Americanised Britain: Elected Second Chambers and Expertise Cabinets?

Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US has always been hailed and grew during Mr. Obama’s recent State visit to the UK, but how far is too far? We have recently ‘upgraded’ from our traditional Judicial Committee of the House of Lords to an all new singing and dancing Supreme Court. Additionally, you cannot now escape the debate on the potential reform of the House of Lords which some have proposed may even become a Senate. The Liberal Democrats are viewing it as a way to show their backbone whilst Labour and Conservative MPs are torn. On the one hand, democracy should always rule and hereditary peers are becoming figures of the past, adding to the meritocratic status of Britain. However, those against an elected chamber are constantly citing the expertise they bring us and their broad interests and knowledge on subjects that politicians know little. Would people of the arts, the sciences and leading technological minds put themselves forward for these new positions? If not, are we willing to sacrifice the scrutinising of legislation by those who actually have life experience in the area?

House of Lords

Will changes to the House of Lords impact of the composition of the Cabinet? Photograph: Telegraph, PA

One could say (and many do) that the consultation stages of a bill gives expertise enough, but government consultations are far from binidng and valuable opinions are often disregarded. A potential solution is to become even further Americanised. Their Cabinet is bi-partisan; they focus on having experts heading each department; for example, Mr Robert Gates who served under both the Bush and Obama administration as Secretary for Defense after having a long career in the CIA. This presents us with an interesting possibility, would British MPs who have expertise be willing to put party politics aside to join the government for the good of their country? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, experts could be brought in from outside the political sphere although this creates additional problems. The current estimate is that 80% of the House of Lords (or Senate) will be elected. At the moment for an individual to be a Cabinet member, they must be an MP or the Prime Minister must make them a member of the House of Lords. Will future Prime Ministers be forced to use part of the 20% non-elected to form their Cabinet and will the public be interested in unelected Cabinets becoming the norm? This can be seen to decrease accountability as if citizens disagree with their plans they cannot show this at the ballot box.

To solve this, rules could be introduced where these ministers, although having their own specialisms and expertise, must still come from elected representatives of either house. Consequently, for this to be effective, the public would have to consider the candidate’s background knowledge and interests when electing them into power. This seems unlikely to happen in practice, hence the necessity of the Prime Minister being able to choose the best candidates regardless of their job or political allegiance. It would also eliminate changes in roles every time someone pleased an influential individual; roles would be gained on pure merit. On top of this it would decrease the power of the Whips as the carrot and stick method would be less effective without potential promotions to the Cabinet. This can be seen as beneficial in terms of giving backbenchers more power to rebel and represent their constituents’ views but party politics will be weaker and when voting for ‘Labour’ or ‘Conservative’ you may get huge individual variations.

Although this may not be viewed as the most democratic proposal in terms of the supremacy of the ballot paper, it offers a far more transparent solution and I, for one, would rather have an unelected Cabinet Minister with true knowledge of their area than a career politician regularly switching roles and trying to learn the basics of what they are leading.

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Posted on July 3, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, General, Looking Forward and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. An elected second chamber would truly be the thin end of the wedge. We only have to look across the pond at the chaos caused by having two elected chambers, each with a different political allegiance. Do we really want to do that to Britain??

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