Today, with 12 votes, the Earl of Devon won the by-election to decide who will replace Earl Baldwin of Bewdley in the House of Lords.
Wherever you stand on the House of Lords, the Prime Minister’s recent Brexit troubles are a reminder of peers’ influence on the legislative debate.
So it is a plague on both Houses to witness the current hereditary peer ‘by-election’.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley – grandson of former PM Stanley Baldwin – was one of 92 hereditary peers in the chamber who owe their title and their place in Parliament to the family into which they were born.
Hereditary peers in the House are divided into political groupings, and Earl Baldwin was one of 31 crossbenchers.
Procedures drawn up under New Labour for the replacement of hereditary peers following death or retirement stipulates that a by-election must be held and that the voters will be the remainder of the relevant grouping.
A grand total of 31 people had the right to vote in this election, with eligible candidates drawn from an exclusive register maintained by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
In this instance 19 have stood for election, including the Queen’s nephew and the Queen’s personal solicitor.
No democrat can be comfortable with the fact that a member of one of the UK parliament’s two chambers is being chosen from a list of 19 by a mere 31 others. Farces like this do a huge disservice to our politics.
Today the Electoral Reform Society has published research however revealing such circumstances are far from unusual.
There have been a total of 32 by-elections since the first in 2002. Coincidentally, that is the same number as the average electorate for most of these by-elections (though it is a lofty 188, when you include the rare occasions the whole house votes on a replacement.)
Astonishingly, four by-elections have had more candidates than electors – including the only by-election within the Labour group of hereditary peers, for which there were 11 candidates and only three voters.
It become even more of a farce when you compare the Lords by-elections with those in the House of Commons to replace MPs mid-term, in which constituents are allowed to vote.
In the 32 hereditary peer by-elections, 3,190 votes have been cast.
In the last 32 House of Commons by-elections, the number is 931,725.
As those of us who favour who change in Westminster’s voting system have long pointed out, democracy isn’t just about an X in the box: the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of voters – and how their votes are translated into elected representatives – also has a big impact.
But it is still an absolutely essential requirement that citizens are entitled to a say on who makes the decisions which impact their daily lives. 3,190 aristocrats’ votes over 32 elections is not a good look for the Mother of all Parliaments – not least during the inaugural National Democracy Week.
The action which needs taking is simple and non-negotiable – these sham elections in the House of Lords must be scrapped for good.
This change should then act as a springboard to widespread reforms of the House of Lords, to bring an end to the Private Members Club culture which currently prevails. Then we can build a fairly-elected and representative legislature fit for the 21st century.