Friday, April 9, 2010

Vote Conservative: Save What’s Left of the British Constitution

On May 6, 2010, voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls to select a new House of Commons, from which the executive branch will be formed. The polls and betting sites (intrade.com) predict a Conservative Party victory, but the Tories (another term for Conservatives) have seen their lead shrink in the past few months. Prime Minister Gordon Brown still believes that Labour can win a fourth term, while Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats hope to make their best showing in decades.

I’ve browsed the web sites of all three, reading their platforms and election manifestos. They are the equivalent of Brahms’ variations on a Theme of Haydn. Each promises to stop climate change, build a sustainable green economy, maintain and improve the National Health Service, reduce crime, cut class sizes, improve public transportation, retain the 50 percent top tax rate, rebuild the military, repair the public finances, and so on. The choices seem to be Labour, Labour-lite (Tories), and Labour-strong (LibDems).

I’m urging U.K. voters to vote Tory to preserve what remains of Britain’s constitution. Labour wants to hold a referendum on political reform that (1) would move to what is called the Alternate Vote system, which would eliminate safe constituencies and produce a more representative House of Commons, and (2) complete reform of the House of Lords, eliminating hereditary and life peerages in favor of elected Lords. The LibDems want the same reforms as Labour, but also the right of a certain number of constituents to recall (“sack”) members who have misbehaved by being able to force a by-election. David Cameron’s Tories state that they will “work to build a consensus for a mainly elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords.”

England is the birthplace of modern parliamentary democracy. During the centuries a series of political reforms have removed from the Crown virtually all its political powers, replaced most hereditary Lords with life peerages, and expanded the franchise for MPs from one in twelve adults in 1832 to universal suffrage. Creating a fully-elected Lords would transform Parliament into an American-style, two-body Congress, with the difference that the prime minister would still be chosen from the Commons, not by a separate vote.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Unelected Lords often do a better job reviewing legislation than MPs, who must pander to the voters to win reelection. Cameron has not specified the definition of “mainly elected,” except that it must mean some non-elected feature. Some tradition is better, although not by much, than no tradition.

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