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In january 2000, a British government commission reported on the role of the second chamber of parliament. Its recommendations touch on the theory of democracy, tho its purpose was solely that of a Royal Commission on House of Lords reform. The chairman was Lord Wakeham.
A tv reporter only had to speak of the 132 recommendations to impress on viewers what a new broom was at work in the Lords. Actually, many of these proposals are for little or no change. The document is concerned to stir up as little dust as possible.
For about the first half of the Wakeham report, this approach works well. It is worth reading for an insight from practical politicians of how government works. For governing or 'steering' one might almost read 'steering committees'.
The move to permanent Select Committees of Commons back-benchers was largely the legacy of John Mackintosh's cogent arguments. He also made the throw-away remark that Westminster was full of people disappointed they hadnt become Prime Minister. As a rebel, or man troubled by a conscience, he hadnt much prospect of party advancement. But he took the US-style Senate Investigatory Committees as a model for calling the government to account.
The chairmen of equivalent back-bench British committees could be a power
in the land against the reduction of parliament to partisan conformity. The
Prime Minister or chairman of the Cabinet Committee neednt be the only
important chairman in parliament. Legislative committees need not be of no
account compared to executive committees.
The packing of select committees with MPs on the government pay-roll would be an example of over-weening party power.
Britain doesnt have the American independence, of legislature from the executive, as part of its separation of powers. Even so, permanent Select Committees were resisted, because it was feared their work would detract from the big debates on the floor of the House.
Certainly, the Wakeham report shuns the American model. But there is no hint that laws are passed by flashes of oratorical brilliance before a full house. Good orators have given way to good committee men. In future, this is more likely to be good committee women with their better social skills.
The speeches of elder statesmen in the House of Lords, such as Harold Macmillan on the miners strike, may mark the end of a tradition. Macmillan learned from no less a master than Lloyd George. Someone volunteered, in our local press, a half-century-old memory of the Welsh wizard, late in his career, holding an audience in the palm of his hand for one and a half hours - the length of a feature film. Whereas the modern unit of political attention is the sound-bite.
Orators may be just as formidable to governments as questioning committees. But another Mackintosh quip would explain why the latter have prevailed: Politicians are too ignorant to do their jobs. Special study groups have to be formed to keep up with social diversity. And the best way to learn is to ask questions.
Richard Feynman admitted as much about his own teaching of physics. But it holds true of government enquiries. When televised, viewers may feel questions of public moment are being asked on their behalf.
The Wakeham report might be best summed-up as an attempt to improve and extend a committee system of government.
The Royal Commission has taken the chance to sit back and take stock of law-making procedures. In this they are pragmatists not pedants. Existing laws may not be drawn up with all the formal nicety, one now sees to be desirable. Provided that has not proved an obstacle, there is no point in inviting the over-haul of an entire Act.
( However, a government, desiring an appointed second chamber for the twenty-first century, would not want renewed attention to the 1911 Parliament Act, with its intention that the second chamber be on 'a popular instead of a hereditary basis'. )
Recommendations of no change may seem timid but they are made thoughtfully. They are 'conservative' in the best sense of saving time and work for improving more pressing legislation. The main question is how can future laws be made better. The approach is positive. It is recognised that more chances for consultation, for instance, when a law is only in the draft stage, will help good advice to prevail.
There is an absence here of the dictatorial attitude, that blights party politics. The report's version of committee politics is not some caucus trying to push thru its exclusive view of how the world should be. Instead of imposing dogmas, specialist committees are formed to learn more about issues. And instead of self-imposed isolation, by the party faithful, from demonised opponents, links are fostered.
Links and more links between committees at every level of government and every relevant agency and authority. Committees and more committees, till a flow chart would be needed to sort out how they achieve the complex co-ordinations of government.
The House style, of the Wakeham report, is Lords, rather than Commons. This reviewer realised that the report was written by experts in governing, and that, when it came to improving its procedures, they knew what they were talking about.
But, at some point, the politicians must come out of ( what The Guardian editor called ) the report's 'rabbit warren' of committees, into the wide open, and often hostile, space of public scrutiny, that elections involve.
In the Envoi, the report says the commission has argued from 'first principles'. That is to say they have decided what the 'Characteristics' of the British second chamber should be ( in chapter 10 ). Later chapters report what the commission believes the best means of applying those principles.
I believe the outlined Characteristics are a basis for agreement. I also believe the report quibbles against the principle that underlies them. In fact, in looking again at chapter 11, it appears the report even holds a brief for the 'principle' of 'vocational' or 'interest group representation' ( section 11.18 ).
By definition, a principle is something which can be applied. To say it
was impossible would have been a contradiction in terms. A principle is an
objective means to avoid contentious decisions having to be made.
The report argues 'serious practical obstacles'. It speaks of an 'unenviable' task of a commission having to decide between the claims of organisations, as distinct from individuals, for representation. But individuals are rated by the positions they occupy in organisations, largely as a result of qualifications such bodies have accorded them. ( Outsiders, with no hope of a career, know how true this is. ) So, the choice of individuals reflects on their organisations.
In any case, the new English Regional Chambers show there are no serious practical obstacles to vocational / interest group representation. In his evidence to the Royal Commision, Cllr. Michael Johnston explains that these representative bodies act as advisors to the Regional Development Agencies. The Chambers consist of indirectly elected local councillors, mainly leaders, and representatives of stake-holders in the region, from industry, trade unions, higher and further education, the indispensable voluntary sector and new cultural consortia.
Logically, the two national chambers ( political and economic ) should be
left to serve the national interest. No-one expects national representatives
to occupy the other levels of government.
The Commons is a national 'federation' of local constituencies, historically the Commons of shires and boroughs. Similarly, the second chamber could be a 'federation' of functional constituencies, including the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.
The trouble with a federal second chamber of politicians is that, like the first chamber, it serves the parties, rather than the states or regions and their relation to the whole country. The editors of Senates, Samuel Patterson and Anthony Mugham say many democracies are engaged 'in an apparently incessant dialogue about how they should be reformed.'
Obviously, the two sides of British industry have had their party, representing their social class. The Wakeham report considers the question of the parties being too much in control, rather than the other public complaint that the economic interests behind them are too much in control.
At any rate, the party affiliations, that the report requires, would be
satisfied by an elected economic second chamber. But the requirement of more
independence from party control would also be achieved. Because, the special
interests of the nation could be directly represented in the second chamber,
without having to lobby or pay the parties to be heard and heeded.
Economic democracy could check the richest and most powerfully organised from prevailing over the general interest.
Moreover, effective democratic elections already take place within various
British professional bodies. Ive often said that the General Medical Council
proportionally represents immigrants, women and specialists. Their single
transferable vote avoids the need for separate ( cumbersome and largely
ineffective ) 'party' lists for women, for ethnic or religious minorities,
for each specialty or whatever.
And that pretty well disposes of the obstacles described in section 11.22. A vocational franchise also makes a nonsense of the stock argument that elections can only be party-controlled.
STV also can cope with the problem ( raised in 11.20 ) of representing a
rapidly evolving technical society, with people frequently changing jobs.
Multi-member constituencies, over broad categories of employment, would allow
rises and falls in different occupations to be accounted for, by rises and
falls in the number of seats per vocational constituency.
Multi-member constituencies are also better for keeping stable local community boundaries of political constituencies. Because, the number of seats per constituency can be adjusted to keep pace with population shifts.
The Wakeham report says several lists of occupational organisations were submitted and they were all different. It would have been miraculous if they had not been so. Who expected otherwise? Consider the contentious mess politicians make by the continuous re-drawing of local boundaries to a single member system.
An Electoral Commission could have a remit for a second chamber of vocational constituencies, as well as for geographical constituencies. Its work would be enormously simplified and democracy greatly furthered, if it were appreciated that STV is the general electoral system, that applies to politics at all government levels ( as is shown to be the case in Ireland ) also to economic and all other non-political elections ( as many organisations demonstrate ).
Leaders have to learn to like and understand the democratic voting system
( as Lloyd George failed to do, till it was too late ). But the commission (
in section 11.21 ) has no excuse for refusing to contemplate that vocational
organisations, represented in the second chamber, 'observe minimum standards
This is regarded as an 'unacceptable intrusion', a phrase the commission seems to have borrowed from Chris Patten. He was consulted about the corporate representation in Hong Kong. In a seemingly vice-regal manner, he had his conversation conveyed, rather than wrote, himself.
It appears to have been an ill-considered remark and an ill-considered borrowing. Obviously, what Britain could do in Hong Kong was minimal compared to what Britain could do in Britain. Generally speaking, societies do require minimum standards of acceptable behavior from their members.
Voltaire was told the 'pleasing' fact that even thieves have their codes
of behavior. He replied that is more instructive than pleasing, in that no
society could survive a single day without rules.
The smallest club has rules that one must abide by to join. This is increasingly true even of international law, which unlike national law, really has been 'impossible to police'.
The European Union requires standards of democracy and human rights from member states. The Commonwealth suspends member nations for violations of democracy. Their standards and their measures are doubtless highly unsatisfactory. But they dont shrink from the attempt of making them.
In Britain, professional bodies and trade unions and all manner of organisations have contacted or used the independent expertise of the Ballot Services business, a branch of the Electoral Reform Society. This is often used routinely to guarantee properly conducted elections - like an audit, which the government does not think too intrusive to require by law.
The report cannot say it's not practical; it's already done. And by the same independent method, members of any vocational organisation could vote whether to accept minimal democratic standards required to become a 'constituency' of the second chamber.
Section 11.23 makes a 'serious objection' of the 'risk of
disenfranchising' people, often the disadvantaged, who do not already belong
to a professional or vocational group.
They are disenfranchised - or unenfranchised. This is an opportunity to create occupational constituencies for them in the second chamber.
That is known as extending the franchise. That's how political democracy
evolved and is how some have suggested economic democracy might progress.
I am not making this up as I go along. I anticipated this and other questions in my evidence to the Royal Commission. ( That is my two web pages on an economic parliament. )
If the gist of section 11.4 is 'an even more fundamental objection' to vocational representation, I cannot see that there is any real problem at all. The report has us believe that giving proportional representation, in the second chamber, to the occupations defines them as nothing but their occupations. They suggest this economic democracy demeans lorry drivers and nurses as nothing else but lorry drivers and nurses.
At present, most countries have a one-dimensional democracy that moves from political left to right. The parties have parceled out this scale between them so that people can be only blue or red or yellow, maybe green or some other strictly official, but crude, color blocs. The uniquely individual color choices on the political spectrum are electorally disallowed ( in effect by denying freely transferable voting ).
As a matter of fact, I have always regarded the imposition of partisan choice, by list systems, as 'demeaning' and have protested against it most of my adult life - as I have favored an elected economic second chamber all that time. I have never regarded menial work as demeaning, much less objected to being represented in it. The Indian Untouchables have wanted more recognition of their caste in Congress, not to be forgotten about, as beneath dignified consideration.
After all, what could be more vital to our concerns than the way we earn our living? In going thru the evidence to the Royal Commission, I missed any group who didnt want their own employment, whether by profession or interest group, to be represented in the second chamber.
Alright, a political economy of the houses of parliament may still be only a constitutional flatland. But two dimensions are an infinitely better measure of a democracy than one: how much better to be allowed to cross a field than to be forever confined to a lane.
Most of us are not jet-setters. We dont much miss the third dimension. Maths and physics may deal in multiple dimensions. But for learning about them, we are much more at home with just two co-ordinates, say, two of space, or one of space and one of time.
That is not to say I oppose 'higher' dimensions of democracy, whatever they might be, only that, for present practical purposes, two dimensions, not one, is the optimum for democracy. Seeing democracy trying to walk, with the walks of life, the report criticises it for not being able to run.
In any case, the lucky people who are paid for doing what they like best,
and whom others may hope to emulate, can be as effectively represented as
Appointments would be hit and miss.
The transferable vote can prefer the most popular of eminent individuals, as well as proportionally representing their vocations, together with any social characteristic they possess of importance, according to the voters' orders of choice.
For that reason, STV could give the peoples choice of vocational representatives to the second chamber, and it would be socially relevant, too.
The inability of an Appointments Commission to popularly represent is
satirised by Polly Toynbee as: 'Get me a Lib Dem Catholic woman chartered
accountant with one leg from Cardiff! Never mind what she's like!'
Whereas, other appointments, by a court of eight including three partisans, may stand out as the king's favorites. Against any suggestion of unfairness, self-respecting celebrities might prefer a vote amongst their colleagues to popularly confirm their right to represent their vocation in the second chamber.
The term, an 'independent Appointments Commission', is a self-contradiction. Only an election by the general public can be independent of particular influences. If appointments were a better means of representation than election for the second chamber, the report needs to justify why they are not better for the first chamber.
Moreover, an election is a method. Its logic may be good or bad, in which case you have a good or bad voting system. But at least it is a method, whose procedure may be criticised and improved. To resort to appointment is to go back to decisions based on personal authority, rather than let agreed formal standards be demonstrably met.
( The Plant committee - in its interim report on p. 6 - wanted different institutions to have different electoral methods, so politicians could, in effect, appoint whatever method that suited them, as a matter of personal judgement. So, they denied from the outset that there is a general logic of democratic election. That led to a British anarchy of electoral systems, which the Lords Commission has imitated, with its three 'models' for electing a minority of peers. )
To quote from Andrew Marr's Observer comment ( 23 jan. 2000 ):
The reformed second chamber is to be made deliberately illegitimate, in the sense of being mostly unelected, because it must not undermine the mystic authority of the Commons...
It reminds me a little of my father's garden, when he once planted a stake to hold up a rose-tree; but the tree died and the stake grew. Instead of saving the Commons, it all reminds us of what a sickly institution it has become...
Robert Winston, the popular medical icon and New Labour peer, goes and tells the truth about the NHS to the New Statesman. He denies himself, but his words bite him back. Helena Kennedy, who once seemed to be the ultimate New Labour place-woman, a Blair baroness, turns on Jack Straw over jury trials in a display of magnificent, highly successful and gutsy disloyalty...
Much the same goes for journalists, actors, rock stars and business leaders enrolled at one stage or another as Friends of Tony... Look around and you will not find a group of respected, successful and varied people who would take a place there for 15 years and do what they were told. Life has moved on. Things aren't like that any more... Once appointed, why would they not ( criticise and rebel )? And just what, exactly, would they be expected to show loyalty to?
So, when push comes to shove, Kennedy is a human rights lawyer, not a Labour Peer... and, from the health service to its anti-jury legislation, things fall apart,.. Better, therefore, to turn back to first principles. Better to try to create a reformed democracy, on proper political, liberal principles, which is what Britain needs. If doing the wrong thing isn't going to work, you might as well do the right thing.
Sadly, Andrew Marr thinks the right thing is the Charter '88 line of a
party political second chamber ( which most people dont want ) elected by the
pseudo-PR of some party list system ( which is anything but 'liberal' ).
Charter '88 commissioned a poll that showed 75% of people wanted the public to have a role in deciding who was in the second chamber. Survivors of the twentieth century know democracy: good; dictatorship: bad.
Sadly, Marr doesnt take the hint that the qualities of the expert peers, he and the public admire, should not be abolished but given the true dignity of democratic legitimacy in formal vocational elections.
The value of the Lords Commission report, did they but recognise it, is in
showing, that vocational representation is an idea whose time has come: 67%
of respondents wanted to include 'independent / experienced' people in the
It is much to the credit of the experts, among the life peers, that the public appreciates the need for more vocational or occupational representation.
From being the most backward of bi-cameral democacies in Europe, who knows? Britain might take the lead as a two-chamber, two-dimensional democracy of political economy.
Economic democracy must have an over-due contribution to make to basic
human and ecological welfare. It may be the world's best hope against the
corporate excesses of privateer capitalism that risk the fragile environment.
In Russia and Eastern Europe, fragile political democracies are likewise at
Hatred is growing against them, from a lack of basic democratic standards of economy. So says Anne Applebaum. ( Red Time Bomb. Daily Mail 20 nov. 1999. )
In 1947, Viktor Kravchenko dared to hope for 'the long-suffering Russian people...that one day they may enjoy real freedom and real economic democracy.' ( I Chose Freedom chapter xxviii. )
This review shows that elections dont have to be party political. A system of vocational elections is perfectly workable for the second chamber. So, the public who made submissions could have it all ways, without any inconsistency. They could have independent, experienced second chamber representatives. They could be elected. And, with transferable voting, they could be proportionally represented as individuals, and not as clones on lists.
The public interest could be hardly more faithfully served. And this
scenario is consistent with the recommendations of a comparitive study of
Quoting from Vernon Bogdanor's Times Literary Supplement review ( 4 feb. 2000 ) regarding Meg Russell's Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from overseas.
Russell's central conclusion is that, for a second chamber to be effective, it must be composed differently from the first, it must enjoy sufficient powers to require a government to think again, and it must enjoy sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the public, so that it can actually use its powers.
To quote again from Bogdanor's TLS review of the report on reforming the Lords:
...the vast majority of those who, in evidence to the Royal Commission, favoured a directly elected second chamber also declared that they wanted, above all, to avoid creating a replica of the House of Commons with its confrontational politics and whipped majorities.
Concluding its introduction, the Wakeham report says:
The evidence we received, while helpful, was conflicting and frequently internally inconsistent. For example, widespread support for elections to the second chamber was combined with near-universal cynicism about the role of political parties and a desire to limit their influence in the second chamber.
While the commission almost inadvertantly admitted the principle of vocational representation ( in chapter 11 ) they regress to the assumption that democracy is only a one-dimensional representation of politics. They are back to climbing what Disraeli called 'the greasy pole'. A second dimension, that co-ordinates economics to politics, democratically, is beyond their perceptions. There's none so blind as those that will not see.
This assumption - a hyper-dimensional blindness to so much as democracy's second dimension - was shared by The Times submission of evidence. And in their coverage of the report, Peter Riddell ( on 21 january, 2000 ) says:
The commission is rightly concerned that the composition of the second chamber should be different from the Commons, and not simply full of career party politicians. That argues for the inclusion of some appointed members to provide experience and diversity.
Having made the same non sequitur, and fallen into the same trap, as the report, it is hard to see why Riddell gets so worked-up. He says the proposals are:
a classic of British establishment evasion. The analysis is lucid and impeccable but every time a controversial issue is faced, it is dodged.
It turns out that Riddell's complaint is that the balance is too much in favor of appointed to politically elected members, he has already admitted there should not be too many of.
Donald MacIntyre of The Independent led: 'With all the dismal caution of an insider, Wakeham stayed well clear of democracy.' He pointed out that The Labour party's evidence didnt even mention a democratic element. ( Neither did their Co-operative party clone's evidence favor it. )
The Guardian had more decisive grounds for chastisement, since its submission called for a politically elected chamber, with the experts relegated to advisors or stooges. Polly Toynbee's talk about the Wakeham twelve 'losing the plot' actually applies more to her newspaper, since experts could have the democratic authority of being elected by their colleagues. Whereas a second political chamber merely doubles the parties' power of patronage. This is especially true of party list proportional elections, which is the undemocratic kind those in control have favored.
In this respect, of Robert Maclennan, the Liberal Democrats Constitutional Affairs spokesman, methinks he protests too much. He says the report is:
shot through with dismal, old-fashioned, self-serving, clubby attitudes. If its recommendations were to be given effect, the Lords would continue to be illegitimate and the public would properly disregard it.
This ringing a bell compares comically with the unctious, if less eloquent, reception from the Prime Minister's office: 'a very, very good report.'
The chattering classes seem to treat the public like a lot of illogical children wanting the impossible. Bogdanor makes a 'paradox' of democracy that competitive elections become dominated by political parties, themselves controlled by unpopular 'professional or career politicians'. He credits a member of the commission, Anthony King, with having 'discovered' this in a political science article in 1981.
You only have to read Bogdanor's first book The People and the Party System to know that the pioneering political scientist Ostrogorski formulated the problem in the late nineteenth century, while party organisations were developing. Not only that, he gave a necessary, tho not sufficient, remedy, as the single transferable vote.
Why I mention this is because electoral reform and House of Lords reform
both await 'discoveries' undiscovered by most of the influential.
Electoral reform became polarised into a showdown between supporters of pseudo-majority systems against supporters of proportional systems. But proportional systems have either the freedom of transferable voting or are corporate votes for party lists, more or less ensuring party bosses alone choose which party candidates are elected.
Similarly, House of Lords reform has become polarised between supporters
for appointed experts and supporters of elected politicians. Just as
electoral reform was compromised with hybrid systems of first-past-the-post
and party-proportional counting, the Lords report also goes for two wrongs
that dont make a right. Namely, an undecided mix of appointed experts and
elected politicians, with some provision ( chap. 13.28; rec. 91 ) for
appointing politicians for the sake of partisan 'balance'.
But there's no provision for elected experts, the one remaining possibility, which would create a second dimension of democracy, economic democracy.
Why all this quarreling at cross-purposes, like a conspiracy of antagonism, that results in a 'solution' that is either half-good or the worst of both worlds? An addiction to unreal dilemmas avoids G K Chesterton's observation that really there is only one party. We are agreeing, to some extent, with Chesterton when we use the convenient term, the establishment.
The Daily Telegraph editor decried 'Britain's greatest
constitutional problem...the executive has too much power.' Yet he thinks it
sufficient to have 'open list' elections, which effect little more individual
choice than closed lists. Nevertheless, to make sure no-one thought the
commission favored voters' freedom, the report could bring itself, at best,
to speak ( non-committally ) of 'partiallyopen lists'.
And very partial to the parties they are, too.
Section 12.34 says: '...we do not want to see the number of electoral systems already in use in this country unnecessarily enlarged,..' With that warning, for the political election of a minority of the Lords, the report then offers three options, besides the half-dozen undemocratic voting methods that already exist on the British mainland.
The politicians set a precedent for disorder, both in the different voting systems and in their effective lack of ordered choice. The precedent is strengthened, by following it, which is what the report has done. The rulers have made up the rules as they go along. That is arbitrary power.
For just 65 political Lords, the report's so-called 'complementary' voting system is a re-hash of the 1975 Hansard Commission's Additional Member System. That is, your X-vote for a single member in the Commons would be hi-jacked as a 'party' vote, this time to help 'elect' someone in the Lords. This is the least accountable version of AMS and is not a contender for electoral reform, even among supporters of this kind of system. Donald MacIntyre said this is neither direct election nor indirect election. It is virtual election.
The biggest faction of the Wakeham twelve propose 87 political Lords
elected by the method for MEPs. That is a vote for a party with no individual
The third faction propose three elections of 65 political Lords, each time a Euro-election is held, till there are 195 political Lords. These, however, would be elected from 'partially open lists'. That phrase amounts to keeping the chain on the door, when you open it to strangers - as the establishment peers narrowly at the electorate.
Different regions would hold their Lords elections, in a confusing arrangement of five year cycles from 5 to 10 to a full 15 years ( Section 19.7 and 19.8 ). But the point about supposedly representative elections ( which these proposed systems really are not, anyway ) is that they are held regularly so they do not become unrepresentative with time.
The report assumed that infrequent elections help to sustain a long term view. But it becomes the long-term view of a long gone past. It is an argument for bureaucracy, rather than democracy, in the second chamber.
A Gallup International poll ( 3 dec. 1999 ) was reported, the next day, in The Mirror, as saying of the British:
They have less respect for government than others. Nearly 70 per cent do NOT believe the country is governed by the people's will.
Only 16 per cent regard government as efficient, while 44 per cent rate it bureaucratic.
The commission may understand committee procedure but didnt know what
democratic procedure is about. This suspicion, that the commission simply
didnt understand electoral method, gains credence from a remark about the
single transferable vote.
Section 11.12 begins with the blunder that elections, to the second chamber, would be dominated by the parties again. All this says is that elections on a political franchise would be party political. This is false of elections on an economic franchise, which elects vocational eminence, not community leadership.
Then the error is compounded with the following remark:
Very few independents, if any, would secure election, even using a highly proportional system such as Single Transferable Vote (STV).
STV is only as proportional as the number of seats there are in the
constituency. Other systems of so-called PR actually give less
chance for independents, the more proportional they are made,
because they only proportionally represent party candidates.
Moreover, it is STV's proportional count of a preference vote, which secures the proportional representation of individual candidates, without discrimination against independents - and secures some independence for party candidates also prefered as individuals.
Simon Jenkins of The Times wasnt much help, with his dismissal of 'the curse of proportional representation'. That is about as sensible as saying the curse of democracy. They are only principles. The devil is in the details of wrongful applications, that are not what they pretend to be.
Jenkins denounces 'Wakeham the weak' in the usual terms: 'timid, confusing and conservative...a dispute over composition,..a confusion over election, a leak, even a split... a vaguely plausible fudge...'etc.
The Appointments Commission he sees as a re-vamping of the Honours Scrutiny Committee, producing a chamber hardly different from the old, but without the independence of the more colorful hereditaries.
And Simon Jenkins makes the most telling press comment so far:
The Wakeham report is deeply conservative. ( Not that last bit - everybody seems to have said that - but the next sentence:) It leaves clergymen and lawyers in place, yet rejects the claim of other professions.
Instead of building on this precedent for vocational representation, it
was left as a relic. The commission has not even made a decision whether the
principle was right or wrong and then acted accordingly. Jenkins' criticism
is the more revealing in the one respect it is inaccurate.
There is one profession that the commission admits to the Lords. In section 11.40, any party with, say, over 2% of the national vote, in general elections, would be entitled to seats in the second chamber.
So, more party barons with coats of arms, besides the blue torch, red rose or yellow bird, would control what interests were on their lists and in whose person. Whereas campaign money would control the party managers. This strengthens the oligarchy of party over all other social and professional life, even as it encourages partisan divisions in the nation.
Instead, a democracy needs the equitable representation of interests, rich or poor, in their own right, in the second chamber.
George Jones of The Daily Telegraph conceded:
The 216 page report is worth reading and has genuinely tried to create a second chamber that would retain many of the qualities of independence and originality of the present House of Lords rather than becoming a clone of the party-politically dominated House of Commons.
This reviewer has tried to sustain that view. But I have come to the
conclusion that the report avoids any assertion of principle. Knowing too
well the ways of official recommendations, my evidence to the commission
advised on clearness of principle, or their report would not be well
Even so, I was taken aback by what Bogdanor called the near universal hostility of the press reception.
That the report has no direction of its own is summed up well by its varying stance on vocational representation. The commission is 'sympathetic' to the 'principle' but does not actually believe it practical, even in the face of its practice by the English Regional Chambers.
It has been found practical to represent the church and the law, but the commission cannot bring itself to believe this could be true of other professions - except for those electoral monopolists, the political parties, whom nearly everyone else believes have too much power.
Where the vocations need principled recognition as organisations, electing their individual experts to the second chamber, the report would only appoint those experts, it regarded suitable, without recognition of organisations' professional right to be represented.
Where the voters need principled recognition as free individuals, this right is even denied in political elections, where they have to vote for corporate lists of 'parties', the only profession officially registered for elections - also, in the second chamber, if the report has its way.
In other words, the parties have a uniquely privileged legal status as a professional organisation, in elections, which the Lords reform would carry over, even into a broadly professional second chamber.
Really, the report is a register of all the conflicting pressures. It is a battlefield, yet it is also an important record of the public state of the argument. The press themselves put forward no new treaty for lasting agreement. They only amplify the different sides of the dispute within the commission, which their frustration blames for a failure that is just as much their own.
Deep causes for another disappointment with Britain's rulers are sought in the historical mind-set of the English. And you could say the Wakeham report is a case of British empiricism at its best and at its worst. At its best: the respect for expertise and experience in the second chamber was recognised by the commission and most submissions of evidence. ( The answers to the questionnaire should have been in a separate category to the letters. )
At its worst, there was the empiricist's slipperiness of principle. This perhaps owes, some, to the English distrust for rationalist dogma. The latter had a minority voice on the commission, in the politicians' fallacy that proportional representation means proportional partisanship, at the expense of human unity in individual diversity.
The press showed the same uneasy co-habitation of rationalism with empiricism, usually referred to as radicalism and conservatism, respectively. It can be a mistake to assume, in this context, that radical means progressive and conservative means obsolete.
The success of science owes to the modifying of rational theory by empirical method. The two chambers of government could represent a similar relation of rational political theory checked by experience in economic method ( as discussed in my web pages on A second chamber of science; An economic parliament. ).