What is the future of the House of Lords?
The British Government is in danger of losing an important vote in the House of Commons as it tries to bring in new reforms to the country's upper house, the House of Lords. But, as Lance Price reports in today's London Comment, although he might be defeated, Prime Minister David Cameron might not shed too many tears in private.
Here in Britain, one of our wittier parliamentarians is also a big fan of the original Star Trek series. He once memorably said about one of our more bizarre constitutional arrangements, "It's democracy Jim, but not as we know it." You see, we don't actually have a written constitution. It's a bit like the rule-book for the game of cricket. The more you try to explain it, the less easy it is to understand.
Take our upper house, or second chamber. The House of Lords, as it's called, certainly doesn't conform to any definition of democracy that I know. A few of its members have their places because they were born to ancient titles. Representatives of the Church of England have guaranteed seats. Most of the rest are appointed either because they are long-standing party loyalists - although has-beens would be a more accurate description in some cases - or because they have genuine expertise in a particular field.
For decades, people have been trying to reform it, but every attempt has failed. The junior partners in Britain's governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, want to try again. The Conservatives, who are the largest party, agreed to this but their hearts are not really in it. The attempt will almost certainly fail. And most voters won't really care one way or the other, even though the House of Lords can change legislation.
If, or when, the move does fail it will put renewed strain on the coalition. The Liberal Democrats are struggling to show their supporters that they're getting a real benefit from being in government. Their poll ratings are dire, and their electoral prospects look grim. Part of their problem is that their leader, Nick Clegg, is a bit like the Mr. Spock of the coalition. He wants everything to be logical and the House of Lords certainly isn't that. But he lacks the human touch when it comes to talking about the issues that people really care about.
The Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is more the Captain Kirk. He likes being in charge and he's happy just so long as he gets results. He thinks his second in command is a bit odd, but he needs him. And with the Klingons, in the shape of a well-armed opposition Labour Party, on the starboard bow they are at battle stations.
The big difference is that Clegg believes that democracy as we do know it is worth fighting for. Cameron and his party are more interested in just winning. And if House of Lords reform has to be jettisoned along the way, so that mission can be accomplished, well so be it.
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