The idea that people can become lawmakers for life – simply because they were born into the ‘right’ family – is, to most of us, absurd.
Yet in the UK, in 2018, this is the reality. 92 members of the House of Lords – the so-called ‘upper’ chamber – are hereditary peers. In other words, they have inherited their titles, and with it, eligibility to sit in our revising house.
But this is not the most ridiculous part.
That honour goes to what happens when a hereditary peer dies or retires.
Custom dictates that a ‘by-election’ is held. These aren’t infrequent – there have been 32 in total, since this bizarre farce began.
Often voting and democracy are considered to go hand-in-hand. But there is nothing democratic about these elections.
The average electorate (the number of people entitled to vote for a replacement Lord) for most of these by-elections is just 32 (it’s 188 when you include the rare occasions the whole house votes on the replacement).
The average turnout for ‘normal’ by-elections of this kind is just 29 voters. The voters are those who sit within the hereditary ‘group’ for which there is a vacancy.
That means 29 aristocrats pick another of their number to join the Lords for life – and vote on all our laws.
There will shortly be one of these so-called by-elections, following the retirement of Earl Baldwin of Bewdley. Just 31 peers will have the chance to vote, with the list of candidates announced on the 15th June.
In the spirit of fair coverage, we’ve crunched the numbers on this ludicrous procedure.
And the new analysis by the Electoral Reform Society finds that some of the elections have been particularly undemocratic – even by their embarrassing standard.
When Viscount Thurso was elected to replace the late Lord Avebury in 2016, the three Liberal Democrat Lords entitled to vote were selecting from a list of seven candidates.
And there have been more candidates than electors on four separate occasions.
These by-elections are indicative of the backward nature of our supersized second chamber – one which rewards a tiny elite with a place in this cushy private members’ club.
People who defend the existing composition of the Lords often remark that the fact it is not elected by the general public distinguishes it from our other parliamentary chamber, the House of Commons.
But the fact that we already have one (unfairly) elected chamber does not mean the other should remain as a retirement home exclusively for the Viscounts and Barons. Needless to say, there is just one woman among those eligible to ‘stand’ for a hereditary peerage. This, in the 21st century.
The hereditary ‘hand-me-down’ politics that we still see in the second chamber has to end – the start of a package of reforms to haul this outdated house into the modern age.
‘Elections’ where the rules are rigged against ordinary people are really no elections at all.
Let’s start by axing them – and give a voice to real voters who have been shut out for too long.
Sign our petition to have a genuinely elected second chamber