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Democratising the whole of Parliament is needed to restore public trust in politics

(Alamy)

3 min read

Trust in government and political institutions has reached an unprecedented low in the United Kingdom.

According to a 2022 UK Trust in Government Survey, just “35 per cent of the UK population stated that they trusted the national government.” King’s College data reveals that confidence in Parliament has halved since 1990. 

Mishandling of critical issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, has only intensified distrust. This widening gap between the government and the public raises concerns about the overall health of our democracy. 

Alongside democratising the Upper House, we can then also reform the way we as MPs are elected

If we are to begin to restore public trust in our political institutions, reform of the most out-of-touch, out-of-date and anti-democratic body in our political system is the best place to start.
Our democracy is at its strongest when it reflects the values and aspirations of the people it serves. The House of Lords, however, stands as a relic of a bygone era, and its continued existence poses a significant ongoing obstacle to restoring the public’s trust in our political institutions. 

The unelected nature of the House of Lords is a glaring anomaly in our democratic system. In a modern democracy, it should be inconceivable for individuals to hold significant legislative power without the endorsement of the electorate. 

The hereditary peers system has no place in a democracy. In the 21st century, there can be no argument made that individuals should inherit legislative power solely due to their lineage.
If we want a modern democracy that works for people, we must champion radical reform of the House of Lords. The size of the House of Lords is also wildly out of step with democratic countries of a similar population size to the UK. France and Italy have much fewer upper house members compared to the House of Lords. France has 348 senators and Italy has 205 senators compared to 783 members of the House of Lords.

The case for reforming the House of Lords is not merely a matter of political preference; it is an imperative for the preservation of our democracy.

Many argue that the House of Lords, despite its lack of democratic mandate, nonetheless plays a role as a revising chamber, providing valuable expertise and scrutiny.

While review and scrutiny are essential, these functions can still be achieved in a reformed system. An elected second chamber would still possess the capacity for detailed examination of legislation, but it would do so with the legitimacy of a democratic mandate. 

Elections should and can be different to the Commons, utilising regions and even specialist electorates like in Ireland, although we cannot default back to appointment by political patronage.

It is Labour policy to move towards abolishing the House of Lords and to replace it with a new chamber of fewer members, composed of representatives elected by the people. If Labour wins at the next general election, how we embark on this process of Lords reform is essential. We must get it right.

Regardless of how strong the case for reform of the House of Lords is, change of this magnitude is never easy. If we are to restore faith in government and politics to solve problems, the process of replacing the House of Lords must not be rushed. 

It must be a consultative and transparent process. It must bring people along on the journey of reform so that voters are invested in and supportive of a newly elected second chamber. Alongside democratising the Upper House, we can then also reform the way we as MPs are elected so we don’t create a democratic deficit and seats follow votes. 

 

Alex Sobel, Labour MP for Leeds North West and chair of the Electoral Reform APPG

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