are kicked out of office. In other words a golden parachute for being a failure.

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2111339/Anger-golden-goodbye-packages-worth-90-000-MPs-booted-voters.html

          They really take the puss out of the tax payer here don’t they. We have no more money, so you must all suffer austerity together. ‘Except us, as we are more equal than you.’ And yet they have the gall to blame Europe for all the ills they have to impose on us. What a joke.

          Time the press began to tell it as it really is, rather than play this blame game to keep them out of the brown.

    • Lord Blagger
      06/03/2012 at 12:53 pm

      Expenses? 300 a day to Peers.

      Cost to us, 2,700 a day per Peer.

      • 09/03/2012 at 10:45 am

        As we’ve discussed before, the cost of the House is a fixed cost and you persist in dividing it by the number of members to reach this meaningless figure. The cost before salaries would be the same if not more if the Lords were elected. The only way to reduce it would be to not have an upper chamber. If you are in favour of a unicameral system, fair enough, but that’s not the point of this discussion, which is on the topic of elected vs appointed Lords.

  4. 06/03/2012 at 12:50 pm

    I agree the closed list system is an abomination. It effectively means the people at the top of the main parties’ lists are guaranteed to be appointed, just like Lords, but with a false veneer of electoral accountability.

    While the D(r)aft Bill for Lords reform suggests an STV system, I have often heard people arguing for a closed list system there too. That would be no more democratic than the present system of appointments (given that nominations are already made by elected parties) but would be worse as it would mean more political cronies in the House and fewer experts or distinguished people who would not stand for any election, even a phoney one.

  5. Croft
    06/03/2012 at 2:06 pm

    “their Manifesto commitment (and a legal obligation) to introduce Proportional Representation for the European Parliament elections.”

    Imposed by the EU without the voters having any direct say in a change to their electoral system

    “that is anything but Proportional Representation was somehow a rejection of PR when this option was not allowed by either of these parties to be on the ballot paper.

    Did I miss the LDs campaigning for a referendum on FPTP/PR for MEPs in 1999 or the EU treaty under which the powers were transferred to force nations to adopt PR?

    “‘unaccountable MEPs’. The former MEP sitting behind me, Lord Teverson, was clearly shocked that unelected peers could say this of elected MEPs and former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock attacked the negative portrayal of the European Parliament .”

    The closed list and PR combined ensure that MEPs placed at the top by their parties are utterly immune from public accountability; combined with pitifully low turnouts for the elections it’s democracy at its most tarnished.

    The same Kinnock who was given high office and considerable salary in Europe something that had eluded him domestically where he actually had to win a general election.

  6. maude elwes
    06/03/2012 at 4:16 pm

    Unelected peers debating what they see as unelected representatives in Europe, is more than a farce, it’s an insult to the nation. And the lack of education in respect of its function is a disgrace. Although, the last thing our government wants is to let the people of this country know the power of Europe and of us within it.

    They also want to keep quiet how much gentlemen farmers in the Lords make out of the European practice in quotas, etc.. But that is another thread.

    It appears to me, when I read these blogs, that most people in the UK have absolutely no idea about the European Parliament and how it works. And a bad press is a total understatement if ever there was one.

    The Murdoch press makes damn sure of that. Doean’t suit his agenda at all. And if you note, the most avidly against Europe, that is sold to the general public on a daily ever dripping basis, is put out and supported by the very wealthy. Those who sit in our ‘unelected’ Lords and don’t want reform to their Chamber in order to make it ‘democratic.’ Running for election doesn’t go off well with that little bunch. Setting themselves up for rejection is an anathema to them.

    Maybe this will help you see the light a little.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament

    Europe is far and away more democrated than our government in every way. As you will note.

    Thank goodness for the internet. This may clarify low turn out.

    http://www.piredeu.eu/Database/Conf_Papers/III1_3-PIREDEU_Clark.pdf

    Europe is our lifeline from total absorbtion by the USA. Without its ability to provide trade we would be totally dependent on peoples whose practices are alien to us. We should all be deeply appreciative for Europe. And suport it with all our might.

  7. MilesJSD
    07/03/2012 at 3:50 am

    The worsening Earths-Lifesupports Predicament has become an ‘Era-Situational-Emergency’
    that really ‘plunges’ the human-race into preservational and conservational prioritisations, based upon:
    1. One-human-being needs only one-human-living.
    2. Governance must be performed by fit-for-purpose, affordable, proven sustainworthy workplace & lifeplace Leaders (each’s lifestyle transparently showing to us all how to live off less rather than more).

    (It is no use crowding out the Kitchen arguing who is to drink the last bottle of clean drinking water,
    when the whole log-cabin over your heads is on fire).

  8. Gareth Howell
    07/03/2012 at 10:13 am

    Making the varying systems of democracy themselves elitist and exclusive, run by electoral colleges as they are in any case.

    The system used by the UK democratic voluntary cooperative (Manchester) is by far the best available, and done electronically would not be difficult to administer countrywide.

    IS it ATV++ ?

    Hamed Khazai used it for the first elections in Afgh in about 2000, and found that there were about 143 candidates which was not that helpful since the voters had to designate their first choice with the number “1” and so on.

    So the candidate with the highest number of “1” s was the winner, and so on in order down the list depending on the number of seats available.

    Wwith 7 or 8 candidates it is quite the best system available, although like all systems it has minor quirks. Some methods have major quirks, just donwright wrong, one of them being FPTP.

  9. Gareth Howell
    07/03/2012 at 10:20 am

    transferable system already in use in Northern Ireland for electing MEPs, which is in use in Scotland for local elections and which the Government propose for future elections to the House of Lords?

    The question is noble lord Rennard “Who does the transfering???”

    These may be a variation on the Coop voting procedure, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and so on down your list.

    Party or inclination is irrelevant unless you happen to know what that candidate’s inclination is. the one thing you would not do, is put the party affiliation on the ballot list.

    That would be good for HofL elections, and it may be from our proposition of it some time ago, that there is some hope of using it, but not with party name attached to the names, on any account.

  10. maude elwes
    07/03/2012 at 1:14 pm

    Voting machines are well known to be fraudulent. But no doubt that would be right up the street of many in parliament here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_rMpQKqZhM&feature=related

  11. Gareth Howell
    07/03/2012 at 7:48 pm

    Voting machines are well known to be fraudulent.

    Bit like the machine driven futures market, orthe one armed bandits at the fair ground, or amusement arcade?

    I see your point.

  12. Chris K
    08/03/2012 at 1:43 pm

    The EU won’t let us switch back to FPTP even if we wanted to.

    “former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock attacked the negative portrayal of the European Parliament.”

    Well of course he did. The EU has made him and his wife millionaires. Not only that, but his very generous pension entitlement is jeapordised if he dare criticise the EU – that’s part of the deal.

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