The phrase ‘moving the deckchairs’ has never felt so apt. Over the weekend, we learnt that Boris Johnson is mulling plans to move the House of Lords permanently to York. Or maybe Birmingham.
Speaking of the move Tory Party chairman James Cleverly confirmed it was under consideration: “We are looking at…a whole range of options about making sure every part of the UK feels properly connected from politics.”
Any proposals to dismantle this archaic institution are a step in the right direction. The problem is, this ‘solutions’ simply imposes a gargantuan feudal relic on another city.
Just moving the Lords 200 miles up the road to York will do little to change the warped workings and composition of the chamber.
We’ll see the same ermine clad cronies appointed at the whim of Westminster Prime Ministers making our laws without any accountability. It’s just most will have to have taken an expensive two-hour train to get there.
ERS analysis found that 45% of peers are based in London or the South East, while just 6% list their place of residence as Yorkshire. Collectively the North East and North West, home to over 15% of the UK adult population, have just 43 peers living within its borders. The figures are unfortunately damaged by the fact that a huge swathe of peers do not deign to tell us even which region they live in.
By re-locating the chamber, we’ll still see the same geographical disparity between regions with voices of those outside of London and the South East struggling to be heard.
Lords have criticised the plans, though they haven’t helped themselves particularly: one peer said the government could host a relocated second chamber in his (presumably very large) garden.
It takes more than being near politics to connect people to it and a shiny new House of Lords outside of Westminster won’t address the deep-seated economic and social inequalities that impact so many communities.
For many living in London’s poorest areas, being within a bus ride of the Parliament has done little to improve their life chances –and being able to hear the bongs of Big Ben chime on a quiet day doesn’t make them feel any more heard in Westminster’s private members’ club.
But while the proposal should be taken with a mountain of salt, political reform as a whole is back on the agenda, amid reports that Lord Salisbury’s ‘abolish or elect’ Lords overhaul plans are ‘on Johnson’s desk’. Baroness Natalie Bennett’s Lords reform bill has just been introduced into the second chamber too.
And Labour Leadership candidates Rebecca Long-Bailey and Jess Phillips have both come out in favour of a ‘democratic revolution’, with Long-Bailey this weekend calling for a proportionally elected second chamber to replace the Lords.
This is a popular policy across parties. BMG polling for the ERS found that around 61 percent of those who intend to vote for the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties all supporting an elected House of Lords. 100,000 people signed our petition for abolition and replacement of the Lords in just two weeks over Christmas.
Change couldn’t come sooner. Just 16 percent of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2 percent feel they have a significant influence over decision-making, according to a recent poll. In 2020, we have a Commons elected under a rotten, winner-takes-all voting system and a Lords that still guarantees 92 hereditary aristocrats seats.
it’s time for real democracy in this country – ending the scandal of unelected privilege and giving voters a real voice.
This can be an inspiring step forward for our constitution, rebalancing power with a smaller, proportionally-elected senate for all the nations and regions of the UK. If the government is committed to a real union, we must have a Parliament that truly reflects that.
But if we’re going to fix this democratic malaise, and really give ordinary people influence over the decisions that affect them, it’ll take more than moving the unelected House of Lords up the road.
This article was originally published on politics.co.uk