An Alternative World?

Lord Tyler

The so-called “Silly Season” seems endless in Westminster.  The sad death last month of my Liberal Democrat colleague Lord (Robert) Methuen – alongside whom I often shared the furthest backbench corner seat and enjoyed his erudite company – has sparked the most ludicrous farce.

Let me explain.  An official green four-page notice, announcing the resulting “vacancy among the excepted hereditary peers”, has arrived from the Clerk of the Parliaments.  I extract a summary.

“Under Standing Order 10, this vacancy is to be filled by means of a by-election …… Lord Methuen was one of the 15 hereditary peers elected by the whole House in 1999, from among those ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or in any other office.  Therefore, under Standing Order 10(3), his successor will be elected by the whole House …… Those eligible to stand are all those hereditary peers whose names are listed in the register of hereditary peers wishing to stand for election as members of the House of Lords maintained by the Clerk of the Parliaments……. Candidates will be invited, but not required, to declare party affiliation, or where appropriate, their intention to stand as independent “Crossbenchers”……. Candidates will also be invited, but not required, to submit statements in support of their candidature …..For this by-election the House Administration will make no arrangements for a hustings”.

Confused?  You are not alone.  Let my try to disentagle.  Since Lord Methuen had been on the Deputy Speaker roll, the muddled set of rules means not only that all Peers get a vote in choosing his replacement but that all former hereditary peers of whichever party are entitled to stand.  In the past the House has tended to elect a replacement member from the same Party as the person who died but candidates from other parties (and no party) stand, and get substantial numbers of votes.  There is nothing hard and fast to say that Lord Methuen – a staunch Liberal Democrat – may not be replaced by someone from another party entirely.  Furthermore the House authorities’ decision not to hold a hustings means that we the electors have no formal chance of teasing out the various candidates’ intentions.

In a further ironic twist, the guidance tells us that the “Alternative Vote System will be used”.   I wonder if all those very many Peers – Conservative and Labour – who campaigned so vigorously and voluably against the AV system in 2011 on the grounds that it was unfair and dangerously undemocratic might register their protest by abstaining in the byelection?   It’s curious how such a system is the obvious choice when legislators are the electors, but not when electors are choosing legislators.

Finally, who can now argue that this bizarre method of choosing members of the Lords – all the existing Peers choosing among a random descendant of a Peer thrown out in 1999 – is a more logical than that proposed in the 2012 reform bill (proper elections, where the public are the electors), which was approved at second reading by a large majority of MPs in July 2012?

10 comments for “An Alternative World?

  1. 07/08/2014 at 8:28 am

    I couldn’t agree more with your final paragraph.

    As an aside, I note that parliament has lost another member who was a practising engineer.

  2. 07/08/2014 at 10:22 am

    Different voting systems are appropriate for different types of election. The choice will depend on the relative numbers of electors and candidates, the number of posts to be filled, and numerous other factors. A system such as AV may be unsuitable for a general election but perfectly appropriate for an election with a small number of electors and many candidates. A political scientist would be able to explain in more detail.

    There is some irony in complaining that a seat vacated by a late Lib Dem peer may be filled by someone from another party given that you support an elected house. I don’t remember the draft bill having a provision to retain a fixed number of peers from each party. I thought the point is that the electors choose who they want?

  3. Croft
    07/08/2014 at 10:50 am

    “I wonder if all those very many Peers – Conservative and Labour – who campaigned so vigorously and voluably against the AV system in 2011 on the grounds that it was unfair and dangerously undemocratic might register their protest by abstaining in the byelection?”

    Suggesting you don’t participate in vote because you don’t like the electoral system seems and odd choice for a LD. Since you’d never have stood and your party wouldn’t exist if you followed that through!

  4. James Hand
    07/08/2014 at 8:41 pm

    More logical possibly not, but with more logical consequences probably. You have the chance to potentially end hereditary by-elections (either as long promised part 2 or as an initial step pending possible wider reform) by looking at a less radical reform than that proposed in the Bill which could allow a democratic element but retain much of the present House and thus arguably satisfy arguments on both sides (even if as a holding position to deal with numbers pending a constitutional convention).

  5. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    08/08/2014 at 7:27 am

    Well said Lord Tyler, share your views completely on this one…..

  6. maude elwes
    08/08/2014 at 12:46 pm

    @ Lord Tyler:

    Yes, I am confused. However the confusion with your entire system strikes me as extremely peculiar. Why would other peers be given an opportunity to appoint a new one? Now there is a cauldron of nepotism on the stew if ever I saw one. How could they possibly be objective?

    Hereditary peers seat to be filled by an AV election by other peers who must be fit to serve as deputy speaker? Well, that is humorous as hereditary peers are an anomaly in and of themselves and should be on their way out post haste.

    Then we move on to this being a Lib/Dem position because the man who left us was of this persuasion. Well, as this particular group is on its way out altogether with the voting public would this be a sensible time to select another in his place prior to the May 2015 election? I don’t think so. It is a no brainer to realise this group will not be reelected to the level they presently are, therefore, surely, to fill the seat with another would pose an anomaly. You people in that place simply do not make logical sense to the real world.

    Further, as the idea presently cooking is to reduce the Lords in number to 450 why would it make sense to appoint another for that seat at all? Why not start off on a natural cull? That would make sense.

    I feel it would be a better move to elect randomly from the electorate as if from jury service. Excused from duty only as a result of medical incapacity. There would be the beginning of real democracy. That way of filling seat will no doubt send out the warning sirens immediately. Can’t have that kind of thinking in our midst can we?

  7. James Hand
    08/08/2014 at 9:34 pm

    @ Maude Elwes:

    With the jury-style selection would it be for a jury-style length of time (if not there is the problem of impacting even more detrimentally on people’s jobs and indeed careers)? If so, we would lose a lot of valuable experience both outside and inside. However, Lord Bingham’s proposal of retaining a House of (to a fair extent) experts but stripping it of legislative power could perhaps go alongside the legislative jury-style House – providing both democracy and experienced counsel. Not my favoured solution but it might be an idea.

    For Lord Bingham’s idea see e.g.

    • maude elwes
      13/08/2014 at 9:10 am

      @ James Hand:

      When this idea flicked across the back of my mind it dawned on me that in order to get responsibility for the running of their country ordinary people should spend a time in their life at its heart. Thus a seat in the Lords. However, similar to jury selection an objection to their appropriateness could be applied. Their serving time frame should be around the four to five year mark. Sort of akin to the once enforceable ‘national service’ or as in the process of election proceedings. No government can stay after five years without general election. Although, I think that should be no more than four years.

      Another requirement for eligibility must be no one under, at least, fifty years of age. At this point in life people are less confined by practicalities. And if they are, then it usually means they are in the process of life changes, leaving them open to a new environment or expansion of brain power. Also, they would have a more stable wisdom which hopefully, by being compelled to a position of responsibility, they would feel free to explore their innate sense of charity toward their fellow citizen, as well as the sense to use what they have gained throughout life to look after their own destiny.

      If a certain amount of seats were put aside for a group of these citizens the ‘out of touch’ element would be reduced. As long as they were not selected for political affiliation, political correctness or any other feigned attempts at unrealistic equality. The selection should come from all parts of the country and possibly anonymity introduced into the process, via a code or number rather than a name or form filling exercise. As long as they were resident in the UK for a time period not less that ten years, literate, spoke and comprehended the language, then it should make a difference to the imbalance we see today.

      The problems of their residence whilst serving would present a problem, but, that has been taken care of in the past and could continue. As could the payment and annual time requirement which is presently only about 5 months of the year. Not a full time job by anybody’s thinking. That should be looked into as well because it is a time wasting, expensive way to run a country.

      I read Lord Bingham’s thoughts in the link provided and although I felt some were good ideas, others left us back in the same situation we presently have, if not worse, by opening us up to more fixed selection and political cronyism. And another House of the same size definitely defeats the purpose of a cull. Does it not?

      There are so many issues with any new selection process that cleverly tries to keep what already exists afloat, so why bother with change at all on that fruitless front? It would simply be a waste of time and more tax payer money.

      However, his number 10 suggestions gave a lot of food for thought, which sound quite tempting at first blush. But to be fair to him the whole of it would have to be perused in depth to make any sense of it in the round. I spent only about an hour.

  8. MilesJSD
    13/08/2014 at 12:08 am

    At root and in permanent effect, your UK Constitution and Values-Pyramid are an alternative-denying hedonisticly-oligarchic fantasy, top-down one-way autocratic in result;
    and so your Heading
    “Alternative World”
    is myopicly trying to confine us all to the impossible-to-untie Gordian Knot that is your class’s Private & Privileged Parliamentary Westminster Club.

    The only truly worthy Alternative World ‘on the drawing-board’ is an
    “Egalitarianly Participative Democracy”
    re-rooted into a
    “New Frugally-Comfortable One-Person-One-Living
    Earth-Citizenship and model-lifestyle”.
    {My original submission may still be read via
    – a voluntary-citizens not-for-profit Participative-Democracy-supporting website –
    and ergo, for the time being security of participative democracy, so may this one:
    just click “Democracy Gagging” therein}.

  9. James Hand
    13/08/2014 at 8:31 pm

    @ maude elwes

    Many thanks. Unless a well paid position, there may be pension implications for many if five years are taken out in the 50s/60s but, unlike jury service, if done on a part-time basis then there could be some continuity with their work which may help mitigate. It risks losing a lot of valuable experience but does arguably gain other things.

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