It’s democracy your Lordships, but not as we know it

In a way only he can, Mat Mathias says it’s time to reform the House of Lords

We are at peak Whataboutery:  we are only allowed to debate issues that other people think are important in those seconds it takes to tap out a tweet.


They don’t want to talk about their thing really, they want to shut down yours. Call me Brainy McBrainyson PHD but I can think about issues such as the NHS, education, the price of jaffa cakes and how the Battle of the Bastards was so much better than the Battle of Winterfell in Game of Thrones and I can prioritise them and care about them all. I don’t have to concentrate on one forever because that is stupid. Politics is life.


It’s usually democracy that takes the hit when it comes to shithousery…sorry whataboutery. Why are we talking about the way we vote and who does what, when we are in the middle of Brexit or the sixth great extinction brought about by manmade climate change? Do we have to wait until they’re happily sorted before we do anything else? I reckon the latter would come first anyway but that argument is ridiculous. It’s directly because everything is massively shit at the moment that there is no better time to look at the way we do democracy.


Take the House of Lords. Please.


I don’t know about you but the things that pop into my mind when I think about what I wouldn’t want from a bicameral parliament with a robust revising second chamber in the fifth…sorry just checked sixth…..sorry it’s changed…seventh richest country* in the world in the 21st century is the following (* slippage point correct at time of writing):


  • most of them being unelected,
  • most of them being so old that they used to bully Lord Salisbury in dorms because he was in the year below them,
  • they could be paid for just turning up,
  • they could be there forever even if they are shit at their job. Even Trump will be gone by 2025,
  • they could be there if they are, like, really really high up in a religion.


Let’s pick up on my ‘most’ of them being unelected.


Last month a momentous event happened in the House of Peers. It received not only its newest member but also its youngest. Hooray for youth, hooray for diversity. Welcome young Daniel Nicholas Mosley, 4th Baron Ravensdale.


Yeah, well actually he’s bloody 37 and while I yearn for my late 30s, a time before my hair was relocating from my head to my nostrils and ears, he is hardly generation rent.


‘Hey.’ I hear the shout ‘Shut your gob. You say you love democracy (I bloody do) and this young thruster on the threshold of adulthood won this election with well over 50% of the vote’. That imaginary person is correct, he did win an actual election and amongst a crowded field of 13 other candidates too. However, when you dig down into it, it’s a sham. He won his seat in a so-called by-election following the death of another hereditary Lord and won a total of 18 votes in an electorate of twenty-eight. To picture that figure in real life, think about how many times the PM will try to get her deal through the Commons.


So, he’ll take his place amongst the other 800 plus members of the House of Lords. Yep that’s over 800 members in an unelected second chamber which is the second biggest in the world. For info, that’s 800+ for 66 million of us while India with over a billion people has just 245.


It’s hardly a melting pot of diversity either and while it isn’t as bad as, say a UKIP branch meeting in an English seaside town or Mark Francois’ circle of friend, it isn’t great. Only about a quarter are women and 6% are from an ethnic minority background (their figures).


Good democracy shouldn’t come cheap but come on! All of these members are able to claim £305 a day tax-free for every day they attend, that’s almost the cost of a gallon of unleaded at Pont Abraham services at the end of the M4. The figures I have managed to steal from cleverer people than myself who have bothered to work this out state that in the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by peers in years they failed to vote once. 109 peers failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session and sixty-three of those claimed expenses – claiming a total of £1,095,701.


They are also unrepresentative with regards to geography, with over half of them from London and the posh areas that surround it. That’s a place chock full of people who think that we in Wales don’t have things like electricity, the wheel or law and order. All of which will probably be true in three years time after a No Deal Brexit. By then Ken Skates and Dafydd El will be promoting ‘The year of survival’, with actor Luke Evans reciting a RS Thomas poem while rifling through the bins for food at the back of Tescos in Spytty Park, Newport.


Oh yeah, in a 21st century Britain we also have 26 Bishops in the House of Lords who are able to vote on legislation that affects our lives. That puts us in a small group of other countries alongside the Vatican City and Iran who allow clerics to have a say on their state’s laws. Those are 26 Anglican Bishops mind- there are other religions in the UK, what about them? Even I put myself down as a Jedi in the 2001 census before I grew up (Unfortunately I couldn’t use the force and my robes chafed and made me look fat).


Not for one moment should you think that I am lumping all the members together and declaring them all rubbish. There are dedicated people in the Lords, working hard to keep the Commons honest and I would add, especially from Wales. There are passionate advocates and experts in their field, but couldn’t we have that in a smaller, fully elected second chamber? Our democracy is creaking and we have to start looking at different ways of doing things like the way we elect all of our politicians, how we reach a consensus in decision making and how we get more representatives that look more like us…except for me because I am over-represented as a dumpy, white middle aged man, albeit way above average looking for my lifestyle and a great dancer.


I wish young Daniel well; a life of service awaits which means no more playing with his skateboard and on Fortnite with his mates or necking a bottle of Cinzano stolen from Nanny’s drinks cabinet in the park. He is not the problem though; our outdated democracy is. The Mother of Parliaments has been on the gin, something needs to happen to help sober her up and give her a new lease of life.


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Mat Mathias writes in a personal capacity, and tries his best ...

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