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'

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test