If I were Prime Minister: Voters would be randomly selected to serve a term in the House of Lords

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the novelist and historian

Tom Holland
Monday 20 April 2015 17:00

If I were Prime Minister, I would aim to revitalise our democracy by looking back to ancient Greece. As the Athenians well knew, the problem with politics is that it tends to be the well-off and the ambitious who get ahead – which was why, in an effort to dilute the influence of the elite, they instituted a lottery for certain magistracies.

In my braver and better Britain, all those who voted in the General Election would have the option of putting their names into an electronic hat, and the chance, should the luck be with them, to serve a term in the House of Lords. What better way (and I ask this question in all seriousness) of easing the strangle-hold of PPE graduates on Westminster, and ensuring some genuine diversity? We need lorry drivers in Parliament as well as lawyers, cleaners and accountants. Not only that, but a decent lottery would help to spice up election night no end.

I would also legislate to reverse two unfortunate consequences of the Second World War. The first of these is the over-centralisation in Whitehall that remains, seven decades on, a damaging legacy of the war-time administration. I would offer each of the home nations a referendum on whether they wished the United Kingdom to become a federation.

Within England, I would aim to foster a localism that went with, rather than against, the grain of history. A decade ago, John Prescott’s cloth-eared plan to divide the country up into nine separate zones never made it past the first public vote on his proposal. Who could possibly feel any sense of identification with a "North West Regional Assembly"? Such a body would have had no tradition, no poetry, no roots. These, as last year’s Scottish referendum powerfully demonstrated, do still matter; and if the best way to invoke them in the regions of England is to restore a Council of the North to York, or to raise the Golden Dragon of Wessex above a parliament in Winchester, then so be it. "Progressive Heptarchism for the 21st Century" would be the catchy slogan.

The second enduring legacy of the Second World War that I would seek to reverse is the over-industrialised nature of our countryside. We have a due of responsibility not only to the human inhabitants of these islands, but also to their wildlife. It is obscene that animals as iconic as the hedgehog or the water vole are threatened by extinction. I would make it a statutory obligation upon my government to work to restore the numbers of certain bellweather species – and very possibly appoint George Monbiot as my minister for re-wilding. A Britain with established colonies of beavers, wolves and lynx would be, in my opinion, a very much healthier and happier Britain.

Finally, I would ensure that there was always a friendly welcome at Downing Street for the following pressure groups: independent book-shops, campaigners trying to stop a tunnel being driven under Stonehenge, and cricket lovers who want to see Test Matches restored to terrestrial TV.

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