Integrating Alternative Vote into Reform of the House of Lords.

As an advocate of proportional representation I am a  reluctant supporter of casting my vote in favour of AV – the Alternative Vote –  at the forthcoming referendum.  If the yes vote succeeds however, this “miserable little compromise”  as Nick Clegg once called it, could just redeem itself by forming the basis for a reform of the House of Lords, in a way which would resolve the ongoing wrangle over whether the reformed upper chamber should be elected, appointed or be an amalgam of the two. Whilst this AV Second  Chamber option is a late comer to the menu of reform options, it deserves consideration.

Leaving aside for the moment the merits and demerits of an elected, nominated or hybrid upper chamber, let me summarise the proposal.

First preference votes cast at a constituency level in an AV election,  if aggregated into national totals  for each party could be used as the basis for appointing places in an upper chamber.  Parties would have the right to appoint members  in proportion to the first preference votes cast in their favour.     It would be up to each party to decide how they should make their nominations;  appointees however could not be  individuals  who had stood for election  to the House of Commons in the current cycle.  The appointee could previously  have been a member of  the House of Commons, but might equally be chosen for their experience in other areas of public or business life.   Nomination could be made by whatever  process was agreed by each  party for the purpose,  though the agreed process should be a matter of public knowledge at the time of the election.

There are various merits to this approach.

  • The resulting membership of the upper chamber would be representative of the full range of political opinion expressed in the election.
  • The right to nominate members would be fairly distributed across all political parties.
  • The nominated basis of the upper chamber would offer the opportunity for people of talent to be brought into the upper chamber from outside the mainstream political community.
  • By integrating the process for appointing members to  the upper chamber into a general election, engagement of the electorate would be maximised and the risk of low voter turnout or poor engagement of the electorate in an election for the upper chamber would be avoided.

If appointments to the upper chamber were made in this way the widespread cynicism about political appointees would be neutralised in a process which would be transparent and linked to the priorities of the electorate.

Whilst there is currently popular support for the idea of a wholly elected upper chamber there is also widespread cynicism directed at the political community which such an elected chamber would inevitably feed.   Despite a clear commitment to democracy the electorate has little  appetite to add to the existing expense and burden of elections.  They are already fatigued by  the work of reading manifestos and  the intrusions of doorstepping politicians and election broadcasts, all of which are a necessary part of the decision making that is involved in an election.  It is doubtful even that politicians and party hacks  can stomach much more of the slog and expense involved in a further election.

An appointed upper  chamber would be clearly circumscribed by its revising remit and could not claim – as would be likely with an elected second chamber in some circumstances – a greater authority to govern than the House of Commons, with the inevitable constitutional confusion that this would cause.

Some additional considerations.

  • To allow time for the process of nominations to be properly completed following an election, the upper chamber appointed from the previous parliament would continue to operate for a period deemed sufficient for the new appointees to be put in place.
  • Parties could prepare and publicise potential lists of appointees prior to the election.
This entry was posted in Electoral Reform, Reform of the 2nd Chamber for the United Kingdom and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Integrating Alternative Vote into Reform of the House of Lords.

  1. Stephen Shellard says:

    I am surprised that Today and other News programmes are not looking more closely at the 2010 election results for Labour MPs – and others – who oppose change in the electoral system. Margaret Beckett for example won her seat with only 43.3% of the vote; Caroline Flint won Don Valley with only 37.9% of the vote. Both MPs would be under some threat in an AV election and are therefore not best positioned to give an objective view of the fairness of the system.

    Self interest and party interest are of course understandable reasons for supporting or rejecting change, but given the rhetorical nature of much of the debate, this background information should be given greater attention and some effort made to challenge statements which are rhetorical in nature and do not contribute to a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the systems.

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