by John Ward
The headline ‘House of Lords abolition’ is normally a quick way to get ordinary citizens turning the page, or moving on to the next tweet about Friday Feelings. As a subject, it comes across to most Brits as a muddy mixture of the dull and the irrelevant. It is neither: if you care about real freedom and truly representative democracy, it is one key to the door between Us and Them. Never was a door more firmly locked for so many decades. Through the medium of abolition, Voters Like Us have a chance to make Showboaters Like Them sit up and pay attention.
In 1945, Aneurin Bevan once remarked (to a heckler who wanted to know what he’d do with power if given it by The People), ‘The purpose of power is to give it back“. Nye was a divisive class warrior at a time when a bankrupt Britain needed his guts to “remove the fear of medical bills from workers’ lives”. In creating the NHS, he gave us that power. Later idiots and pernicious bureaucrats diluted it, but the National Health Service rightly established Nye as A Great Man.
I am not and never have been a socialist, but Bevan’s original healthcare vision (and astonishing persistence in the fight against a BMA citadel) has always made him a hero in my eyes. The right man for the Finest Hour in 1940 was Churchill: the right man for a sickly People in 1945 was Aneurin Bevan. Of course, they hated each other…a classic case of different strokes for different folks.
Were he alive today, Nye I am sure would’ve been appalled by the negative power of Whitehall bureaucrats, the two-faced virtue signalling of Tories like Jeremy Hunt, and the untrammelled power of both the Cabinet and the bought lobbyists in the House of Lords. For myself, I am primarily concerned with how the digital age (plus dubious security measures and endless ‘legal instruments’) have allowed our national politicians to become so completely remote from how the citizenry thinks, they no longer feel even remotely wary of the electorate’s power.
That voter power has decreased, is decreasing, and ought to be hugely enhanced.
You need only look at the Brexit betrayal, the ignoring of SPA victims for over ten years, and the disgusting behaviour of DWP private sector elves on all dimensions of human indignity to realise that, while Bevan removed the fear of medical bills, Thatcher and her children – along with Blair and his spinners – have removed every MP’s fear of his or her constituents.
A good Westminster legislator simply doesn’t have time to deal with local community issues. On the rare occasions they do, it is merely to provide copy for their websites – forever proclaiming that Toby this and Bianca that stopped the demolition of an unused Chapel or the construction of a much-needed ring road. Most of them don’t give a tinker’s damn for constituents, being far more focused on climbing up the greasy Commons pole and/or gaining momentary fame for a televised PMQs intervention.
Even more stark than that reality is the continued existence of an ‘Upper’ House where there are “Lords” accountable to no citizen anywhere, but often paid by special interest élites to put forward their shaky case for special treatment. Some 30% of Labour Lords have connections to private health concerns, and 44% of all Peers have consultancies with and/or lucrative pensions from the EU, defence contractors and multinational business.
In that context of hermetically sealed bubbles and lucrative stipends, the average member of any UK community has little or no chance of being influential – apart from the chance every five years to choose between candidates already chosen by an arrogantly ignorant élite….without even the option to put a cross next to ‘None of the Above’. If this is participatory direct democracy, then I’m a flourescent pink banana, and – you’ll have to trust me on this – I’m not.
My proposal is as follows:
- If we free up national legislators to legislate, then they’ll have more time. If we abolish the constituency system, then frankly they’ll have so much more time, there’s no way we’ll need 650 of the beggars
- Having dispensed with constituencies (and the corrupt gerrymandering that goes with them) and introduced real PR, every last member of the electorate will have a vote that counts…..and thus very little excuse for simply not turning up….especially if the None of the Above option is introduced
- If we abolish the House of Lords and replace it with locally elected representatives – and that House of Reps is given the power to vote down or amend wonky or trendy metropolitan minority ideology clauses – we will wind up with a Statute Book of much greater majority relevance, and another enormous reduction in the number of old buffers on the payroll. This is particularly true at local Government level, where – under the system floated here – the Chief Executive Officer would become the Representative in the Second Chamber.
- The combination of a more grounded and powerful Second Chamber on the one hand and PR on the other will finally break the unaccountable power of both Cabinet government and sclerotic ‘major’ Parties formed anything from two to three centuries ago
- The only piece missing in the puzzle then would be a blanket ban on individual or corporate donations to Parties over £100, and a new NonGov organisation to decide upon the budgets voted for by taxpayers for the payment of Commons (Senate?) member salaries and Party expenses. All face-to-face lobbying would be banned in the Senate, and only community-based non-commercial groups allowed to meet with Reps.
To some, these ideas may seem too drastic by far. But history shows us that our legislatures are far too easily corrupted by monied power at all levels in society: and until education along with peer-group pressures inject some ethics into the culture of public life, such Hobbesian measures will be necessary.
The chances of this being voluntarily adopted by those who really run the world? Zero. But forcing them to do it without recourse on our part to violence is the next major challenge for us. We are (like it or not) losing the war on the NHS, and stuck in a trenches standoff between the SPA reformers and the victims of their gross, uncaring mismanagement. The war to get the Brexit we need is far from over, and has seen the wholescale retreat of our forces in recent weeks.
On the whole, decent people are polite, have good manners and tend to shout only at soccer matches, the television and dog owners who let their charges poo on the pavement. Well, the time to be not just heard but listened to is here. From here on, if we don’t get what we want and lose all our well-earned privileges, then We The People will be to blame.
In the current climate, another General Election – however much Corbyn may demand it – will solve nothing: we will still have the same tired ideologues, and none of them will have the mandate to do anything important. Citizen Rights, proper jobs and affordable, good education are never going to come back without a direct and organised campaign of disobedience designed to make the oligarchy’s life intolerable, and change the balance of power between the omnivorous 3% and the rest of us.