8 February, 2004: The new unspeakables

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Peter Hain, commenting on the current travails of the dear leader and his party, has apparently slipped out the proposal to elect members of a new House of Lords on the basis of party list elections run in parallel with general elections. (This is more-or-less the least representative and legitimate of all electoral systems, but that's by the by.) According to that Observer piece,

Yesterday, Hain outlined a compromise on Lords reform whereby peers would be directly elected according to the share of the vote gained by each party in Commons elections.

No party would be likely to gain a majority -- even the 2001 landslide gave Labour only 40 per cent of the vote.

Though The Scotsman differs, saying that the composition of the Lords will reflect that of the Commons, this making the upper house pointless:

Now part of the Upper Chamber could be appointed according to the relative strength of parties in the Commons in a compromise suggested by two Cabinet ministers.

Interviewed by the Times last week, Hain seemed, happily, to confirm the first interpretation of this:

Mr Hain favours all peers being directly elected under a system of proportional representation at the same time as MPs, even though he concedes that this would probably ensure that no party had a majority in the House of Lords and bring an end to the tradition of crossbenchers.

Though note also,

``What I favour is the secondary mandate. The same votes cast in general elections would go into a regional pool, each providing maybe 50 peers to a chamber of 600.''

-- meaning that this will be a pretty pissant election. The other 550 peers will be appointed by the existing independent appointments commission, which selects non-party-political peers. It's not clear whether Hain's proposal is that the only party political members of the Lords will be those elected on the party list, which, although a lousy system, probably wouldn't be too bad); or whether they will join a bunch of crony peers appointed in the traditional way, which would be ghastly.

(Update: no, I'd misread that, as Etienne Pollard kindly pointed out. According to the Times article, all the peers will be elected. It's the article in the Scotsman which suggests that the elected peers will serve alongside those from the independent appointments commission. So the previous paragraph is basically bollocks. Sorry.)

My prediction? It'll be a mess (but I'm not sure exactly what kind of mess).

As an aside, I remember a long time ago thinking that election to the House of Lords should be by lot, as with jury service, rather than by political appointment or direct election. After the last Lords reform cock-up, Charlie Stross described how such a thing could work. Worth a read, and a place in the annals of `fantasy electoral systems', anyway.

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.