Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Moving towards an Elected House of Lords

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th August, 2009

Jack StrawThe Guardian hosted a seminar yesterday, co-sponsored by Unlock Democracy, on Moving towards an Elected House of Lords, at which the star performer was the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Friedland. Although there was inevitably quite a bit of discussion about the Government’s 2008 white paper on the issue, the Secretary of State was remarkably candid in his comments and responses to questions. There was an audible gasp from the room when he confessed that he went into the ‘no’ lobby on the last vote over a largely or wholly elected Upper House having not really thought about the issue; instead, he just followed the suggestion of a colleague who was voting at the time. He says he has now had time to think about the matter and has changed his mind. Well, that’s a relief, then.

Polly Toynbee, who was one of three Grand Inquisitors who got the chance to make statements, rather than just put a short question, really tore into him, basically saying that the Labour government had been a huge disappointment on electoral reform (and much else). Jack Straw spluttered that actually they had done rather a lot (from Scottish devolution onwards and indeed the eviction of most herditary peers from the Lords), but Polly got a loud round of applause. She knows how to play to the gallery.

I asked the Minister the following question: ‘Given the scepticism among proponents of electoral reform about the degree of commitment of the current government to the matter and its awareness of the urgency, and given the fact that you have said you would favour an open or semi-open* regional list for elections by some form of proportional representation for the Lords, would it not be a quick an easy way for the government to demonstrate its good faith by bringing in legisation to change the elections for the European Parliament to an open or semi-open list system?’

I rather expected an evasive or even negative response, but on the contrary he said that as there have now been three direct elections to the European Parliament under the regional list system, perhaps it is time to review that system. This is something that I (and I hope others) will pursue.

(NB An open list system means that voters can put their cross by the name of their preferred candidate, rather than by the name of their preferred party, as is the case under the current ‘closed’ list system. A semi-open list system means that they can put their cross either by the party or by an individual candidate.)

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