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Political office and duty

Verity made one of her frequent telling interventions in the Rooker thread (qv):

"The hereditaries were/are the best solution to our second chamber. Unelected, thus never driven to seek political power and political masters, because they already had it. Not really wanting to go in, but going in out of duty and history in the event of specifically important votes. A true breaker on the power of an over-mighty executive".

I'd like to consider this in a broader frame - that of men and women in legislatures who are there primarily out of duty, rather than because of ferocious ambition or a deep and abiding love of the perks.

At council level, I am certain that are battalions of folk who are in mainly because of duty. My father, god rest his soul, was a parish councillor for years. This entailed interminable meetings, mainly about planning permissions. As a child, if I thought about it all, I thought he was in it out of ambition, so when the long serving district councillor for the parish stood down I thought my father would have a tilt at it. He did not, and explained that he had been toiling away in the foothills because it was something that had to be done and he had the duty to serve his community. And did he serve - council, the Tories, village hall etc committees, doing the books for countless organisations. My mother is clearly cut from the same cloth in that she has been persuaded to serve as a councillor in the village in France where she now lives, and I just know that this is far from her idea of fun.

Anyway, enough of my family. I don't doubt that any number of people could tell similar tales of local government, but where I think it gets rather more interesting is with MPs. I cannot imagine that a would be candidate would get very far were he or she to say to a selection panel that they wish to serve out of a sense of duty, rather than because they fancy their chances of getting into the cabinet or right to the top of the greasy pole itself. I am sure plenty of MPs discover all too soon that they are not going to progress very far, and some will stand down, some will think of it as a sinecure and some will beaver away in committees etc because it is their duty to do so. I'm thinking of some of the old campaigners like Gwyneth Dunwoody as exemplifying the latter.

So, is the general population far too cynical about the elected? Is it a good idea to have MPs in the house out of duty rather than ambition, or should they make way for the leaner and hungrier? And which prime minister best exemplify duty rather than ambition or an ideological drive to make a difference?
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Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 9:27 am

'Once upon a time political leaders of the left and right believed that the middle-of-the-road was where you got run over...'

great quote from Guido yesterday as it refers to the days-not so long ago-when policy not presentation was everythign.

when I was a kid,I was a republican and I viewed thye Hof L as an anachronism.then I lived ,worked paid taxes etc and I became a monarchist and pro Hof l.why?for the very reasons verity cited.The house of commons is full of tossers.The a-list is perpetuating the problem not solving it.

And when i look at how our party has sidelined those who worked out of duty,I am saddened that they have been replaced by the likes of rehman chisti.  

Blogger Peter Hitchens said... 11:08 am

Some simple solutions
1, Nobody allowed to stand for parliament until at least 55 years of age.
2,Nobody allowed to stand for parlaiiment full stop.
3, Mps chosen by lottery from all taxpayers , nobody on benefits or wogs.  

Blogger Peter Hitchens said... 11:09 am

Oh and only compelled to serve one term  

Blogger Croydonian said... 11:41 am

The middle of the road quip has a half-brother - 'He sat on the fence so long the iron has entered his soul'.

I'm *still* a republican, although I get rather less worked up about it than I used to. Re the Lords, they have flagged just about every stupid / unworkable law sent to them by the Commons.  

Anonymous verity said... 12:49 pm

Croydonian, nice to read about your father. It is people like him who are the backbone of our country, and always have been.

I am pleased that my comments on the hereditaries struck a chord.

I want to see them brought back, and I want to see the lifers booted out of the debate. They're too political and they have no history of service to their nation. Let the current crop keep the trinket of their life titles, but they aren't qualified to be participating in our second chamber.

The hereditaries pose a strength and an advantage to Britain. For one thing, being in the Lords was an accident of birth, not a career. Most of them were/are otherwise engaged out in the real world. In the main, they only ever turned up for debates that really interested them and/or debates on a subject of which they had special knowledge.

In other words, they were not compulsive legislators. Anything but. Their instinct, as with their estates, was to conserve. Most of their families had a long tradition of service to the Crown and they regarded their duty to the Lords in the same light.

Bringing back the hereditaries has every advantage and no downside that I can see.

The dishing out of these ridiculous life peerages should be ended, too. Giving someone a knighthood is plenty. They don't need to be jacked up to be a pretend lord.

Sadly, if Cameron got in, he wouldn't even consider it - for two reasons. First, he's stupid. His IQ flatlines around where Tony Blair's is. Not adequate for high office. Second, even if he were bright enough to see the tremendous advantage to our country of reverting the H of L to the hereditaries only, he couldn't because of his own station in life. (Another reason to never have another OE as PM.) The Guardian, the Beeb and the usual suspects would say, "He only wants to mix in government with 'people like us' ".

David Davis could do it.  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 12:52 pm

basher couldn't lead the party,he is actually conservative!!!  

Blogger istanbultory said... 3:02 pm

In my youth, I too used to share views similar to those shared by Mr. Rigger Mortice in his youth. I am also a republican. But on the HoL,I have long appreciated the vital work it performs in rigourously scrutinising dodgy legislation and dispensing with or amending it. The greatest number of Lords defeats suffered by any government was 126 inflicted on Labour during the 1975-76 session.In the first year alone of Tony Blair's government there were 38 defeats in the HoL.
Nevertheless, its important to remember that before Emily removed the hereditary peers and replaced them with loyal cannon fodder, the HoL was 84% male and 70% of its members were over 61. Not exactly representative of the nation...  

Anonymous verity said... 3:09 pm

Istanbul Tory - What is this new obsession (via Dave Cameron and his ethnic/female A listers) with being "representative of the nation"?

The Lords represent the thinking of most British - wishing to conserve and not endorsing change for change's sake, fearing an over-mighty executive, concerned with justice for everyone and safety for all. The idea that representing Britain, and the ethos of Britain is something that is only in our hearts and heads, after all, can only be done on a proportional representation basis is lunacy.

The lords did a fine job of protecting Britain. That includes all of us.

Cameron is as dangerously divisive, albeit in a different way, as Emily.  

Blogger istanbultory said... 5:02 pm

The HoL is certainly a valuable safety mechanism against the ambitions of authoritarian or megalomaniac PM’s. The Royal Commission on House of Lords reform under the Tory Lord Wakeham, called in 1999 for the election of 100 members out of 500, in a vain attempt to give the Lords some democratic legitimacy. Other members were to be chosen by an independent appointments commission, to ensure that the chamber was "representative of all parts of UK society". That was all about political correctness. Nonsense.

The pragmatic argument, that hereditary peers did a good job, is on the slippery slope to 'say what you like about Mussolini, at least he made the trains run on time'. Equally, I hate the way that Emily has replaced the hereditaries with a huge influx of Labour placemen who will be there literally ‘for life’- another kind of inbuilt majority. Few upper houses in liberal democracies are composed entirely by appointment of the Government.

Solution? The second chamber should be directly elected. But not by FPTP which would produce the same political makeup as the HoC, removing the lords ability (or, indeed, wish) to take a critical look at proposed legislation. A possible solution would be to have staggered elections (all upper house elections would not be conducted on the same day but at intervals as in the US) to a 250 ( I am not sure about how members there should be) member upper House using the Single Transferable vote (as opposed to the PR list system that is used for European Parliamentary elections in Great Britain currently). As for ensuring the supremacy of the Commons - keep the Parliament Act. It means the Upper Chamber can have a powerful scrutiny role, without overthrowing the popularly-elected, first-past-the-post Commons.  

Anonymous verity said... 5:23 pm

Istanbul Tory - I don't like the idea of the second house being elected because that is just one more set of sleazes selling their principles (in the unlikely event of their having any)in exchange for votes.

As I said in my last post, I would let the lifers keep their stupid titles - I mean, who cares? - but I would remove them from the H of L. We cannot have Labour Lifers governing us for the next 20 years.

The hereditaries aren't democratic, but they have an intrinsic value that no other group in any other country has - a sense of duty without benefit to themselves (except for their daily allowance on the days they turn up). They really did put the brakes on an over-ambitous H of C. And they didn't really want to be there most of the time; they had other things they were doing. They just turned up for important votes and debates in which they had a real interest or personal experience. This is something unique that we have, and we should revert to it and treasure it.

It worked. Which is why Emily wanted to get rid of it. It was a brake on his ambitions, and there were too many people who didn't have to be elected and didn't fear speaking out about the real nature of Emily.  

Blogger CityUnslicker said... 9:10 pm

What bet's that this is a higher level of debate than ken Clarke is managing?

To add my two pennies:

I agree with Itanbultory that the old Lords was as unreflective of the views of the country as is the news lords.

The old represented the landed gentry and the new the metrosexual nulab coterie.

However, Verity is also correct to state that voting for the upper house will only leave us with another tier of expensive hot air salespersons.

A better alternative is to increase the role of the professions. There should be 'reps' appointed by the Unions, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Major Faiths, Accountants, etc.

This would bring a valuable level of insight to the house and enable it to review legislation with a rigour that is often missing in parliament.

The prestige of this appointment should ensure the various bodies elect top people to the roles which they could hold until the body wished them replaced.

Finally, I would still allow a portion of ex-minister's and civil servants to be appointed to the Lords; as they would bring ministerial and political experience to the party.


Blogger Croydonian said... 9:28 pm

Many interesting contributions, for which thanks.

The unreformed Lords was an odd thing, and I don't suppose that anyone would creare such a thing from scratch. I very much doubt that it could be surrected.

I think that the first step in any consideration of a constitutional settlement would be to define the role of house with the red benches - should it be able to veto legislation, or just to discuss it.  

Anonymous verity said... 1:29 am

The role of the red benches should be what it always has been - to ensure that no damage is done to our Constitution and our Bill of Rights - if they still exist.

It should be calm. Rational. Debated by people who are interested not in advancement, but in the continuation of our country as a country.

Yes, they should be able to veto legislation they considered dangerous. There should be no "life peers" - what a ridiculous concept! - no investment in the past or the future - just today. How very tony blair!

We are unique in the world in having our peers. blair was obviously doing a little puppy wee to europe when he agreed to get rid of our ancient institution. He's a submissive little entity. Tell him who's boss and he does a little wee on the carpet. For his own advancement.

This disgraceful individual must not be allowed to destroy centuries of rational thought. Centuries. And one empty-headed, failed barrister little bambi in office can erase them?  

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