Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Polly's Peers

Polly Toynbee has only herself to blame. With her CV and her referees, she could have a peerage any time that she wanted one.

That could be said of and to any grand Establishment columnist: you could be inside the parliamentary process if you wanted to be, and your comments need to be read in the light of the fact that you would obviously find that far too much like hard work.

However, if we are to have "around 100 new peers", then Ed Miliband should seize the initiative and demand that they be created by the following means.

In Great Britain, each of the 11 areas already used to elect Members of the European Parliament would elect seven. The shortlists of two from each of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats would be put to a determinative ballot of the entire electorate.

Two more would be elected from other parties, with each of us voting for one candidate and the top five declared elected at the end. In the same way would be elected two Crossbenchers. In Northern Ireland, that means would elect five party candidates and two Crossbenchers.

A further 12 peers would be elected by the entire United Kingdom, the six highest scoring losers from the smaller parties, and six Crossbenchers. I the latter case, again, each of us would vote for one candidate and the top six would be declared elected.

That would give an overall total of 96, each whom would be given a peerage. The exercise could be repeated every 20 or 25 years, with the general creation of peerages carrying on in the meantime.

The price of this might be the abolition of the 92 elected hereditaries. There might also be calls for quotas for women and for ethnic minorities. In that event, or indeed otherwise, all should be required to come from the social categories C2DE, and those in all areas except London, though perhaps not in the national elections, to come from the most rural third, or possibly quarter, of wards in the area.

It need hardly be insisted that they all have been registered voters in the area throughout the previous 10, or possibly 15, years; as much as anything else, they would therefore have to be at least 28, if not 33. Their socioeconomic backgrounds would entitle these peers, even if uniquely, to the same remuneration as members of the House of Commons.

If, and only if, all of these conditions were met, then it might be possible to consider that all candidates be women, and that all area candidates for London have defined themselves as non-white at the previous census. But those remain the answers to entirely the wrong questions, if to any question at all.

The non-white requirement in London might reasonably be said to balance the rural requirement everywhere else. But such are now the devices employed to secure seats down the corridor for women that, if anything, these seats ought to be reserved for men, as 26 in the House of Lords already are and always will be.

In the three main parties alone, it would not be hard to find 33 men who had been passed over for less qualified women in recent years (would you like some names?), and the broadly working-class requirement would make that very easy indeed in the Labour case, at least. As would the rural requirement in the other two, at least. And as would the residency requirement across the board.

Ed Miliband, over to you.

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