Democracy Scorned

The energy and public participation in the 2008 US Election has made many in the UK very jealous, and is raising questions about, say, why we don’t have primary contests to choose party leaders. Here’s how leadership contests currently work:

  • Conservatives: MPs choose two candidates, who party members can then vote on
  • Labour: the totality of party member votes represent only one-third of all votes counted. The other two-thirds are made up by MPs and MEPs, and members of affiliated organisations, i.e. unions.

Both processes are laughable, although to be fair, the Conservative leadership contest gives a little more power to party members. Not that the party wants it that way – a proposed change in rules to restrict leadership votes to MPs was only narrowly defeated in 2005. Why did they want to change the rules?

Some have argued that party members are unrepresentative of the electorate at large and are prone to elect a leader reflecting their views rather than those of the country at large.

Oh, the irony. I find it darkly amusing that UK political parties are simultaneously upset about their unrepresentative party membership, and bewildered about the massive drop in party membership, when members are completely disenfranchised.

I don’t hold out much hope for either party opening up any time soon, so I’ve been interested in other avenues. One avenue is the reform of the House of Lords. As most people know, the second chamber of the UK is not elected; instead, Lords are appointed by the political party in power. Pretty much everyone, with the exception of some Bishops, agree that the House of Lords should be directly elected (and called a Senate), which is a refreshing outbreak of sanity.

Exactly how they should be elected has been debated for about a decade, and the current thinking is recorded in this surprisingly readable white paper, An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House of Lords. It was generated by a cross-party group, and it presents a reasonably clear consensus, which is also refreshing, except for two main problems.

The first is that the reform process has stalled since the Labour Party don’t want to do anything until after the next election, which will probably be in 2010. The second is that, on close inspection, the recommendations for reform would – once again – disenfranchise citizens from the political process. Here’s how: Continue reading “Democracy Scorned”