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Andrew Lilico

Andrew Lilico: A thought experiment regarding electing the Lords

Here's a little thought experiment for consideration by those tempted by the notion that the Upper Chamber should be elected.  At the moment, a bill gets through the Commons if there is a majority in favour.  But that's not the only way to do things.  We could for example spilt the Commons into two halves.  We could say that a bill only gets through the Commons if it secures a majority in each half of the Commons.  There are various ways that could be done.  There could be just one debate and one overall vote and we could then check how the two halves voted, declaring the measure rejected if it didn't secure both half-majorities.  Or we could have one debate and then two votes in random order, with the second vote only taking place if a majority were secured in the first vote.  Or we could have that one half always voted first, followed by the other.  Lots of options.

Do any of these options sound attractive to you, Dear Reader?  If so, I suggest that is because you feel that simply having a majority should not be enough for a measure to pass.  You reject the majoritarian democratic principle.  Good on you - you are right to do so.  But the mechanisms above simply replace majoritarianism with some form of supermajoritarianism.  Most readers, I suspect, (even if they likewise reject majoritarianism) will feel that such an arrangement would be pointless, because having two votes would not really add anything.  Why not?  Because it would be essentially the same set of people voting twice.  They may not be precisely the same individuals, of course.  But they would have been elected in the same way, drawn from the same political traditions, share much the same education and prejudices and limitations on their knowledge and understanding.  Having two votes rather than one would be little more than a game.  It would simply add bureaucracy without adding skill or comprehension or a new angle on the matter.

If that is how you feel about this idea - especially if you feel it is just a silly, nay absurd, notion - then you are beginning to comprehend how opponents of electing the Upper Chamber feel about that idea.  To me and those that think like me, electing the Upper Chamber would, in principle, be exactly the same kind of arrangement as the two-Commons-vote thought experiment above.  It would add nothing fundamental to the legislative process that was not already there in the Commons.  It would be precisely as absurd as having two votes every time in the Commons.

Indeed, even for advocates of the measure there is no intention to add anything by electing the Upper Chamber.  Their goal is to take something away - namely the influence of the unelected.  But if that is really your goal, then why the expensive charade of the elected Upper Chamber?  Why not simply dispense with having an Upper Chamber at all?  There's nothing so terrible about unicameral systems except for their lack of the additional perspective provided by either having an Upper Chamber drawn from some different source of authority and expertise (e.g. the educated, the elderly, the worthy, the devout, the technically expert, the wealthy, as opposed to the Folk; or representing the Folk in some different way, e.g. by state rather than constituency, or randomly a la juries rather than be election).

Alternatively, if you really think having two votes rather than one on each measure adds something worthwhile, for some sort of supermajoritarian reason, just dispense with the Upper Chamber and have two votes in the Commons?


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