A stonking majority does not give power to abolish democracy because even the most loyal MPs will not contemplate that. Margaret Thatcher herself, for all her command, was restrained on many occasions by the thought ‘I could never get this through the House of Commons’. The opposition may tweet madly, but some things are fundamental: the majority is, after all, not of radicals but of Conservatives.
Forget grand and mendacious declarations attempting to entrench the concerns of the moment: the British constitution just gets on with it: we consider these truths to be self-evident, so there’s no point writing them down.
I must add before I proceed a reminder of a caution given by the greatest of philosophers:
Therefore, where there is already erected a Soveraign Power, there can be no other Representative of the same people, but onely to certain particular ends, by the Soveraign limited. For that were to erect two Soveraigns; and every man to have his person represented by two Actors, that by opposing one another, must needs divide that Power, which (if men will live in Peace) is indivisible, and thereby reduce the Multitude into the condition of Warre, contrary to the end for which all Soveraignty is instituted.
Some countries do very interesting things in their constitutions, which fit the conservative mindset and might work here too, but they will not be done. As an exercise, I looked at some randomly selected.
A special majority for raising taxes
They have this in a number of American states. Whether it actually reduces taxes, I cannot say, but the good motive is there. They went even further in Georgia as part of Mikheil Saakashvili’s reforms. He may have ended his presidency in the recriminations of the Russian war and flight into political exile, but in his time, Saakashvili achieved wonders where no one thought he could, ending corruption and boosting the land into economic growth, until the Russians came. One of his reforms was to add to the constitution that any increase in tax rates needs approval in a referendum. That was later repealed, and was impractical. However requiring a special majority of the Commons is tempting.
If they ever thought about it, on the same principle you could argue that there should be a special majority for creating a new criminal offence, but a simple majority for repealing one. That speaks of a concern for freedom. It won’t be done.
An obligatory balanced budget
Another American innovation: that the Government may not spend more than it earns. That is everyday life for a household economy, but considered outlandish in the national economy.
I can imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for all his former pieties on this point when he was a backbencher, having a fit were he required to reduce spending and borrow nothing, or nothing more than is needed to replace existing bonds as they mature. Sir Geoffrey Howe managed it. Has any other since his time? It do not think it would get through, somehow.
The default clause
There has been no default on British government debt since the days of King Charles II, and investors know this, which ensures a high credit rating. It has not had to be put in statute that default is forbidden. If ever default were hinted at, all other payments from the state should stop to give preference to the honour of the state’s finances, starting with the salaries of ministers, Members of Parliament, quangocrats and maybe even the untouchables of the service. This will not be discussed, in case mentioning it would raise the ghost unheard of for three and a half centuries and spook the financial world.
An elected Senate in place of the Lords
Can you imagine it? John Major remarked that if the answer to a question is ‘more politicians’, it is a damn silly question.
The current House of Lords was filled with Tony Blair’s placemen in his day, and their clones following them, now entrenched, unremovable until death or reform. There may be a better way to fill the red benches, but it is not yet more elections of yet more political hacks.. Perhaps it would mean appointing lords ex officio from certain learned offices, but then would-be unelected politicians will target those offices for their own ambition and politicize them. It doesn’t work well in Eire.
One measure surely would be ensure no one has power unless they have proven that they have an office of responsibility and an income not taken out of taxpayers’ pockets.
If I had a hand, I would itch to scythe down the career politicians with a retirement age, bribe others to retire maybe or remove them if they have no honest income. I might enact that no new peerage can be created until the House is below 500 life peers, and then allow no one to be appointed unless they are a serving justice of the peace (as magistrates have proven service, responsibility and hands-on understanding of the actual deeds of actual people); and they can be picked by lottery. The House, shorn of paper lords, might be renamed the ‘House of Elders’. Also I could bring back the Earls.
Privatise the Civil Service
This one is impossible, but actually a more sensible idea than it seems when looked at in depth, which I am not going to do. If an article along these lines appears on this blog in forthcoming months, do not be surprised.
The thing I won’t mention
There are a few broken nations in the world where they might have this, but in Britain it would be a disastrous, and utterly stupid idea; so daft and damaging that if it were ever suggested then its introduction would become the uncompromising demand of every loud, fringe, lunatic and special interest group in the land. I would expect to see it in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto and portrayed by the BBC as “when not if”. There is that example in – well, let’s not mention it, just in case, eh?
Restoring the Lords’ absolute veto in further cases
The House of Lords lost its absolute veto on legislation in 1911, except in one case: no bill to extend the life of a parliament can pass without the House of Lords (although a bill to abolish that one reservation might be passed by the Commons alone in theory.) Perhaps there are other principles too fundamental to be left at the mercy of the House Of Commons alone? It might first need a reform of the Lords. Even so, I can see dangerous territory ahead there.
Optional two-member constituencies
The old system, before reform, was “two knights from each shire; two burgesses from each borough”, and instead of dividing a county or a borough in two, the whole county elected the top two candidates. It is a thought – and you could ask each double-constituency each election whether the want to vote together or as two parts. Predicting the electoral arithmetic would be a nightmare, but the exercise would be instructive, if possibly also destructive.
An extra vote for net taxpayers
We have all thought it: the House of Commons is filled with politicians eager to rob the taxpayer to pay for votes, so should it not be the victims, those who have a financial interest in the result, taxpayers and their families, who get to choose them, not those who are motivated to encourage this robbery? Then again, there are millions who are technically taxpayers but whose money comes from taxes in the first place and the cash is just recycled: they are not real taxpayers. All right, so this important reform will never be done, but it is out there. An extra vote for taxpaying families would be nice.
Members for the overseas territories
Often discussed, always in the “too difficult” tray, but it is a popular idea in Gibraltar. If anyone wishes to sponsor me, I will stand as member for the British Antarctic Territory.
Ah – another article, I feel.
Getting the hang of impossible constitutional ideas is a troublesome balance between thinking of things that are whacky but thought-provoking and those that are too impossible, with the risk of writing ideas that I think are daft only to find someone actually agrees with them. There is no proposition so absurd that it has not been urged by politicians.
The most important thing to remember, is that I do not believe in any of them. Someone will.