Thursday, 19 April 2018

Custom and Practice

Tony Benn always told you that you could have the House of Lords, or you could have what is now called Brexit, but you could never have both. People invest the pre-Blair House of Lords with the mythology with which they also invest the monarchy, as if neither had existed at the time of any Welfare State measure, or nationalisation, or retreat from Empire, or social liberalisation, or constitutional change, or EU treaty.

Such delusional people might more usefully snap out of it by joining the call for the lieutenancy areas to be made the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of those areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be required, and other parties would be permitted, to submit their internally determined shortlists of two to binding, independently administered, publicly funded ballots of the entire electorate one week before the election itself. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to six, seven, eight or nine of nine Co-Presidents, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would in fact enfranchise those who inexplicably look to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or social liberalism, or European federalism, or what you. It has never done any such thing, any more than the hereditary peers did, or any more than the Lords Spiritual have ever done.

Furthermore, if the reduction in the number of Commons constituencies to 600 were indeed to occur, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same. The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper, for the information of the voters; the same would be true of candidates for Co-President.

What would be the deposit to become such a candidate? There would not be one, as there ought not to be in general. Instead, the requirement to be a constituency candidate might be nomination by at least five per cent of the voters, while that to be a national candidate might be nomination by at least 2000 registered parliamentary electors, including at least 10 in each of the 99 lieutenancy areas. In this day and age, obtaining that would cost little or nothing.

Candidates for Co-President, for Senator, or for national MP would all be required to name a second, who would also be listed on the ballot paper, to take office in the event of the position's becoming vacant.

In the words of the old Tory battle cry, Trust The People.

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