Pee Rages

I’m finding the whole ‘cash for honours‘ scandal rather surreal. And not just because there’s something odd about the idea of a sequence of Tony Blair’s close advisers being arrested and government tootling along regardless.

As long as I can remember, it has been an accepted fact of the British political system that people who donate a lot of money to political parties are more likely to be given peerages. It’s always been seen as slightly distasteful, and a cause for satire and criticism, but still: more or less normal. The only difference with the current situation is that they are accused of making the quid pro quo explicit. Now clearly the goverment shouldn’t be selling seats in the legislature, and now we’ve got rid of the hereditaries, the dodginess of that has been thrown into relief somewhat; but I just don’t believe that the current government has done anything very different to those who went before.

And the answer, really, is reform of the way the membership of House Of Lords is selected. I don’t generally worry about the fact that the UK’s constitutional arrangements are so messy and chaotic, because looking around the world for comparisons, our political culture seems pretty healthy. But having the Prime Minister able to appoint people to the upper chamber is a conflict of interest too far. Either Lords should be elected (which is what it looks like will happen) or appointed by an independent committee.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you deserve some comic relief in the form of a letter to today’s Times. This is the first paragraph:

Sir, Ideas to transform the House of Lords into either an elected chamber or a combination of elected and appointed members are both dangerous to the British political system. In such a fraught debate, the cry of democracy rises up, but with little thought about how such a principle works in practice. The British tradition has never been one of democracy on the model of Ancient Greece. Indeed, many societies that have taken that model to its logical conclusion have themselves come unstuck — witness the French revolutionary experiment.

Yes, you read correctly: someone is comparing an elected second chamber to… The Terror. Personally I thought it only got funnier from then on.

5 replies on “Pee Rages”

Kind of sad that appointments and and voting are the only two options on the table. What about selections by national lottery? Tickets could be cheap and limited to one per citizen. The goverment could raise money and remain impartial at the same time.

Alternatively, they could retain the present system but make membership in the House of Lords less desirable by subjecting the peers to some form of public humiliation or periodic, random thinning by guillotine. In fact, why not turn the House of Lords into a reality TV show? This too might turn into a good source of revenue.

Well of course we had a lottery system until about 1997: it was called the hereditary principle. Demographically the results were a bit skewed, but it was random after a fashion. People certain weren’t being chosen for their wisdom or charisma.

The reality TV idea is more tempting. With Simon Cowell sitting on the vast golden throne and offering withering comments after each speech, perhaps. Then we’d get a real sense of what the public wanted.

Amusingly, one of the most common arguments against elected members of the Lords is that it might give them too much legitimacy. In a situation where lack of credibility is regarded as a positive, the possibilities must be endless.

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