Sussex Progressives

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Is abolishing the Lords and creating a senate the key to electoral reform?

Despite years of discussion on the left, centre left and even right about the prospect of electoral reform, we are yet to experience any change. We still live in a stagnant democracy, dominated by a two party system which has led to waves of apathetic voters, who are fed up with no real change coming from either side. Electoral reform is the radical, yet also reasonable way to end this. Reform would eradicate the notion of a safe seat, something which leads to MPs getting too comfortable, and not necessarily adhering to what their constituencies want from them.

Reforming the House of Commons to be a directly proportional house is not yet a united policy on the left wing of Westminster. Whilst it has been welcomed by all in opposition but the Labour Party, it still causes division. Many Labour MPs feel there is not a need a for it, and that the current First Past The Post system is robust, despite of course the fact that 24% of Scotland voted for Labour whilst only one MP survived the SNP surge. Labour have little to lose in backing proportional representation. It would allow them to eradicate consistent Conservative dominance, and also allow them to reach voters they haven’t been able to before, such as those in the South East.

Of course, the likelihood of proportional representation becomes less likely when one looks at the boundary changes. The boundary changes push an agenda that is dangerous for Labour. It is clear gerrymandering by the Conservative Party. Marginal seats become far less marginal, and communities get cut up, such as Hove, which becomes ever more integrated into Brighton.

Thus, to counter this, progressives for now should stall the campaign for a proportionally represented House of Commons. Instead, they should get behind dissolving the House Of Lords, and creating a British senate. This would interest more voters as this senate would be directly elected based on everyone’s vote having equal leverage.

The argument that progressive politicians can use for this, above all, is the sheer outdated notion of a House of Lords. If Theresa May wishes to address ‘burning inequalities’, perhaps her initiative should be within the elitism of an unelected house for ‘lords’. If we want to move forward, and allow those who didn’t attend the top universities or come from the most affluent postcodes to enter into politics, a second, and proportionally represented house would be the way. It would allow the parties to create member lists. Whilst not forced, parties could opt to allow their top ten members for election in a region to be from working class background, or be BAME. This would increase parliamentary representation of minority groups that haven’t had as easier a route to the ballot before.

Furthermore, there are undemocratic notions of such a house as we currently have. It doesn’t work, and Trump’s rise to power, as well as the narrow majority which has granted us a hard Brexit, should unite the people on both sides of the referendum for it. Those on the leave side consist of plenty who are disillusioned with both Labour and the Conservatives, having been let down by both. It also includes people who vote UKIP. I don’t believe people who vote UKIP are the enemy, and I also believe that they deserve their vote to count. Three million voters crossed UKIP in the ballot in 2015. Yet, we have one MP. It is democracy to implement Brexit, but it is also democracy to allow voices from all parties to be heard and elected if the people wish so. Politicians have previously expressed patronising sentiments about how a two party, FPTP system saves voters from confusion. However, I’m yet to witness this confusion in areas of the UK that already use proportional representation such as Scotland, London, and Northern Ireland. Voters know what they want, so we quite rightly should grant them it.

UKIP having more representation is also not a bad thing, necessarily. UKIP do not have the easiest of mandates to fulfil. Their manifestos and candidates have been full to brim with contradictions. If they were to vote for NHS privatisation or a watering down of workers’ rights, things expressed by both Paul Nuttall and Nigel Farage in the past, then they would disengage swathes of their working class vote. Being democratically elected and becoming lawmakers would hold them to account, and allow other parties (progressive or not) to take them down easier. UKIP are frequently made a laughing stock of in the European Parliament, however there, they have the luxury of a lack of UK televised coverage. Being elected officials within a sovereign elected house on British turf would not only allow much ignored voters a say but also allow their countless gaffes such as hospitalising each other to gain more scandal in the papers than ever before. Think the Conservative Party in the 90’s but doubled in humiliating clangers.  

In the era of Trump, and a Brexit no one predicted, progressives need to wake up and smell the 21st century. First Past The Post, just as the Lords, is unrepresentative of Britain. To overhaul, abolish and then reform our second house is vital. Labour may not have yet attached themselves fully to a PR system in the House of Commons, but reform of the House of Lords is an excellent place to start.

The way I feel a senate would best be elected is by making it smaller than the House of Commons. This would win over Conservatives, particularly in light of the recent defeats of their legislation in the Lords. One way that would be best is by offering each region of the UK twenty seats within the senate. This gives each community equal say. These twenty seats per region would be elected proportionally by that area. This would allow the two main parties to maintain their strongholds but also to offer a voice to the many who vote for a third party. It allows no outright majority, and creates a new, and elected level of scrutiny for the government.

For progressives to rally round this would allow more participation in democracy. People avoid the ballot box because they think party x won’t get in. A wasted vote is a wasted democracy and a safe seat creates lazy politicians. It is time we worked to make the UK Parliament more accountable and more democratic. Thus, the easiest goal to obtain here is getting rid of the lords and inserting a senate. 

By Jimmie Franklin

Robbie Hirst