Sunday, 24 August 2014

Just A Second

A fascinating exchange today with an old associate who is now one of the most influential people of whom you have probably never heard.

The very longstanding all-party frontbench consensus in favour of an elected second chamber has always lacked effect due the inability to agree on a specific model. Apparently, though, things may be moving.

Now, it is perfectly possible that nothing will come of any of this. But herewith, what I have been told is the word on the street.

Each of the 12 regions would elect 25 Senators, giving a total of 300, with the same spending limits as for European elections, and with six-year fixed terms.

Five would be Labour in Great Britain, SDLP in Northern Ireland; each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top five elected. Five would be Conservative in Great Britain, UUP in Northern Ireland. Five would be a Liberal Democrat in Great Britain, Alliance Party in Northern Ireland. Five would be of other parties, in this case with voting for a party list, and with one from each of the top five lists getting in. And five would be Independents.

In the fourth case, casual vacancies would be filled by the next on the list; in the other four cases, by the next candidate willing and able to serve. Candidates would have to have been registered voters within the region throughout the previous 15 years, effectively establishing a minimum age of 33. But nomination would be a far more open process than you might expect, and there would be a reason for that.

By allowing pretty much any otherwise qualified party member to enter the race, the intention would be to bind various factions to the big parties and to their not terribly popular Northern Irish allies, in the reasonable expectation of thus electing some Senators at any given time.

In the case of the UUP, especially, certain groups at either end of the spectrum might very well re-join it on that understanding. Overall, the main eye is on the Lib Dem Left and the Labour Blairite Right, both of which are now deemed to be almost seceded.

There is talk of a requirement that smaller parties forgo, by contesting Senate elections, the right to contest those to the House of Commons. The answer to cries of unfairness in favour of the Big Three in Great Britain and of what those wish were the Big Three in Northern Ireland would be, "Take it or leave it."

The SNP and Plaid Cymru might take it, but probably would not. Sinn Féin and the DUP definitely would not. The Greens and UKIP no less definitely would, with the former guaranteed 12 Senators rather than one MP, if that, and with the latter guaranteed at least 11 Senators, or 12 in the absence of the DUP, rather than no MPs.

The absence of the SNP or Plaid Cymru would possibly change the whole game in Scotland or Wales. The absence of Sinn Féin and the DUP would certainly change the whole game in Northern Ireland. All kinds of people and parties would suddenly become players.

The SSP would have managed a seat anyway. But it, Respect, TUSC, Left Unity (no, not a hint of it) and the SLP would need to get their act together in order to secure a seat everywhere. It could be done.

Especially, but not exclusively, in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the South East, the seats for Independents would, by their very existence, issue a put up or shut up challenge to certain media commentators. The same would be true, I pointed out to my approving interlocutor, of the open access to the Labour and Conservative candidates' lists.

Although I very, very much doubt that this next part would ever be included, it is being suggested in all seriousness that only women be allowed to contest Senate elections. After all, the Bill to remove the bishops until half of them were women was all ready to be enacted with near-unanimous Commons approval, and it is still there, lurking in the background.

What is far more likely is that the restriction of voting from devolved areas on devolved matters would be included, since that would involve no disadvantage to any large, if any, party.

There it is, then. That which is currently doing the rounds. As ever on this one, believe it when you see it. But the proponents fully expect both Tory traditionalism and Labour unicameralism, itself a form of traditionalism, to be negligible in the next Parliament.

In any case, they feel that both are bought off by this scheme, which promises to include them as major party, minor party and Independent Senators representing everything in which Tory supporters of hereditary peers believe, apart from hereditary peers, and everything in which the kind of Labour people who have always just wanted to abolish the second chamber believe, apart from the abolition of the second chamber.

This time, it just might happen.

I thought that you might like to know.

1 comment:

  1. Only the Tories would consider making it all women. Labour have too many men they would want to put in it to keep different unions and tendencies sweet, the Lib Dems don't do women very much.