Linking Lords Reform to the real world

There are now two books on my iPad bookshelf. One of them is the Labour Party Rule book. The other is the draft Bill folks keep calling Nicks Bill. Don’t give him all the credit for it. The House of Lords Reform Bill is approved by the Cabinet. It should be seen as a Government Bill like any other. Only that way will we expose the splits within the Tory Party as well as those  between the Coalition partners. The commitment to old style ruling dynasties will become clear as we debate changes to the House of Lords.
Yes Ok I like constitutional stuff. But that is a big part of my politics. I can see society needs changing and I want radical change. That means changing the structures of power. That is why I am enthusiastic about the work of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation. It recognises that achieving Socialism in out time needs a radical shift in structures. More than just Refounding Labour but including that.
Let’s think through some of the issues we are facing right now (in no particular order)

  • Big multi-national banks messed up our economy. They weren’t accountable to anyone.
  • Top down aggressive and elitist government is ruining our public services. Accountability mechanisms within those services are so weak they can get away with it.
  • The NHS has been handed over to private companies and lost what little accountability it has left.
  • We have a growing divide between the very rich and those on low incomes. Traditional Trades Unionism has failed to bring about accountability and thus greater equality in the workplace.

I could go on, but even though I might not door knock as much as I am ordered to, my biggest concern is that the end result of all this lack of accountability is that the folks who need to influence most are the ones who don’t bother to vote. I last met them in Brockholes but they are everywhere.
Which is why designing the House of Lords is so important to me. If we are going to make a change to our constitution, let’s be radical and use it as an opportunity to reconnect people to their democracy.
There are some good things in the draft Bill. It is interesting to see a suggestion that elections should be at regional level. So far the only commentary I have found suggests that is little more than a way of making sure Lords don’t challenge MPs . It is actually a profound move that has all sorts of implications. As the selection of candidates for Police Commissioners has just shown, we don’t have the Party structures to cope with sub-regional issues, let alone regional ones. Anyone ready to put together a regional manifesto? I might want to debate the way regions are organised in the Bill, but I support the principle of a regionally elected second chamber.
The next step in securing a radical second chamber is to build in real regional powers. Watching  the tweets of @stevethequip shows how good Lords can be at scrutiny. Empower them to do that on behalf of the regions who elect them rather than as political groups. It wont stop them being politicians but it will strengthen their ability to recognise different demands. Then give them the opportunity to work as regional groupings, with strategic responsibility for allocating investment between the regions and then within the region. No more regional growth fund administered from London. Add in the ability to promote people’s Bills on behalf of the region.
The are other aspects of the draft Bill I am pondering over. Electing for one 15 year term and preventing repeat terms has some appeal. I still wish we had been brave enough to limit terms of office for councillors. Fifteen years of security does give scope for building up expertise. There will be a proportion elected every five years, so there is some political mandate. Perhaps with the right accountability mechanisms built in after election, including a right to remove those who break their promises, we could make this one work.
But with little debate on the detail yet am I alone in finding it difficult to understand how the proposals for elections would all work? It seems we would all have to choose between 3 and 16 names to vote for from a ‘partial open list’ whatever that is. If that builds in what keeps being called ‘proportional’ representation, the only proportionality it achieves is a political one. Still scope for more pale, male stale shortlists. Still designed to put voters off voting for a remote elite. The other proportionality it does achieve is the one that reinforces the regional divide in our economy – or why kids from the north have to move to London to get jobs.  Because the factor that determines how many Lords each region gets is population, you get 16 Lords each election if you live in the South East and 3 if you live in Northern Ireland. Beyond that attempt at electoral proportionality I see nothing that suggests the Lords will be any more representative of the population as a whole than we have with the current set-up.

So here is my go at sharing out the seats. There is room for debate – this is not a blueprint – but lets have that debate within the Labour Party – not just tell the Government this isn’t good enough.
A fully elected House of Lords that builds in being representative, but gives an equal voice to all the regions, regardless of current population.
Each region elects ten Lords at each five year election. They can only serve one term. each individual can vote for up to ten candidates. But they can only pick one candidate from each of the following groups:

  1. Male candidates under 30 at the time of election.
  2. Female candidates under 30 at the time of election
  3. Male  candidates 30 or over but under 50.
  4. Female candidates 30 or over but under 50
  5. Male  candidates 50 or over.
  6. Female candidates 50 or over.
  7. Candidates  nominated by registered charities
  8. Candidates nominated by faith groups (which might include those Bishops) 
  9. Candidates nominated by businesses and by and unions
  10. Candidates nominated by local community groups – anyone from a transition town to the football supporters club.

I have pondered over how and if to build in a better ethnic balance. Should there be a quota system there too? Or would that distract from the potential to encourage those bold young asian women who should be seen as the real winners of the Bradford by-election. So how do I ensure I can end up with a set of candidates in all those categories I want to knock on doors for? Just as when some women and men gained the vote in 1918 all political parties had to build new constitutions to connect with voters, as a party we will need to rethink all our relationships with communities. Which is why I can justify writing this essay on a blog that was meant to be about Refounding Labour.

What can I do to start the debate? I might start a petition on 38degrees on those aspects I feel strongest about – especially the gender mix. I could try one of those Government e-petitions. I could encourage some local debate.What could you do? Help me share these thoughts then add your own.

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