Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No constitution, no problem. No elections, problem?

An appointed upper house in the legislature? At least in Russia, the appointees are expected to represent the interests of a geographic area.

A British House Overflowing With Lords Draws Scorn
Britain’s unelected and overcrowded House of Lords… seems poised to resume the long expansion of its ranks…

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to nominate several dozen new members…

Though adding new peers to the Lords is standard in British politics, there is growing disenchantment with political institutions across Europe…

The House of Lords is an easy target. Swollen numbers mean its ornate, gilded chamber is too small to seat all attendees on busy days, let alone the entire membership, while its age profile can make it look like a retirement home…

More than half of its members are 70 or older, and just two are younger than 39, according to the society. Of the 781 peers, 589 are men…

These days, members are less likely to be scions of the landed aristocracy than politicians, advisers or party supporters, ennobled as a reward for loyal service or other (sometimes financial) contributions…

Last year, they resisted a cost-cutting measure to share catering services with the House of Commons, because the quality of their champagne might suffer.

More recently, The Daily Mail highlighted written complaints by unnamed lords and ladies about the food they were served, including one peer who moaned that a cheese crème brûlée consumed in February “wasn’t very cheesy,” and that a supreme of hake was “completely unadorned, with a hard crust on top.” Another member fumed that “cabbage, broccoli, sprouts and spinach have almost vanished completely in favor of root vegetables!”

Despite such privations, a seat in the Lords remains prized. With it comes a title and the right to claim up to 300 pounds, or about $470, as a daily allowance for attending sessions (without having to give up any other job). Benefits include a desk in the historic Parliament buildings and access to facilities like a parking lot, restaurants and watering holes, including the wood-paneled Bishops’ Bar.

For those who have spent their lives in politics, the House of Lords is also seductive because it gives them a public platform, and an opportunity to shape laws, without the inconvenience of standing for election.

Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party has the most members, 226, or 14 more than the opposition Labour Party…

[T]he centrist Liberal Democrats, who won just eight seats in the House of Commons and 7.9 percent of the vote in May, have 101 seats in the upper chamber.

Despite such anomalies, the assembly survives partly because it knows its place. As an unelected body, the Lords will ultimately yield on legislation if the elected House of Commons so demands…

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