What must come out of this scandal is an elected Lords

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House of Lords

House of Lords

Deeply worrying reports in the Sunday press today, about alleged corruption in the House of Lords – four Labour Peers have been accused by undercover reporters of agreeing to interfere with the passage of legislation in return for cash.

We at the Paintbrush Collective wouldn’t want to pre-judge the Noble Lords. It’s possible (just) that the issue is sufficiently nuanced, and that the press reports have been sufficiently overblown, that nothing criminal has taken place.

Criminality, though, isn’t the whole point – what’s undoubtable (if the substance of the accusations are true) is that there is a considerable gap between the behaviour we’d all like to expect of Legislators, and what this bunch were up to.

Inevitably, political scandals produce huge outpourings of moral indignation. However, when an MP has misbehaved, once all of the cant and preaching is done with the electorate can deal with them in a very workmanlike fashion – their constituents can directly opt to eject them, and the wider electorate can take it as an indicator of the relative morality of the parties in making their own decisions.

We should be more shocked, and more censurious, when unelected officials behave badly, precisely because this mechanism doesn’t exist. All politicians are in a position of trust: however, unlike MPs, with Peers all we have is trust – and that for life. We have no recourse if they lose our trust.

In a modern democracy, though, shouldn’t we have something more than simply trust in legislators? It may have been enough in the past for voters to simply vote every few years and let them get on with it: or, in the case of the Lords, to do the same, but without the voting part. However, the sort of fury that cases like this provoke suggest that we expect something more now.

Opponents of an elected Lords will always put the argument that the Lords provide “expertise”: however, that isn’t the point (to say little of the fact that most Peers aren’t experts in anything, but rather a motley collection of former MPs and associated political hangers-on).

This assumes that the purpose of a legislature is to solve technical questions. It isn’t – a legislature is there to resolve political problems, and should call on expert advice as required to help in that. In order to resolve political problems, legislators need to be representative; not only that, but normal punters need to be able to terminate their contracts if they’re not shaping up.

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One Response to “What must come out of this scandal is an elected Lords”

  1. vera Says:

    David Blunkett said recently that it’s very difficult to get rid of a lord as he had tried to get rid of Jeffrey Archer for his misdemeanours but he didnt really explain what the difficulty was. As well as getting rid of the ones who fiddle the books so to speak, how about no tiltles/peerages to non UK residents ie if you don’t pay British taxes then you don’t get a gong

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