Saturday, April 17, 2010

Whither the House of Lords?

Nick Clegg’s performance on behalf of his Liberal Democrats in Britain’s first televised national election debate on April 16, 2010, may have sounded the death knell of the House of Lords. Barring dramatic changes in public opinion before the May 6 election, the new Parliament is likely to be “hung,” with no party having a majority of seats in the Commons.

It’s hard to see common ground for a LibDem-Conservative coalition, especially with the Conservatives pledging only to transform the Lords into a “largely” elected body. Most likely is a LibDem-Labor coalition. In that event, Brown may retain his premiership, but will have accept key LibDem demands. Among them is electoral reform that will require an outright majority of votes cast in each constituency, not just a plurality, to win a seat in the Commons.

The bigger change will replace the House of Lords as a body of hereditary and life peerages with a smaller fully-elected body. Lords might get to retain their titles but will have to win an election to sit in the new chamber. Grants of new lordships by the queen would no longer carry political rights.

What to name the new body? Most likely Senate or Upper House as in former British colonies and current Commonwealth countries with bicameral parliaments.

Some lords may choose to stand for election to the new body. Most will likely fade away into history. The Lords may be on the verge of extinction, a casualty of popular democracy, bringing an old era of British politics to an end.

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