Recently the political world has exhumed the hoary old issue of Lords Reform. The Lib Dems have decided they can latch on in the hope of a popularity boost, whilst the Tory old guard are taking the antique swords off the castle walls and sharpening them.
Now, I’m all for reforming the current system of having the second house filled with FOPs (Friends of the PM) because I do not think this is helpful or productive. However this does not mean that I am in any way in favour of a democratically elected second house.
This might strike you as odd. After all, isn’t democracy the ideal? The foundation of civilisation and a sign of freedom and development? What did we go to war for if not to bring the shining beacon of Democracy to the uncivilized barbarians? (Apart from the whole oil thing.)
The first problem I have with a purely democratically elected ruling body is that it is the general public who are voting for them. Now – most people I know are nice, rational and live their lives as well as they can; doing their bit; keeping a stiff upper lip etc. But when you stick us all together under the heading of ‘The Public’, we have an unfortunate tendency to favour silly decisions, be swayed by the loudest voice and allow all our baser desires and irrational fears to take over.
“The IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters.” (Sir Terry Pratchett) And, unfortunately, the collective ‘Public’ is the biggest mob around. I don’t want them in charge of running the country, and I’m pretty sure they don’t either. People on the whole are easily scared, easily tempted, easily confused and easily riled up. I know I am. One just has to look at any mildly controversial Twitter hash-tag to get a sense of just how quickly ‘The Public’ can be swayed to an extreme or illogical point of view. History also provides several examples of this particular weakness; witch-hunting, McCarthy-ism and the trend for platform boots are just a few.
Secondly, and most importantly, the decisions and plans of a government that is elected for a short fixed term will be based around maintaining public favour until the next election, rather than the long-term benefit of the country. For example the current push for gay marriage, whilst hugely important, is being used mostly as a smokescreen to distract from the lack of action in several more vital areas of governance such as the economic infrastructure or education reform.
This procrastination, or distraction, has become worse of late, with English politics becoming progressively more like America’s, where personality, appearance and ‘spin’ take precedence over policy, proactive decisions and the ultimate goal of benefiting the country. This is the main reason I am in favour of an unelected element. A peer does not have to worry about public goodwill; he is secure in his position for life. He can look at a decision far more objectively than someone wondering how it will affect their votes.
I’m not saying that the Lords are un-biased, but the House of Lords does not suffer as much from the short term mentality that has turned democracy into a farce; they have the freedom to question illogical policy. Whatever one feels about the way the current Lords are chosen; there are many eminent personages among them who are decidedly more qualified to be making decisions about matters of import than the average MP, who has been trained in – and is interested in – nothing but politics and PR. They come more naturally to long-term thinking, which is exactly what our country needs at this point in time.
They are, of course, not all-powerful and they never should be. Even if practically the entire House of Lords is against a bill with enough pushing it can go through. The ban on fox hunting is a case in point; but removing them completely or dissolving their powers would remove a valuable buffer in our legislative system that saves England from a good deal of the short-term thinking that seems to be standard practice in politics nowadays.
I leave you with a quote from that master of politic, Voltaire:
“Quand la populace se mêle de raisonner, tout est perdu.”**
** When the populace begins to reason, all is lost.**