Sunday, 20 May 2007

House of Lords reform

After a lifetime of opposing the existence of an undemocratic House of Lords, I now find myself relying on their Lordships to protect my rights under the Freedom of Information Act to enquire into MPs' activities.

Make no mistake. A second, elected chamber, dominated by the parties that dominate the Commons, would be most unlikely to protect us from the elected dictatorship of the Commons. My solution would be a House of randomly selected citizens with a fixed term of office - a sort of national jury similar to the Citizens' Assembly that reviewed the voting system in British Columbia. Although such a house would be broadly politically representative, none of its members would owe his or her position to a political party, so it would be very difficult to operate a whip system. The house would also be broadly representative by other factors, such as age, sex, ethnicity and religion.


Sunday, 13 May 2007

Another goodbye

When I came downstairs this morning, I found my dog, Scamp, dead at the foot of the stairs as though she had been trying to come to me for help. Although she was 13, which is quite a good age for a dog, she had also been part of my life for 13 years and it was a shock. Pet loving readers, especially those who have experienced pet bereavement, will understand my grief. Other readers may think, "It's only a dog", but she had been my late wife Wendy's dog, Wendy had asked me to look after her and she had been my only companion since Wendy died in January.

Throughout my daughter's childhood when she said, "It's not fair!" as children do, I used to tell her that life itself wasn't fair. I thought that was one of the most useful lessons she could learn for life and yet I have never really accepted the lesson myself. I know only too well that many others have far greater problems than I have and perhaps that will change my perspective over time, but it doesn't help at the moment. It needn't have been quite so soon after Wendy.

Goodbye Scamp. I miss you. You were a little dog with a big character - loyal, plucky and loving and gave much joy to Wendy and me, asking for little in return. You also gave much pleasure and comfort to other patients and visitors in St. Wilfrid's Hospice during Wendy's last few weeks.
3.3.1994 - 13.5.2007


Saturday, 12 May 2007

Right for the country!

Watching Tony Blair's farewell speech made me realise that history has probably been very unkind to King Herod in blaming him for the Slaughter of the Innocents. The King saw the infant Jesus as a threat (the WMD of the time) to his kingdom. Accordingly, he did what he thought was right for the country.


Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Trust the people

Some things are too important to be left to politicians; for example, their own pay and allowances, length of office, whether the Freedom of Information Act should apply to them and, above all, the method by which they are elected. On all these subjects, politicians have a conflict between their personal interests and the public interest.

The New America Foundation asked Californian voters last year whose recommendation on changing the voting system they would prefer. An overwhelming 70 per cent would trust a panel of average citizens more than they would trust politicians and only 10 per cent would prefer politicians' views. When the choice was between independent experts and average citizens, average citizens still won, by 48 to 34 per cent.

British Columbia (Canada) has already tried the process. The Provincial Parliament established a Citizen's Assembly of 161 members to review the voting system. One man and one woman were selected randomly (like a jury) to represent each of the 79 voting districts, two more were selected from the aboriginal community and a Chairman was appointed. They met over most of 2004, took evidence, consulted experts and then decided by 146 - 7 to recommend the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which was later supported by 58 per cent of voters in a referendum. STV offers proportionality both for parties and other groupings; it also gives voters a wide and genuine choice of candidates that avoids split voting.

In the UK, the newly elected Labour Government appointed the Jenkins Commission in 1997 to review the voting system for electing MPs, but ignored its recommendation of 1998. Now the Government is carrying out its own "desk" review, but we can safely assume it will recommend no change although, perhaps, with a vague commitment to review the system again one day. It's time the UK Government trusted the people and appointed a citizen's jury now to review the system.