On Second Thought, Let’s Play Musical Chairs

The British House of Lords is overcrowded. It’s true! All those hoity-toity people are tripping over each other and fighting for chairs. I picture them in their wigs and gowns playing that children’s game, musical chairs, where the adults repeatedly remove chairs to make the kids fight for the final remaining seat. Actually, they may not be hoity-toity, and they probably don’t wear wigs and gowns, but that’s how they are in my imagination.

House of Lords Chamber
House of Lords Chamber by UK Parliament, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

At present, the UK upper house is bigger than their House of Commons. It has 804 people in the House of Lords with seating for only 230-400 (depending on who is counting). By comparison, the House of Commons has 650 members. Some people want the House of Lords in the UK to become an elected upper house, rather than a house of appointees and hereditary peers, but I think that they first need to reduce the number of them. If they all showed up, they’d have to sit on each other’s laps!

That got me thinking about the upper houses of the other two countries with which I am most familiar; Canada and the United States. Canada has a non-elected Senate where members are appointed by the Governor-General. There are 105 Senators compared to 338 seats in the House of Commons. The United States has 100 elected Senators and 435 voting members of the House of Representatives. Having about a hundred people in the upper house seems far more practical than having over eight hundred, don’t you think?

The upper house is, in all cases, designed to be a place of “sober second thought.” Representation by population is addressed in all three countries by the lower houses, and a balance of geographic regional representation is addressed in Canada and the U.S. in the upper houses. Both Canada and the UK have many political parties represented in their upper houses as well as members who are not aligned with any party. The US, on the other hand, is composed almost entirely of members of the two main political parties.

Ring Mistress Fancy Dress Costume
Ring Mistress Fancy Dress Costume by Morph Costumers, via Pinterest

Given that all three countries are in serious need of sober second thought, shouldn’t we do more to ensure that our upper houses are composed of (a) thinkers and (b) sober people? I don’t care which party you favour, but I do care that you put the entire nation’s interests before any political party.  Maybe what I want is an end to party whipping.

Now, don’t get excited, people. I’m not talking about whips at an orgy, although there are times when that might be cathartic. No, I’m talking about that process whereby politicians in both upper and lower houses are bullied into voting according to the wishes of the party.  That ought to be against the law.  What is the point of them being there if they are just going to vote the same way as each other all the time. That’s like a family counsel in which the kids know their vote doesn’t really count because they always end up doing what mom wants.

No, I want my sober second-thinkers to be actually sober, at least while they are at work, and thinking out loud. I want to see more reasoned debate within and between political parties, and I want everyone’s vote to be secret.

Oh, and Britain, you can cut out that hereditary peerage thing. No one would miss it. It’s probably illegal anyway since they still have some peerages that can’t be transferred to women. Get with the program, people! Yes, just remove all those and you might have an upper house in which everyone can actually sit down. If not, just remove the non-sober people. Problem solved.  Non-sobriety would make musical chairs more entertaining, but this party has a job to do.

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