If only I had been married to Princess Margaret

`This is a bold leap forward from the 17th century to the 18th century'

IN NEW Labour's New Britain we presume that the people who pass and amend the laws by which we live our lives have to meet certain criteria by which they justify their position. And it has to be said that, for most of us, the achievement of having once been married to Princess Margaret is not in itself quite enough. If every ex-spouse of the Royal Family were in the House of Lords, on recent form that wouldn't leave much room for anyone else.

The fact that Lord Snowdon (who failed to turn up to any debates in the last two full sessions of Parliament) will be part of the modernised House of Lords is symbolic. It is, of course, a great step forward that Labour is abolishing the hereditary principle. Lord Callaghan thinks this is a good idea, and so does the leader of the House of Lords, his daughter Baroness Jay. But of the 92 hereditary peers remaining in the Upper House, a majority are Tories. This has been seen as a price worth paying to get stage one of the legislation through Parliament. But leaks from Lord Wakeham's proposals for the future of the Lords suggest that only one-fifth of the new House of Lords will be directly elected, the rest being appointed by an "independent" commission. This is a bold leap forward, from the 17th century to the 18th century.

The House of Lords needs to be made more relevant. It has been suggested that one way to do this might be fill it with people with whom the British people feel some affinity. But somehow I can't quite picture the idea of Lord (Chris) Tarrant sitting in the Speaker's chair, asking frontbenchers who face a tricky question whether they'd like to phone a friend. Another suggestion has been that the chamber should be wholly elected.

This sounds fine in theory, but given the recent turnout in the European elections I can't imagine people on Britain's council estates being enthused as they listen to the distorted voice of the canvasser on their entry- phone urging them to go out and vote for Viscount Sir Rupert de Billiers Farquarson-Twistleton-Stewart of Roxborough and the Glen. Anyway, by the time the returning officer had read out all the names of the lords who were standing for election it would be time for the next general election.

We need a second chamber that does what it does now, namely revise and delay, and act as a check and balance against the increasingly docile and compliant House of Commons. But it cannot do that effectively if it is packed with appointees of the prime minister of the day, or with the descendants of the bastard offspring of the king of 400 years ago. The House of Lords must be democratic. Indeed, the fact that part of our legislature is not elected means that we are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, but for some reason there has been less outcry about this than about the loss of One Man and His Dog to satellite television.

At the last general election Labour got 43 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives got 30 per cent and the Liberals 17 per cent. This should be how the political composition of the House of Lords is made up. Each party should have an allocation to fill according to the size of its popular vote at the general election, with cross-benchers making up the arithmetic. How those parties chose to fill their red benches would be up to them. They could be elected by party members, or they could be appointed by the party leader. Yes, there would be patronage and favours, but not all from the one person or committee. Instead of the Lords having a permanent Tory majority, they would have a permanent anti-government majority, but one that would reflect the way that the British people voted as a whole.

There would still be a place for former MPs. Because, whisper it not, parliamentary experience is in fact quite useful for a house whose primary function is to amend and oversee the legislation coming through from the Commons. And, if they wanted, the Tories could still have the appropriately named Baroness Strange, who does such a marvellous job with the flowers. Say what you like about the democratically elected second chambers of other Western democracies, but none of them has a member who can arrange flowers like Baroness Strange. The scheme would make the house democratic without losing its most effective members.

I told this plan to a friend, who said he had read that Billy Bragg had been proposing the same idea. So the proportionally allocated second chamber now has the backing of a singer-songwriter from Essex and an occasional TV gag-writer. Sadly, that's not enough to get it talked about in the places that count. If only one of us had once been married to Princess Margaret. Then we'd have the right to propose it in Parliament.

The writer is the author of `Things Can Only Get Better'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album