Getting our House in order?


I first wrote most of this post in 2007 - yes, 2007! Little did I suspect that nothing substantial would have been achieved nearly nine years later. I am disappointed that none of the Parties have made any substantial moves on this, despite the widespread agreement and the manifesto commitments.

Constitutional reform was a central plank of the Labour Party’s policy platform since coming to power in 1997. Yet, despite many advances in this agenda – successful devolution achieved for Scotland and Wales, burgeoning regional government for London, removal of the majority of hereditary peers from the House of Lords – there is a feeling that the programme ran into the buffers. Devolution for the English Regions stalled and further reform of the Lords failed to achieve sufficient majorities when considered in 2003. Many commentators fail to see the relevance or importance of these reforms, arguing that fiddling with constitutional arrangements does nothing to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. It seems, however, that the Tories are now grasping the nettle mainly, it would seem, for cynical reasons (shifting debt and tax burden away from Whitehall) but perhaps also because it is an idea whose time has come. Here are some of the prinicples I outlined all those years ago.

Principles for reform

For me, democracy is as much a theological concept and process as a political one. For the idea of each citizen exercising an equal power at the ballot box underlines the theological idea of an inclusive society, where all members are treated equally as children of God. Furthermore, as citizens are allowed to participate more fully in the process of government, so our society’s democratic institutions are strengthened and the foundations of a genuinely good society are laid.

In the light of this theological insight, the House of Lords seems anachronistic, unrepresentative and aristocratic. It is predicated on a division in society (between peers and commoners) which is hard to justify from Christian, let alone, socialist principles. Its rules and procedures remain couched in largely sexist language despite huge changes in society at large. And, most damning of all, it allows a group of unaccountable people the chance to influence, change or even block legislation which effects us all.