Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 04, 2011

House of Lords election

Not only was there an election for a vacant seat in the House of Lords, it was an election for one of seats held by an hereditary peer. If that's not strange enough, the winner was required to be a Labour peer.

Democracy in action: The House of Lords stages the oddest of elections
BY-ELECTIONS are often dramatic referendums on the government of the day. Yet on March 22nd, a by-election was held to choose a new parliamentarian, and barely a soul noticed. There are two good reasons why. First, the vote was for a new member of the House of Lords rather than the Commons, and by an odd procedure that strains even Britain’s notoriously elastic constitutional arrangements. Second, the result was known in advance…

[The] vote was caused by the demise of Lord Strabolgi, a well-liked figure who sat in the Lords for half a century. He died, aged 96, a couple of days after his last appearance in the Lords. Though pretty posh (his title dates back to 1318), he… was a Labour peer, and via the “usual channels” party bigwigs let it be known that they expected him to be replaced by another Labour peer. In theory, there were 24 candidates… In practice… everyone knew it was a choice between two Labour hereditaries.

Unfortunately for one of them, his résumé includes a short spell in prison for assaulting a psychotherapist with a spanner. This being frowned upon, only the other Labour candidate, Lord Hanworth—known to one sceptical elector only as “some man whose name begins with H”—was left…

It is assumed that these hereditary by-elections will be swept away if the government ever gets round to reforming the Lords. If that happens, Lord Strabolgi may be cheering from another place: in his last parliamentary intervention he called for the House of Lords to be replaced by an elected senate. Being democratic, said that wise old peer, such a body would be a stronger bulwark against an over-mighty executive.

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