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A triumph of democracy?


So it's my turn to have a go at making sense of what has happened in the UK over the last few days. It was quite something to return from holiday to, arriving on Thursday morning and heading to the polling station optimistic of a closer result than predicted, but stilling remembering the disappointments of 1992 and 2015. A combination of jetlag and bewilderment kept me awake throughout the early hours of Friday morning and I went to bed in a state of pleasant confusion.

Firstly, I think the fact that the two main parties each got over 40% of vote is now an anomaly and does not signify the return of two-party politics. The result does show up the FPTP system we current have as only 'fair' when there are two parties, but also indicates that change is long overdue. Scotland has shown that stable government is possible under a proportional system and Westminister is looking ridiculous in comparison. I wonder whether Labour diehards can now see the need for change and support an opposition Bill in this Parliament or the next which sees the introduction of fair votes for the 'mother of parliaments'?

Secondly, Parliament has been given a huge democratic boost and will be truly sovereign in the coming weeks, able to hold the government to account for its actions. No longer will the Executive be able to steamroller decisions through or talk out decent opposition amendments. The public will see decisions actually being debated and MPs will be forced to attend and vote on a regular basis. It will mean that constituents will have to get used to seeing their MP less and will not be able to use them as an alternaitve priest or social worker. This is a great move and, I hope, will reinvigorate the processes within the House. Perhaps we will see a further strengthening of the Select Committees. I would hope to see new Scrutiny Committees to oversee the various complexities of Brexit and even a new Grand Committee with equal presentation from all regions and nations of the UK.

The House of Lords will also come into its own in terms of scrutiny. To this end, can I suggest an internal reform to their Lordships and Ladyships that would strengthen their democratic hand? We all know that there are too many members of the Upper House and that they are appointed for life. Would it be possible for the Lords to limit its own number of voting members to, say, 300 in the coming Parliament and for other peers to undertake a self-denying ordinance by having voice but not vote in the chamber? The groupings - political and crossbench - could decide among themselves who should have votes as well as voice, and the House could be constituted in roughly the same proportions as the rest of the recent general election. It has already been decided by the Commons that 20% of the Lords should be independent, so current cross-benchers could choose up to 60 members to attend and vote in the new Chamber. Of the rest, the Tories would have 102 peers, Labour 96, the Lib Dems 18 and other parties 24. It strikes me that such a scheme brings a certain amount of democracy into the composition of the Lords without the need for new elections, etc. Could it work?

The next Parliament will, obviously, be short-lived. The DUP members will get bored at turning up every day for Parliamentary sittings and the government majority will soon be lost. So the Labour Party and other opposition should go for quick wins before the collapse. An opposition Bill to guarantee the rights of EU Citizens could win through with rebel Tories, as could a strengthening of PMQs and greater attendance of the PM at the Liaison Committee. A commitment in the next Labour Manifesto to electoral reform should be front and centre and, in the meantime, a chance for Parliament to strengthen itself in order to properly scrutinize Brexit when it comes it a chance that shouldn't be missed.

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