The hole into which Westminster politicians are digging themselves over House of Lords reform is a classic example of the disconnect between them and the rest of us. To say that the question is not one which greatly exercises people outside the Westminster bubble is something of an understatement, yet some of those inside the bubble seem to think that the sky is about to fall in.
There’s something a little ironic about those who wish to maintain the current undemocratic system demanding a referendum so that we can democratically decide (they hope) to remain undemocratic. But I find it hard to believe that the question of whether parliamentarians should be elected or not will be any more controversial outside parliament than was the question in last year’s referendum on the powers of the Assembly – or that it will attract any more interest.
Whilst the idea of electing parliamentarians, rather than having some take their seats through heredity and others through appointment, may look like a revolutionary idea to some of their lordships, most of the world would simply wonder how and why the current situation has been allowed to last so long. And I have a feeling that most of the electorate will be closer to ‘most of the world’ than to their lordships on this occasion.
The reforms themselves seem to be something of a fudge. Why are some appointees to be retained? If we want outside experts to look at legislation and give us the benefit of their wisdom and experience, they can do that without being given a fancy title and a seat in parliament to go with it. Why retain a special place for bishops of the CofE?
And, most of all, have they even asked whether and why we need a second chamber at all?
The usual answer to that final question is that the first chamber seldom gets the legislation right. But in any rational world, that would be an argument for reform of the first chamber, not for the perpetuation of a duplicate set of parliamentarians and debate. Instead of arguing about how many ‘whatever-we-want-to-call-thems’ there should be, how they should be selected, and how much we should pay them, why not just abolish the whole thing?