Listening to Nick Clegg, you’d think that in the Norfolk Arms and the local Co-op they talk about nothing other than House of Lords reform. In truth, just one constituent has raised it with me in the last three years.
The Liberal Democrat obsession with this issue, and their ability to force it to the top of the political agenda, is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. It’s a great example of what happens in hung parliaments – typical in countries with proportional representation systems – where the obsessions of the smallest party in the governing coalition become the priority, even when the issue is completely out of step with the real concerns and instincts of the public.
Actually, I am in favour of reform. And, it’s worth remembering that, over the last decade, considerable change has taken place. 90% of the hereditary peers have been removed; there is an elected Speaker; the judiciary have been separated out with the creation of the Supreme Court; and ‘people’s peers’ have been created. But I’m not in favour of the rather squalid, ill-thought through proposals that the Cameron-Clegg coalition is trying to force through Parliament.
It’s little surprise that people instinctively react against things like 15 year terms of office – making China look like a model democracy – and regional proportional representation, an electoral system which takes real democratic choice out of the hands of voters, and even political party members, and hands it to party bureaucrats. It’s simply a way for the Liberal Democrats to try to institutionalize their representation.
So, what should be done?
First, there needs to be clarity on the role of a new Upper House, and especially its relationship with the directly elected House of Commons. Secondly, rather than seeking some lowest common denominator consensus on one proposal, there should be some options. For instance, why shouldn’t one option have an insistence on an equality of gender or age representation? Thirdly, the options should be subject to a referendum, so that everyone can have an equal say in such a big constitutional change.
If a referendum is essential to determine whether Sheffield has a directly-elected mayor or not, then who can argue against it being absolutely essential for the reform of the House of Lords? Just Mr Clegg, it appears.