danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)
Some chat over at the Andrew Ducker coffee house on Lords’ Reform prompted by a suggestion from the ERS that the number of Peers in the House of Lords could reach 2,000 after the next election if Peers are appointed to make the House of Lords proportionate to the 2015 election result.

Personally I quite like the proposed reforms that were parked earlier this Parliament for a 300 seat revising chamber elected using STV for 15 year terms.  They are not the worst proposals I’ve seen and they are certainly better, in my view, than the current arrangements.

We’re certainly very unlikely to get either of my alternatives. But for the record, here they are.
For more musings on constutional matters, read on... )
danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I don’t know what to make of the decision of the Church of England not to allow women to become bishops.  Technically, but importantly, actually a decision not to change their current policy.

On the one hand it makes heehaw difference to me.  I’m not a member of the Church of England. To be blunt, and wearing my militant atheisticalism a little more on my sleeve than I like to think I usually do, the Church of England is wrong about several bigger things than women bishops.

Except, that as an atheist, actually that’s not true.  I don’t think there is a god and I think the process most people use to arrive at the conclusion gods exist is flawed.  I do think women are equal to men, that humans are equal to other humans, and I think the process I’ve used to arrive at that position is sound.  So, being mistaken about something I think doesn’t exist seems to me to be less important than being wrong about something as important and obvious as equal rights.

But then it’s not my church.

Except it is. Sort of. Being the Established Church. Well it’s the Established Church of England but not of Scotland where I live.

But Church of England Bishops get to sit in the House of Lords and make laws that affect me. Well, they do when the policy area isn’t a devolved matter.

Anyhow, electoral reform. I blame First Past the Post. Except it’s not really relevant here. Well, it kind of is.

The constitution of the Church of England seems to have what I would call a Constitutional Conservative Anchor. The constitution is explicitly rigged in favour of the status quo. This appears to be a feature of constitutions and operates to prevent a temporary majority changing the constitution to their long term advantage.  A notable exception is our constitution. In order to change the rules on eligibility for bishophood the General Synod requires a two third majority in each of its three houses. On the plus side, this does prevent rules being passed for which there is not  persistent and widespread support. On the other it does allow a relatively small number of people to block any reform. It places the right of a minority for things not to change over the right of a majority  who want change. Everyone moves or no one does.

This is in marked contrast to the way things would work at the Westminster Parliament. There, using First Past the Post sufficiently motivated and well organised minorities can gain control of the legislative process for a time.  If you actually have a popular majority (rather than a popular plurality) then you are pretty much unstoppable. 

Were the general Synod operating more like the Westminster Parliament the pro-equality side would have won the vote. But they clearly wouldn’t have won the argument.  Those against women bishops clearly feel very strongly about it.  No matter the literally open mouthed surprise from My Lovely Wife at their views those who hold them appear to hold them very dearly.  So what would their choices have been had the decision been taken by a simple majority?  They could leave the Church.  But it is their Church.  They could meekly accept the will of others. But they think those others are not only wrong but gravely mistaken about the nature of what it means to be part of the Church. They could not so meekly accept the new rules. Accept that they are the rules but complain about them all the time, protest them, not co-operate with newly ordained women bishops.  They could seek to reverse the decision.

I imagine all of those would happen to some degree.

To restore the status quo anti the traditionalists would need to gain temporary control of the General Synod and reverse the decision and make things right again. Dealing in some way with those actual women who had actually been made bishops in the meantime.  And if they succeeded their now enemies would try to re-gain control of the Synod and reverse the reversal and deal in some way with those men who have been appointed bishops who would not have been had women been eligible at the time. Whomever is left standing at the end of the process may well have won the war but have already lost the peace.

This does not sound like a consensus to me. This sounds like an open sucking wound in the soul of the institution.

What I imagine will happen now is that the Church of England will continue to discuss the issue of the appointment of women bishops during the period when the matter is barred from a vote in Synod. They will try to reach consensus because that is the practical effect of the constitutional rules they have.  In a few years  they will vote again.  If they vote in favour of appointing women bishops then I would have confidence that this decision will be stuck with and that most people in the Church of England will accept it as legitimate. When the change comes I think it will be persistent and enjoy widespread support.

Whilst I think the current decision is wrong I think the eventual final decision will have been made in a better way and enjoy more support and more legitimacy.

So for me it’s an interesting example of how electoral systems affect both the practise and the practical outcome of politics.

I don’t imagine this is much comfort to the many women priests who continue to be barred  from practising their ministry or leading their church.

This would all be by-the-by for me. An interesting example of electoral processes in a body which means nothing to me and where I am actively against the founding tenants.  A bit like watching the internal appointment process for the manager of Rangers Football Club.

Except that some bishops of the Church of England get to sit in the legislature of my country as of right.  No leaders from other religious or philosophical groupings get a bye into the House of Lords. Richard Dawkins has to apply the same way as everyone else. Which is by sucking up to the Prime Minister.

The reform I want for the House of Lords is not for other religions to be able to appoint their leaders into my legislature.  I want the whole thing done away with and replaced by an elected body. If you want the Archbishop of  Canterbury to sit in the Upper House you get him (or her) elected.  But the Constitutional Conservative Anchor that is the House of Lords seems to be reluctant to abolish itself. So I guess I’ll just have to go about building some consensus about Lords Reform.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

There were two photographs of male genitalia circulating on Twitter last night. One purported to be, but wasn’t Richard Madeley’s cock. The other is Harry Windsor’s Happy Sack. Richard Madeley’s meat and two veg, lovingly carressed by his long suffering wife, Judy don’t appear to be the subject of a prohibition on publishing. Pictures of a potential Head of State’s cockhead are restricted. And rightly so in my opinion.

Prince Harry is a Special Man. His Manhood is therefore Special. Prince Harry could be King one day. His son could one day be King. He could one day hold a small but very important role in our constitution.  My son, on the other hand, despite being the Captain, will never be King, or President. The reason that the son of Prince Harry has an outside chance of being Head of State and mine doesn’t is that Prince Harry has Magic Balls.  His testicles have the potent, near Godly, power of being able to turn an ordinary uterus into the Bearer of Kings. Kings anointed by God and specially and specifically placed over us to be our King. Mine in comparison, are lacking. By definition I am the lesser man, the subject individual, because my balls, although demonstrably full of some of the stuff of life do not have that sacred quality that transforms my son from being a person into a Person chosen by God to be our King.

For this reason it is right and proper that his testicles, but not mine, nor Richard Madeley’s, be protected from the public gaze. They are the Holy of Holies. The Mystical and Majestic Twig and Berries of a King. More properly it is right and proper that we subjects be protected from the Awesome Might and Potency of the Princely Prick lest we be overcome, and despairing of our manhood fail to take our rightful place in society. For it seems that the closeness of a man’s balls to God is an important part of determining our place in our nation. Some have balls that God has anointed, they are Kings and Princes. Some have balls that are anointed by Kings, they are Lords and some of their sons are Lords; because their fathers too had Magic Balls. Balls so Magic that they conferred on their sons and the sons of their sons Wisdom and the Knowledge to Pass Laws. Such Wisdom and Knowledge is not given to lesser men, nor to women, who not having Magic Balls are necessarily somewhat left out of things.

At some point, some honoured virgin will be found, a patriot, who will willing sacrifice herself on the Altar of His Divine Tadger. Her womb will be transformed from humble flesh and blood into the First Throne of our Potential Future King. She will bear us a new Nearly King lest we be unsettled and confused by having to the go to the trouble of selecting our own Head of State, by election, from amongst those of our number honest enough not to be criminals or clever enough not to have been caught yet. For her sacrifice we will give thanks, and allow her a modest stipend for some light public duties. In exchange for opening her legs to Harry’s Holy Helmet we will open our hearts to her and she will open some civic buildings. Some photography, suitably reverent, will be allowed.

For a 21st century democracy to ban pictures of a particular individual’s testicles from being publish because those testicles are somehow more special than others strikes me as strange. For the owners of those special testicles to be deemed special and  suitable individual to be Head of State, because his father has Magic Balls strikes me as ludicrous. Yet, those are the rules and if you try and change them you might as well admit to treason now and save everyone the bother of a long trial and referendum.

When people tell you that Constitutional Reform is a load of balls, they’re right. Our Constitution is made of and for Magic Balls and the men who worship them.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

This is a bit of thinking out loud and I might change my mind entirely on this.

I think I can see a role for an elected House of Lords that is similar to the role of the US and Australian Senate. Their role, in part, is to represent the whole of a geographic (and Federal political) area.

One could argue that MP’s in the Commons already represent a geographical area.  I’m not so sure they do.  Whilst my local MP in theory represents the electors of Edinburgh South I think it could be argued that he actually represents the liberal, urban middle classes who happen to live in Edinburgh.  To some extent people physically segregate themselves according to income and social attitudes. This in effect groups them into voting groups that are class based rather than geographic. Edinburgh South has as much or more in common with Bristol West,( which includes Clifton) as it does with Edinburgh East.

Spin this another way, who represents working-class Tories in Edinburgh? Middle-class Tories might just get a representative in Edinburgh South on a good day, with a following wind and a great candidate.  Agricultural socialists in the Cotswolds are similarly out of luck and have to borrow the influence of urban socialists.

In this, ostensibly geographic constituencies are more like the Romans voting by Centuries than the Romans voting by Tribes. It’s class rather than anything else that determines which constituency you live in.

Even taking Commons constituencies on face value as geographic entities, Edinburgh South isn’t a meaningful area. It is socially and economically embedded in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Scotland. I think most issues that affect Edinburgh South affect the whole of Edinburgh. I rarely talk about living in South Edinburgh except when talking about politics or giving directions. How many people live in one constituency but work in another? How many organisations are in one constituency but depend on an organisation in another?  If you are ill in Edinburgh you travel to Edinburgh East, unless you are child, in which case you go to Edinburgh South.

This de facto class-based constituency is re-enforced by an electoral system that has the effect of polarising rather harmonising political debate. Politics in the UK is orientated around class division rather than geographical co-operation.

Who is looking out for Edinburgh as a whole. Who, other than Alex Salmond and the pandas, is looking out for Scotland as a whole?  This is a serious question.  Between them are Michael Moore and Margaret Curran really representing the whole of Scotland?

So what role for an elected Lords?  Under the current proposals Peers will be elected using STV based on large “Electoral Districts” roughly equivalent to an European Parliament constituency. So there will be Peers from Scotland, Peers from the South West, Peers from London.

Some of these areas have some form of devolved or regional assembly. Others do not.

It may be that a Peer elected from a large district that functions as social and economic community is able to (or required to) pull off representing both a meaningful geographic community and an ideology. There is a bit on One Nationism here. The idea that regardless of class the citizens of various parts of the UK have common interests that they don’t share with citizens from other parts of the UK.  Tin mining is an issue in Cornwall. Oil is an issue in Scotland.  The role of elected Peers is to advocate things that are in the regional interest rather than just a class interest.  This wider geographic role operates both within and without parties. Scottish elected Peers would have a role engaging at a national level with, for example, whomever is off to talk fisheries policies at the EU in order to support the whole of Scotland’s fishing industry. But they also have a role in making each party less focused on its core, geographically concentrated support. Again, what effective voice do left-wing agricultural workers have in the Labour Party? Or Tories in Scotland?

So, despite the fact that the UK doesn’t have a Federal structure I think there is a case to be made for elected representatives who serve a wider geographical community rather than MP’s who serve the interests of a particular class gathered together in the part of a city or county where people of that sort live.

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