by John Denham
Monday, 21
November 2022
Analysis
15:16

Starmer’s Lords plan is bad news for England

A "senate" would subjugate the UK's largest member nation
by John Denham
Credit: Getty.

No democrat can defend a House of Lords bloated by the accretion of patronage, donors, cronies, sycophants, and the relics of the Anglo-Norman ascendency. But Keir Starmer’s plan to replace it with an elected UK Senate will weaken democracy for England, the UK’s largest nation. 

There’s a clue in Labour calling it a “Senate of the Nations and the Regions”. For the Labour party there are three nations: Wales, Scotland and (if it counts) Northern Ireland. England is denied, reduced to a jumble of regions largely unrecognised by the people who live in them. With the new Senate, every law that applies only to England will have to be approved by not one but two elected UK-wide bodies. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will make their own equivalent laws for themselves.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


For 20 years since UK devolution, English domestic policy and legislation — schools, hospitals, universities, transport, agriculture, water and much else — has been distinct. While everyone knows there is no English Parliament, far fewer stop to consider that England has no government. 

It is run by the UK’s union state, a mishmash of uncoordinated departments. Some have UK-wide responsibilities, some across Great Britain, some in England and Wales and others solely in England. All are under the thumb of the UK Treasury. There is no English budget, no machinery of government, no political leadership, no semblance of national democracy or accountability. Nowhere in Whitehall coordinates England’s policy and its implementation. No ministerial committee asks how well England is governed, nor are any ministers accountable for it. No part of Parliament debates England’s wellbeing and future. National policy fails at a local level because health, care, school, employment and family policy are rarely joined up. 

This union state and Westminster’s political culture cling to an Anglocentric British unionism forged when England could dictate to both union and empire. Today, the ideology that England needs no institutions of its own leaves the nation without the functioning structures of good government. Starmer’s advisors insist the suppression of England keeps the union together, but it’s the conflation of the UK with England that so alienates the nation’s other constituent parts.

A radical Labour would reform the union state, let Westminster’s English MPs make England’s laws and create a powerful lead Minister for England. England would take its place among the nations of the UK and would be better governed. The UK would then flourish as a coming together of nations.

The new UK Senate would reinforce England’s subjugation. Inevitable conflicts between two UK chambers with respective but different claims to legitimacy make it more likely that England will be subjected to laws it doesn’t want and be denied those it does. Labour promises radical devolution within England as so often before. But there will never be devolution until there is a coherent centre from which to devolve power.

A UK Senate that brought together representatives of four national government and their local governments to consult and shape UK-wide policy would be a good replacement for the Lords. But that is not what we have been promised.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
25 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
17 days ago

Before Welsh devolution we had a Welsh Committee consisting of MPs and, IIRC, County Councillors, sitting frequently to consider the Welsh point of view. Why can’t English MPs (using the HoC) sit as an English parliament to debate English laws. I wasn’t in favour of devolution especially when one Welsh MP claimed that it was an overwhelming victory (by 0.06 of the votes cast). Anyway – what did happen to those 4 missing ballot boxes? If I was an Englishman (or even a Welshman living in England when I was away with the Navy) I would be, to put it mildly, really pizzed-off about it having less representation than the people who benefit from those who pay most of the bills.

Last edited 17 days ago by Doug Pingel
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago

Frankly, it was a craven diisgrace that Bliar was allowed to change our constitution with so little opposition: The hereditary peerage system and The Lords is and has been for centuries a cornerstone of our civilisation, and system of politics. One only has to look at the towering status and legacy of the great politicians that The Lords gave us, and that that they achieved, without even insulting their honour in comparison to the odious little polydraylon clad line manager, below stairs vermin that we are now infected with, to see how far we have fallen. The Victorians created so many peers from self made 19th Century families whose commercial skills were so valuable. Britain is in a process of committing suicide, via a macabre Hari Kiri, and its populus are happy to sit by and watch.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
15 days ago

Having peers who inherit titles is less bad (there’s something about randomly selecting our politicians) than having peers who get titles through brown nosing.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
16 days ago

I’d rather that Keir simply undid Blair’s constutional vandalism.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
16 days ago

Ah, yes, more devolution, that will definitely promote harmony and solidarity in the U.K.

Derek Hilling
Derek Hilling
16 days ago

The Labour Party, whilst trying to sound ‘radical and fresh’ in getting rid of the unelected Lords, is in effect simply trying to bury the idea that England is a country that deserves its own parliament, just like Wales and Scotland.
All the main political parties in UK colluded to deny England its rightful share of devolution in 1999. Since then Labour, Liberal and Tory parties continue to either evade England’s existence as a political entity, or in the case of Labour’s ‘front-man’ on devolution (ex-PM Brown) his preferred approach to England is its balkanisation into regions. If an English person were to propose similar for Scotland, they would be denounced as an interfering colonialist or very probably racist.
The treatment of England and especially the English nation in political terms by the British political elite is one of denial, hypocrisy and or contempt.
England has a right to its own Parliament! Devolution has left England without a voice. Once England has secured its ‘national voice’ then the English can decide how they wish to be governed, and how they wish to co-operate with the other devolved nations.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
15 days ago

If Labour is involved you can be sure that some sort of gerrymandering is a key part of the plan.

Andrew D
Andrew D
17 days ago

Sir Keir may not know what a woman is, but the photo suggests he may be becoming one. Quite a rack!

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
17 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Conservative wit….

Andrew D
Andrew D
15 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

If you’d said infantile wit I couldn’t argue, but why conservative?

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
16 days ago

“A UK Senate that brought together representatives of four national government and their local governments to consult and shape UK-wide policy would be a good replacement for the Lords…”
Until there is an English Parliament, there will not be four national governments in the UK to come together….is that what John Denham was suggesting?
It might make more sense to abolish the House of Lords and not replace it. Any elected second chamber would inevitably be more powerful than the House of Lords, restricting the Commons.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
17 days ago

Why the need for a second chamber? It adds nothing, simply scrap it and have the Commons as the sole government

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That was also my first thought. I found this document which talks about what they call Bicameral (two chambers) countries. There are 17 in Europe.
https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL(2006)059rev-e
It mentions that two chambers is characteristic of federal countries. Germany being an example. It hadn’t occurred to me before that if the EU were to become a federal body that a federal country like Germany would be a federation within a federation. So I guess the Labour proposal would be trying to shoehorn the UK into a federal structure. Sounds like a bureaucrats wet dream to me.

Virginia McGough
Virginia McGough
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Because it gives the chance to scrutinise the hidden unintended effects of proposed legislation, and provides a (slight) break on the government of the day using the payroll vote to railroad through its agenda. Agreed, the composition of the second chamber needs to be reformed, but its existence is an asset.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
16 days ago

I understand that Virginia but how does that work out when you have two separate elected chambers. What’s the difference between that and just having more MP’s in one chamber. There are already commons committees which scrutinize legislation going through. Could the second chamber overrule the first and if so what does that mean when both chambers are democratically elected?
That kind of thing already happens in the US leading to all sorts of problems.

Last edited 16 days ago by Steve Elliott
Daniel G
Daniel G
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

I suspect any elected second chamber would be elected by some form of PR so there would be a more or less permanent anti-government majority. The representatives in such a chamber would feel more emboldened than present to obstruct as they would have a ‘mandate’ from the electorate. There would be a slowing down and watering down of any new legislation. Perhaps this is the motivation as such things tend to benefit the status quo, which is ‘progressive’ at present.
The only benefit is that PR might provide a way in for new parties as happened with UKIP in EU elections.

N Forster
N Forster
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

My thoughts also. What are the options? Elected, appointed, hereditary or a mix? Are there any others? They all have drawbacks. But still, the notion of a second house being able to correct or amend legislation for unintended consequences seems attractive. But you’d struggle to claim this works well with the current mix of appointed and hereditary peers.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Precisely the reason that we should have an unelected chamber; to keep an eye on those who are pursuing votes for the next election with no thought as to how this would affect the country as a whole. Being unelected they, of course, should not be able to prevent or make laws.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
16 days ago

That sounds like a recipe for the kind of gridlock we see currently in the States, something which I’d prefer not to see. I’d rather the elected government have the power to enact the laws it campaigned on, then if they prove unpopular they can be voted out and repealed at the subsequent elections

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Parties in power can pass laws that keep them in power. Hence the staggered elections in the US of A. The purpose is to distribute power across groups AND time, with a robust system of checks & balances, to ensure that too much power is not kept in too few hands in too short a time. The Senate is the “cooling dish” of democracy, you see.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

No, this is exactly what it prevents, an elected upper house with law making/preventing powers could cause grid-lock, the House of Lords, as currently formed, cannot do that.

Iris C
Iris C
15 days ago

I agree with that. However I can’t see the point of another elected chamber and certainly not one which has many more members than the House of Commons, which is the case at the moment.. The numbers need to be halved..
However the idea of appointing those who have shown skills and aptitude in politics, business and the public or social sectors could give different and apt points of view on a wide range of subjects and be relevant in scrutinising legislation proposed by the elected house.
How they would be appointed without nepotism or favour is a problem that would need to be addressed.
The Conservatives had the reform of the Lords in their 2010-15 manifesto but they had to go into coalition with the Liberals and the LibDems would have none of it. There is a large contingent of Liberal Lords – out of proportion to their numbers in the House of Commons.

Maurice Austin
Maurice Austin
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Nooooo! Sorry but unicameral is faaaarked. Look at NZ.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
15 days ago
Reply to  Maurice Austin

I live in the NZ, and much prefer having a single chamber. I want the politicians elected by the public to be free to enact their manifestos. I don’t want a situation whereby an unelected chamber such as the Lords is able to try and block Brexit, or Trump being prevented from implementing any of his policies

Rob N
Rob N
16 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I disagree. There should (as Heinlein proposed I believe) be a second chamber whose sole function is to repeal legislation, which it can do by a simple majority. And which it can do at any time, even in the period between the law being approved and it actually becoming legislation.
And all legislation from the lower chamber should have a sunset clause; either specified in the legislation or which is determined by the majority it gets (but for the former to not be longer than the default). From 1 year for very small majority up to, say, 20 years for a huge majority.