Should the House of Lords be abolished? Some of the contenders for the Labour leadership have suggested it should be, or at least modified to make it more democratic. The south of Ireland has a similar problem. For a while there was talk of a referendum on the continued existence of the Seanad, but it came to nothing.
The trouble with both House of Lords and the Seanad is similar. Nobody gets to vote someone to the House of Lords – it is effectively a gift bestowed for services rendered. Except, of course, in the case of the many DUP bums decorating the Lords’ benches.
Why do we put up with either body, if we believe in democracy? For the same reason that Americans put up with the electoral college, which can leave a presidential candidate like Hillary Clinton with some two million more votes than Donald Trump, yet loses the election to president. The same reason that no vote is required to become king or queen of England – it’s simply a matter of being born into the right family and then moaning that the media are making your tireless work for good causes difficult. And while the Seanad involves a level of democracy in the appointment of Senators, it’s still deeply undemocratic: I can vote for Seanad candidates because I attended the National University of Ireland but not because I’m an Irish citizen. There are other bodies that contribute to the ‘election’ of Senators, but the one thing it does not allow is a citizens’ vote.
Maybe that’s why the square miles of media that have been devoted to Harry and Meaghan over the past week were devoured by people on both sides of the Irish Sea. Here was this guy who wanted to have the perks of being a royal, and at the same time wanted to go off to work and play in the US. Not the done thing, Harry old chap. And shortly before that, his Uncle Andy was in the news for being really, really friendly with a paedophile.
In Britain, the reason that the House of Lords continues, besides providing a place that unionist politicians can go to at the end of their political lives is that to close it down would automatically raise a related question: if the House of Lords is abolished because it’s undemocratic, what are we doing with appointing the Head of State on the grounds that they popped out of a particular family’s womb at a particular time?
Democracy: we’re a long way from it. An elected upper chamber could do valuable work of all kinds, but its manner of appointment shows how little we really care about democracy.
The Ancient Greeks invented democracy thousands of years ago. Isn’t time we had a go at it too?