Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and the Member for South West Surrey made two noteworthy contributions during his appearance on BBC 1’s Question Time last night.
The first was his fair minded and balanced comments insofar as the hoo-ha regarding Paul Flynn’s comments. These have been reported by the media for example in the Independent below:
Jeremy Hunt however made a far more revealing comment to answering a question about the unfairness of the First Past the Post electoral system. After stating (correctly) that the FPP generally produced stable and accountable governments he showed commendable frankness when he admitted that the system was “not fair” (to third and minor parties).
LET US ALL FACE FACTS:
The present multi party situation in the UK is not going to go away. The Greens, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are not going to suddenly state – “Well this is pointless, let us pack the whole thing up!” Support for minor parties has been growing. The FPP is becoming increasingly open to criticism. Yet at the same time FPP has just delivered something most important so far as most of the British political establishment are concerned:
Majority government and an end to coalition.
It would be very foolish to disregard the importance of this.
Let us be clear on another FACT.
Whilst a majority of the British People would agree with Mr Hunt’s admission that FPP was “unfair” they would also agree with his statement that it produces accountable government.
Of course, the party most prominently associated with the issue of Proportional Representation has been the Liberal Democrats. It was therefore was the cruellest of ironies that the Liberal Democrats suffered most at one of Proportional Representation’s two principal functions: to produce coalition. The other of course is to proportionally reflect voter opinion.
This of course came about as a result of the 2010 General Election when the FPP did not produce the majority government it normally produces.
So this raises a question that ALL in the British Political establishment should address:
What should we do about this?
Note to Michael Howard, Baron Howard of Lympne, CH, PC, QC: “Nothing” is NOT an acceptable answer!
OK then, many will agree that “Something should be done!” This leads us to the next and most obvious question: “What?”
Introducing PR even in a limited form to the Commons will produce coalition government after most elections. As previously stated. This is because the system is designed to do this.
For instance, the Commons could adopt a “scaled up” (x10) version of the one used in the National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru) commonly known as the Welsh Assembly. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs (Aelod y Cynulliad). Members are elected for four-year terms under an additional members system, where 40 AMs represent geographical constituencies elected by the plurality system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plurality_voting_system), and 20 AMs represent five electoral regions using the d’Hondt method of proportional representation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%27Hondt_method). Thus for the House of Commons there could be 400 MPs plus a further 200 making the 600 desired by the Tories.
But then the country would be back to coalition government and this is not only something the Tories don’t like, but many voters also!
There is however, one way of squaring this very awkward circle: House of Lords reform.
There are many on the centre and the left of politics who argue that the House of Lords should be done away with and a fully elected Senate replace it.
Now at this point we hear many distinguished British Gazette readers shout “Unconstitutional!”
However, given that the country is already unlawfully governed (it is a vassal state of the EU after all) this is akin to man who has stopped off at a brothel on his way home from work telephoning his wife to advise her he’ll be late home as he has been delayed at work. He has committed two sins: adultery and lying. Of the two, adultery is the far more venal.
Apart from being unconstitutional, a fully elected Senate would also bring with it another problem: a clash of mandates. This is where the two chambers both argue that they have an equal right to represent the people. This is a problem they have in the USA with the Senate and the House of Representatives. They call it Gridlock.
In a situation where the Commons continues to be elected by FPP and the Senate by let us say the Party List system of proportional representation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party-list_proportional_representation) we would have a situation of a majority government having to negotiate its legislation through the Senate. In other words it’s Commons majority would be nullified.
There is also another problem with an elected Senate. It would likely be the same type and calibre of member as the Commons. A revising or second chamber should ideally have members more experienced, independent and freer or party affiliations than those in the lower house.
The British Gazette therefore offers this proposal for reform of the House of Lords:
The House of Lords is now overcrowded. Many life peers have been created in recent years and with longer lifespans. See the BBC report of 5th August 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28639453
We would suggest that the number be reduced down to 480 – the size of a Roman cohort. Roman cohorts consisted of six centuriae of 80 men each.
We suggest that this cohort of 480 peers are divided up into 6 divisions of 80 peers each.
The 1st Division (the Government Division) would comprise 80 appointed by the Prime Minster. These could be newly created peers or existing peers. In either case, the appointment would only last the length of the parliament, although the peerage would of course last for life.
The 2nd Division (the Opposition Division) would comprise 80 appointed by the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. These could be newly created peers or existing peers. In either case, the appointment would only last the length of the parliament, although the peerage would of course last for life.
These two divisions would allow the Prime Minster and Leader of the Opposition to retain prominent defeated Parliamentarians such as Esther McVey and Ed Balls in active circulation.
The 3rd Division (the Cross-bench Life Division) would comprise 80 peers who had been created such under the Life Peerages Act of 1958. These peers would be Cross-bench Life Peers which would be statutorily defined as not being a member of a political party and they would be elected by their fellow Cross-bench Life Peers in a manner similar to the elections for the Hereditary Peers at this present time.
The 4th Division (the Cross-bench Hereditary Division) would comprise 80 Hereditary Peers. These peers would be Cross-bench Hereditary Peers which would again be statutorily defined as not being a member of a political party and they would be elected by their fellow Cross-bench Hereditary Peers in a manner similar to the elections for the Hereditary Peers at this present time.
The 5th Division (the Aligned Life Division) would comprise 80 peers who had been created such under the Life Peerages Act of 1958. These peers would be politically aligned which would be statutorily defined as being a member of a political party. The political alignment of the 80 places would be pre-determined however based on the share of the popular vote for the parties at the general election. It would work thus:
Suppose the percentage of the popular vote following a general election was as follows:
Liberal Democrat: 10%
This would mean that of the 80 total, 32 would be Conservative Party members, 24 would be Labour Party members, 8 would be Liberal Democrat Party members, 8 would be Green Party members and 8 would be UKIP members. NB: The statutory definition of being a member of a political party would mean that a candidate peer would only have to be a member of that party.
Finally, the 6th Division (the Aligned Hereditary Division) would comprise 80 Hereditary Peers. These peers would be politically aligned and elected (using the same share of the popular vote) in the same way as the “Lifers” in the 5th Division.
In addition (as at present) there would be two more Hereditary Peers, the Earl Marshall and the Lord Chamberlain who would be ex-offico members due to their duties in the Lords.
Last by by no means least we would have the Bishops, known as the Lords Spiritual of the United Kingdom. Also called Spiritual Peers, these are the 26 bishops of the established Church of England who serve in the House of Lords along with the Lords Temporal above.
This would mean that the total number of peers comprising the House of Lords would be 508 (480 + 26 + 2).
This is a reasonable and sensible number.
The British Gazette would suggest that this is a reasonable and sensible reform as it makes the Lords a manageable size and it would mean that 160 members (the 5th and 6th divisions) would be made up of peers indirectly based upon the share of the popular vote. In addition, the presence of 160 cross-bench peers from the 3rd and 4th divisions would bring an important political independence to the chamber.
This means that the 160 political appointees of the 1st and 2nd divisions would be have to contend with a equal number of “non-aligned” as well as 160 members elected in proportion to the popular vote.
We recognise that by increasing the number of hereditary peers to 160 will be seen as a retrograde step we would point out that hereditary peers are able to bring an important quality to the chamber: that is that they can often be not from the political class. In the light of the present travails of the Labour Party, we think that this is needed more than ever.