In the first of a new series of elderjuice debates, Tory TIM WORSTALL argues that a hereditary House of Lords is the best bulwark against party political tyranny. Look out next week for a reply from Red Ron.
As one of the few in this country who actually know my place – petit bourgeois made good – it falls on me to explain how everyone else should also remember their place.
I refer, of course, to the reform of the House of Lords. For example, we’ve the haute bourgeois banker’s son, The Cleggeron, prancing about claiming that he, and he alone, has the right to tear up the millennium old settlement between the Crown and the Great Estates.
Entirely missing the point that while the proletariat have been allowed to vote for the appropriately named Commons, there still must be a place in the legislature for the owners of the land and the curators of the national identity.
Which leads us to the question – if the House is to be reformed, in what manner must it be so?
‘Preserve us from party hacks’
Polly Toynbee of the Guardian seems to suggest that there should be no second house at all – an absurdity when we think of the dangers to which we will all be exposed with a unicameral legislature. That any majority selection of party hacks could impose upon us any law they wish … no, Lords, preserve us from such a fate.
The various options being discussed by party political types all centre on how we would select yet more party political types to do this important job of restraining party politicals.
Simply to outline the discussion in such terms is to show its absurdity: whether never-had-a-real-job Jeremy is voted in over never-had-a-real-job-Jemima doesn’t solve the never-had-a-real-job problem.
Nor the inevitable subservience to the party machine that an election of any kind would create. What we very much do not want, therefore, is any form of election.
Appointment to that House falls at the same hurdle: who is to do the selecting? If it is those party political types, then it will be stuffed by the Jeremys and Jemimas after a couple of decades of under-ministering for groats and grouting – not solving our never-had-a-real-job problem.
Is a jury-style selection the answer?
The solution to that selection problem is sortition. Selecting that second house of the legislature as we would a jury, simply by random lot from the general population (or perhaps from those on the electoral register, or those who pay net taxes, various alternatives exist).
We certainly break free of party politicals by this method, even at the risk of scooping up people even more weird and stupid than those who stand for electoral office. You can even sign a petition advocating this method here.
However, this fails at two points. The first is that people will never know whether they will be selected – thus they cannot prepare themselves for this great burden of corralling the elected. We need a method of selecting our random choices early so that they may train themselves.
The second failure is that we had, until 1999, exactly such a method of random choice among the population. Hereditary peerages, of course.
Inheritance offers variety
Economic, if not social, mobility has been such over the past millennium that possession of a peerage to come does not mean that one is wealthy, has landed estates and most certainly does not mean that one has never had a real job.
I’m told that the next Lord Teviot is currently a bus conductor, the last Earl Nelson was a detective sergeant in the constabulary and the current Viscount Ridley is a failed banker and successful science writer.
That is the sort of variety we want in our Upper Chamber and it’s one that the sortition of inheritance provides for us.
Which leads us to the obvious solution. Abolish life peerages and return the Lords to a heritable occupation.
The randomness of genetics
We’d need to make just a couple of alterations to the pre-1958 position though. Yes, peerages could still be awarded for great service to the nation – but one awarded would only entitle the inheriting child to a seat, not the person actually awarded the peerage.
The second would be that inheritance rules for all titles be changed so that they might fall upon the first child, male or female. This would take effect from the next birth of an eventual heir.
Some will deride this as a backwards-to-the-future scheme – but this is the British way. Not to attempt radical change, but to use what we already have and just add a little twist to update it for a new age.
Remember, the point of the second chamber is to stop the politicians doing to us what the politicians desire to do to us.
Therefore it cannot be composed of politicians, and so why not allow selection to depend upon the randomness of genetics rather than the certainties of political selection or political election?