Peers to become “more accountable to the people”?
Banning an extension to Brexit by law, potentially scrapping the foreign aid department, and promising to introduce an Australian-style immigration system are just some of the treats being gifted to millions of voters to ice the victory cake of an overwhelming Conservative landslide win last week, but is the PM about to add the cherry on top?
As reported in the Financial Times, Johnson’s government is now contemplating plans to reform the House of Lords [establishment doss house, reward for past indiscretions!] as part of a ‘constitutional overhaul aimed at strengthening the UK and countering the rise of Scottish nationalism’.
The House of Lords has long been a contentious issue, with a growing number of British citizens calling for the second chamber to be scrapped altogether.
Membership and the very role of the upper chamber, home to almost 800 generously-paid unelected peers, is now being scrutinised by aides close to the Prime Minister, including questions being asked including whether or not Lords should have to be directly elected by the general public.
Following the anti-Brexit SNP winning a whopping 48 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats, the possibility of a Sturgeon-led break-up of the UK is very real and will inevitably become a major issue for Johnson. Reforming the House of Lords may be one way of preventing a second referendum on Scotland’s independence, although, as the SNP leader has said ‘This should be up to the people of Scotland to decide’.
Another issue rumoured to be under discussion is the introduction of a written constitution to prevent future antidemocratic Gina Miller-style High Court challenges and to lay down a clear set of laws and rules to protect British sovereignty, identity, culture, and the British public.
Speaking of the developments, former Conservative leader in the HOL, Lord Strathclyde, said “We need a stronger, more responsible second chamber, more directly accountable to people. There are many ideas as to how that could happen.”
Mr Johnson is due to set up a “commission on the constitution” to consider issues including the role of the upper house. The commission is expected to report back within a year. English voters have led, some would say forced, the United Kingdom towards exit from the European Union. Was this an English revolt, the result of an -upsurge over decades of a more assertive, perhaps resentful, sense of English identity?
At one level, clearly so. Surveys indicate that individuals who most often describe themselves as “English”, and regions where this is common, were more inclined to vote Leave on 23 June. Some of these are poorer regions where marginalised people think that their voices are more likely to be heard in a national democracy than in an international trading bloc, and for whom patriotism is a source of self-respect. But it would only make sense to regard Leave as essentially an English reaction if discontent with the EU were confined to England, or specifically linked with feelings of Englishness.
In fact, negative opinions about the EU, and especially about its economic policy, are now more widespread in other countries than they are in England. Polls by the Pew Research Centre last month showed that disapproval of the EU was as high in Germany and the Netherlands as in Britain, and higher in France, Greece and Spain. Though aggravated by the 2007-2008 crash and enforced policies of austerity, a decline in support was clear earlier. France’s referendum of May 2005 gave a 55 per cent No to the proposed EU constitution after thorough debate, and a now familiar pattern emerged. Enthusiastic Europeanism was confined to the wealthiest suburbs and quarters of Paris, and the only professional groups that strongly voted Yes were big business, the liberal professions and academics. Sounds familiar?