We should move the Lords – to the dustbin of history

Moving the House of Lords up north won’t make it more democratic.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer

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Topics Politics UK

The government is planning to move the House of Lords out of London to ‘reconnect’ politics with voters outside of the capital. According to The Sunday Times, York is the frontrunner to host the upper chamber, with Birmingham also in the running.

It is hard to see the move as anything other than superficial. Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly perhaps gave the game away when telling Sky News that ‘fundamentally what this is about is demonstrating to the people that we are going to do things differently’. Similarly, a spokesperson for No10 told the The Sunday Times that moving the Lords ‘will serve as a strong signal that we are serious about refocusing attention and investment away from London’.

While it is true that politics has become too London-centric, the problem with a ‘Lords of the North’ is that it would still be the Lords. The Lords is totally undemocratic – peers are appointed rather than elected. Peers are also appointed for life and are nigh-on impossible to get rid of, making them immune not only to democratic pressure but also to some of the most basic standards of decency in public life: convicted perjurer Lord Archer and expenses cheat Lord Bassam, to give just two examples, remain in post.

Because lords are regularly appointed to the benches but tend to be only forced out by natural causes, there are currently a whopping 795 peers, making it the second-largest legislative chamber in the world after China’s People’s Congress.

The House of Lords has become something akin to a retirement home for has-been politicians. Recent nominations to the upper chamber are a case in point. The Conservatives want to elevate failed London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, who lost his Commons seat in the last election for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, Labour has reportedly nominated former speaker John Bercow, former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and Karie Murphy, Jeremy Corbyn’s former chief of staff. Bercow is widely hated for his anti-Brexit constitutional quackery. Watson jumped ship before the election (his West Bromwich East seat fell to the Tories). The self-appointed paedo-finder general used his ‘parliamentary privilege’ to falsely accuse people of child abuse. Murphy is currently under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism. These are all people who the public desperately want to see the back of, but, instead, they will be allowed to lord it over us for the rest of their lives.

Moving the Lords to York or to Birmingham solves none of its inherent problems. The move mistakes geographical closeness for political representation. The fact that Westminster is just a tube journey away from Barking and Dagenham, London’s most deprived borough, does not mean its residents are any more ‘connected’ to the Lords’ activities than people living in Moss Side, Manchester.

The chasm between the Lords and the public became abundantly clear during the past few years of Brexit deadlock. According to figures collated by ITV’s Peston On Sunday, over 600 peers backed Remain, and around 165 backed Leave. Their unelected position in the Lords allowed them to amend and frustrate Brexit-related legislation to their own ends. They were free to disregard the result of the referendum entirely because there was no democratic pressure holding their feet to the fire.

Thomas Paine once described the House of Lords as a ‘remnant of aristocratic tyranny’, and this still holds true, even if appointed cronies, rather than pure-bred aristocrats, now make up most of the red benches. Born-to-rule arrogance has been replaced with technocratic arrogance – many peers cite having the correct ‘expertise’ or ‘experience’ as justification for their unaccountable position in our lawmaking process.

The House of Lords does not need to be reformed or relocated, it needs to be scrapped. The only place it should be moved to is the dustbin of history.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

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Comments

Marvin Jones

23rd January 2020 at 11:35 am

This comment is from someone who doesn’t know or understand why we need the HOLs or what they are for, and why 200 of them could not accomplish what 842 are. Now for the basic, logical,
average person, just imagine how much this asinine system costs us per year, and add the savings to reducing the foreign aid waste to £1billion a year, kept in an account and used when required for sudden disasters. Find a way to reduce illegal migration and reduce yearly migration to 100,000 instead of 300,000. Unless one is ignorant enough to believe that they are all beneficial
to the country’s finances. Every hospital must have a dedicated office to stop NHS tourism, like almost all EU countries do, and make the department pay for their own existence. All visitors MUST have health insurance, and unemployed foreigners must return home and not get ANY benefits or JSA. Anyone, except Diane, please tot all this up and see the benefits we would have.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st January 2020 at 5:03 pm

It ought to be abolished entirely and replaced with an elected senate, as a prelude to the abolition of the monarchy and creation of a democratic, written republican constitution and bill of rights – based, naturally, on the proper separation of powers defined by Montesquieu.

Finbarr Bruggy

21st January 2020 at 3:49 pm

795 unelected members compared with 650 elected – madness. Reduce the lords to 100 or 200 elected members. In December’s election I could not bring myself to vote the local Labour candidate, but had I been able to vote for a candidate for the upper house, I would certainly have gone for a non-Corbynite Labour grandee.

brent mckeon

21st January 2020 at 6:29 am

Move it north, make its members mostly there by vote and the appointed ones (max 10%) get max 10 years.

jan mozelewski

21st January 2020 at 11:14 am

You didn’t specify how FAR ….maybe you had the extremity of the Unst in mind? That wouldn’t have to be a big building. Perhaps a sheep shed would do? And, of course, most of the dodderers and freeloaders would never be able to sign in and claim expenses. So cheap too. Besides, for most of the year it would be difficult to get back because of transport difficulties….and communications problems would mean no-one ever heard them either….

Michael Lynch

21st January 2020 at 1:16 am

After today’s vote in the Lords to amend the Brexit Bill, changes that will be dismissed in the HOC by the Tories, you have to ask what is the point of them? They have acted disgracefully over the last three and a half years, tyrannical even, and deserve nothing but the ire of the British people. The fact that politicians can choose to elect the likes of Swinson, a democracy denying despot, to the Lords renders it incompatible and out of step with modern Britain. Cut it down to size, elect by public vote, or just abolish it.

jan mozelewski

21st January 2020 at 11:22 am

It is ludicrous that the Lords…already swollen with almost 800 totally un-elected members …should even be contemplating putting forward any more. It is out of control and is incompatible with democracy in exactly the same was as the EU is. It is expensive and a gravy train and I think the majority of people in the country want it gone….or, at the very least, subject to some democratic constraint.
If it isn’t outright abolished…my personal preference…it should be drastically slimmed down with no more than 200 seats available. It needs a massive cull.
The very fact that Corbyn is putting forward people for an unelected chamber should be final proof that the old charlatan is just a sulky spiteful old spoiler with no principles whatsoever, let alone socialist ones.

Dominic Straiton

20th January 2020 at 6:00 pm

Before we do that lets look at the American senate. Unelected until 1914 its just a partisan, two party chosen by the few, crap in the lower house copy. Hence the ridiculous impeachment games.. There must be a better way. Maybe duty rather than power. There has to be a better model. hmmmm perhaps it was the 1000 year aristocracy, tied to the land that gave up power without war , except for that nasty business in 1642. They had a better idea of how to govern than todays cronies in the Lords. Just making it elected will just invite the same old twats weve been lumbered with since Loyd George.

Dominic Straiton

20th January 2020 at 6:31 pm

This country is a lot less free since its abolition

Jonnie Henly

22nd January 2020 at 1:16 pm

In what ways?

Claire D

21st January 2020 at 2:21 pm

I agree with you to some extent Dominic.
It’s a tricky one. Ideally I’d like to see a House of Lords of half the size and the people in there worthy of being there. Appointing them is better than electing them otherwise we’ll be left with a twin of the Commons, no thank you. We need older people, experts in their field or with valuable life experience, no more cronyism, no more peerages as reward or payment for favours.
How that could be managed I don’t know, in some ways it is what we already have except that at present there are all the things I don’t like or approve of as well. So perhaps what is needed is some form of control that is at present lacking.
Reform I think, not abolish.

Steve Roberts

20th January 2020 at 4:26 pm

” The House of Lords does not need to be reformed or relocated, it needs to be scrapped ” Absolutist and principled, i couldn’t agree more, we don’t need it tinkering with, we don’t need it to consist of regional representatives – yet another patronisingly mooted attempt to show the elites “care ” about the regions – or even elected personnel to give the impression it is part of a democractic progressive shift.
The will of the citizens of this nation, the most basic element of any democracy, whether it is expressed in direct democracy like referenda or representative that manifests itself in Parliamentary representation must as its kernel consist of political power otherwise it is no more than a form of constraint, containment , and ultimately control by others beyond the wider citizenry, much of which we have seen for 4 years and is still unresolved regards Brexit.
That political power, to have meaning and purpose, to give substance to our universal suffrage as actually being worth something more than a patronising consultative process that can be ignored must have no checks and balances.
To accept that the will of citizens needs checks and balances is tantamount to saying the demos cannot be trusted, our will carries no political weight, it needs checking.
But that is to see the concept of democracy upside down, if there are to be any checks and balances it must be on those that purport to represent us, even if we have elected them, there needs to be a possibility of recall and secure accountability of all who represent the will of the people, this must be constant and unequivocal, that would give more substance and a sense of agency and political will to all the citizens, these representatives would be exactly that, not manipulating mavericks beyond our grasp.
So , no checks and balances on citizens political will, as well as increased political participation we need an instrumental means to hold all representatives to account and possible dismissal if they transgress on fundamental matters.
This does highlight how the debate over democracy cannot be limited to just a discussion of the HOL or any other aspect that denies our will, they are all interconnected, even if Brexit, real Brexit, is passed the fight for democracy will continue and we need to be very wary of those that will try to appease us, patronise us and find more covert ways to deny our will across a whole range of democratic fundamental matters.
Myers is absolutely correct to isolate the response of Cleverly, he represents the CUP and indeed almost the entire elite still stuffed into the HOC, these are no friends of democracy, the “love in” with the CUP over a possible Brexit is blinding many to what still remains in the HOC, mostly elites who have in various ways tried to deny our will for years , who have been shaken by the continued response of citizens over Brexit.
But vigilance is required here, they have been exposed, severely exposed and do not want the much wider debates of democracy and where political power resides to take centre stage, they seem to be going down the path of paying lip service to “reforms” to be virtue signalling their democratic credentials, to show politics has changed for good, that they will be “radical” with the power invested in them and their majority, and all for our benefit, believe that at your peril.
Democracy is still very much threatened in most aspects, watch the elites like hawks, question their intentions, unpick their actual statements, think critically and question everything, do not trust these people, once bitten twice shy.

Andy Bolstridge

21st January 2020 at 1:32 pm

Then my approach is the best:

The Hereditaries were OK, but obsolete now. The appointed chums and pals is the worst option, and the proposal to elect them only means we’ll end up with the same bunch of failed politicians who just weren’t quite good enough to get into the HoC.

So we need to be truly innovative: and I suggest a jury service.

Every week we select at random half a dozen people from those who voted, and ask them to be a lord for 6 months (or a year), replacing a dozen who’ve coem to the end of their term. They get some training and mentors and then they get to vet the legislation coming from the commons. It’ll be comprised of the people, ordinary folk who know what their life is like and how such legislation woudl affect it – we’d have real working doctors and nurses, engineers and scientists, hairdressers and taxi drivers. Everyone as able to decide legislation as the likes of Karren Brady or Andrew Adonis.

It might also get ordinary people more interested in politics, and possible restore some semblance of democracy to the westminster bubble.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 4:39 pm

I suggested something along the same lines a couple of weeks ago. It would need fine tuning over time but it would be a good way of involving the public and really opening the doors to this closeted and insular world.
By extension, it would also render the Commons to much more direct public scrutiny, instead of the nonsense of online-petitions etc.
Yes, some people called to serve would be half-baked about it, or unsuitable….a criticism of my version of this scheme when I posted it on Spiked….but surely that is always the case with any group of people. (Lots of back-benchers in the commons never contribute anything of note whatever and are merely cattle to herd through the lobbies.)
A proportion of people called would, I am sure, discover a talent and enthusiasm for it and that would be a great way of expanding the gene pool of politicians that has become so dreadfully narrow and incestuous over the years.

Neil McCaughan

20th January 2020 at 2:26 pm

I favoured moving them to Mogadishu. Or Seven Kings. Somewhere like that.

Agree with every word in this piece.

jan mozelewski

20th January 2020 at 3:19 pm

ditto.

Noggin The nog

20th January 2020 at 4:26 pm

Thank you Neil. Completely agree. This was a timely article.
I thought that Frasers quote “there are currently a whopping 795 peers, making it the second-largest legislative chamber in the world after China’s People’s Congress.” summed up the nonsense perfectly.

T Zazoo

20th January 2020 at 11:27 pm

Agree also and like your handle, though I’ve tended to be more of an Ivor the Engine man myself.

jan mozelewski

21st January 2020 at 11:24 am

Oh yes…i loved Noggin the Nog (and Ivor) ….My favorite character was Nogbad the Bad. Now that is a real bad-ass name.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

21st January 2020 at 5:03 pm

Trumpton is king!

Bella Donna

22nd January 2020 at 10:18 am

Ditto

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