I never like to hear politicians talking about “Lords Reform”. This is not because it is a bad idea; it’s probably a very good idea. It’s because it is invariably done just before elections in a populist nod to potential coalition partners, with no real time taken to reflect on Tony Blair’s big mistake – namely not recognising that devolution, electoral system change and Lords reform are all part of the same thing.
By failing to recognise that devolution, the electoral system and the upper house are all the same basic constitutional issue, “New Labour” succeeded merely in nearly ending the Union itself, entrenching the current electoral system and making the Lords even less independent while no more democratic. All this happened while still more power was concentrated at the centre in each country of the UK, faith in politicians reached an all-time lows and electoral turnout decreased further. As disasters go, this has been a spectacular one.
Therefore I get nervous when I hear about “more powers to Scotland”, “English votes on English issues” or “reform of the Lords” – even though I agree with all of them! The problem is they are being handled for political convenience, not constitutional significance. They actually need to be handled together and with consensus, not separately for the sake of partisan side deals.
What is required is a detailed proposal which includes:
- equal and significant financial and revenue raising powers to each of the four countries of the UK, to be voted on only by legislators from that country;
- the separation of UK Departments of State from English Home Departments, and of UK-wide legislation from English-only for vote by appropriate legislation;
- appointments to the upper house (the Lords) to ensure that its breakdown is directly proportional to votes cast in the most recent UK General Election and, additionally, to those cast in the most recent Devolved Legislature Elections; and
- “English votes on English issues” but with potential for referral to the upper house for debate among all members where there are implications for the wider UK.
This is relatively tame compared to proposals which many (indeed I) would really wish to see implemented – but I suggest they offer the best chance of consensus.
But therein lies the problem. English politics doesn’t do consensus. That’s one big reason the electorate is so fed up!