The House of Lords voted against the Government tonight on tax credit cuts. Tory MPs are understandably unhappy, the PM and Chancellor are distinctly miffed, and even I’m a little concerned. I’m not worried about the tax credit issue. I think the Lords have made a sensible decision in making sure the policy has a little more thought put into it, as they usually do.
I am concerned though about an unelected chamber over-riding an elected one, even if I agree with the decision they make. I even agree that there are legitimate constitutional precedences that allow them to do what they have done. But the key decisions should be made by elected representatives, not those who donated lots of money to a political party.
However, a directly elected Lords would face the same problems as the Commons. It would become more divided on party lines, less able to act as a revising chamber and generally everything would get worse not better. Which is why I like the thought of an indirectly elected Lords based of election results that already occur.
Lets say we have 500 Lords as it makes the maths easier. Divide 100 by 500 and we get 0.2. Each party under this system now get one peer for each 0.2% of the votes cast in the 2015 General Election. This works out at:
184 Conservatives 152 Labour
63 UKIP 39 Lib Dems
23 SNP 19 Greens
3 DUP 3 Sinn Fein
3 Plaid Cymru 2 UUP
1 SDLP 1 Alliance
We’ve got six seats over so we’ll give them to the six highest candidates from other parties who ran for Parliament. Why? Because this is my mythical creation and I like the thought that a Yorkshire First candidate polling 7% might get in the Lords.
This gives us a chamber that reflects how the population actually voted, without a single party having a majority. Hopefully this would give some actual cross-party consensus to each vote. If there was massive opposition to something e.g. tax credit cuts, then the Lords would have a mandate to oppose it without causing a constitutional crisis.
The system also allows for some pretty funky options. And by funky, I mean politically funky. Which is to say not at all funky.
Fancy a federal Lords? Fine, give each UK nation 125 peers and watch as the SNP are still irritated at not having that much of a say.
Having had a quick fudge of the numbers, this idea is a path to insanity. The DUP gets 32 peers whilst the Greens get 10, and Northern Ireland elects 9 independents – some of which would almost certainly come from the Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol party. Mind you the SNP have 62 times as many MPs as UKIP for a lesser share of the vote under our current system so we can cope with abject strangeness.
If you’re really brave, you can let the counts change at other elections. The Scots vote 90% SNP in their parliamentary elections? Have a bigger, yet still not that significant, slice of the pie. Lib Dems clean up at the local elections? A laughable prospect but give them a few more peers. Some how the Cornish Independence party gets an MEP? Why not give them a House of Lords seat just for a giggle?
Think this sounds insane and unworkable? Well if given a fresh chance to start the Lords again, I doubt we’d decide on an unelected chamber with 600+ representatives that included bishops and some inherited.
The House of Lords is a democratic nightmare and its a shame that a consitutional crisis is what it takes to bring it into the national spotlight.