You can’t make it up

The Liberal Democrats are to debate the issue of House of  Lords reform at their party conference.  The BBC reports that ‘Activists will be asked next month to vote on a motion describing the Lords as a democratic “outrage” and a “stain” on Britain’s ability to “preach the values of open government” elsewhere.’

Give me strength.  One only has to look at the statements to see what is wrong with them.  Having a unelected second chamber in a system of asymmetrical bicameralism is not self-evidently undemocratic, a point well made to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Bill by a colleague who specialises in democratic theory.  When I mentioned the conference motion to him, he expressed the view that it reflected a lack of grasp of democratic theory.  He may not have put it quite as politely as that.

Given that, to claim that it is stain on Britain’s ability to preach the values of open government is nonsense.  This just confuses concepts to a degree that beggars belief.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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28 Responses to You can’t make it up

  1. In the tripartite Crown-in-Parliament (Queen, Lords, Commons), the House of Commons is the democratic element. As such, the government comes from the House of Commons and is accountable to that chamber.

    The House of Lords would only be manifestly undemocratic or anti-democratic in the absence of the Parliament Acts. But the Lords act as a house of review, not as an aristocratic rival to the supremacy of the Commons.

    I fear that so few — in the Dominions and in the United Kingdom alike — understand and appreciate our system of Responsible Government and all that it entails.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      James W.J. Bowden,
      You make several excellent points. I particularly like your first paragraph…

      • Lord Norton says:

        James W. Bowden: Spot on. As is implicit in what you write democracy is about how people govern themselves. Election of the government in the UK is through the House of Commons and for the purpose of ensuring a direct and exclusive line of accountability to the people election of the Commons is necessary and (crucially) sufficient. Election of the second chamber, as you indicate, would not enhance democracy, but rather have the potential to undermine accountabiliity, ridding the people of the sharpest means of holding to account those they have chosen to govern them.

        Your concluding point prompts an observation that tends to challenge my colleagues who say that, if one were starting from scratch, one would not invent the House of Lords, but nonetheless it works. It certainly works, but I don’t see why if one was starting from scratch one would not invent a subordinate second chamber based on a composition of experience and expertise. It adds value without challenging the core accountability at the heart of the system. To me, that’s a perfectly rational proposition.

  2. maudie33 says:

    That first paragraph says it all. Queen, Lords, Commons, in which the Commons is referred to as the only democratic element.

    So much for British democracy. And it doesn’t matter how much this guy puffs and winces, you cannot have democratic rule with only a third of the House seen to be so functioning.

    Cover it with arrogance as much as you like, the facts are obvious. And clearly all of you find it uncomfortable.

    The Lib/Dems are clearly on the right path.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maudie33: Your comments rather prove my point. You assert rather than define. What do you mean by ‘democracy’? I suggest you read Dr Tyler’s evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Bill.

      • maudie33 says:

        @ Lord Norton:

        Democracy, as I have written several times, is not what we have in the UK. There are a few ideas about what true democracy really is, and in the main they are cited as being rule by the people, either directly or through agents who speak on their behalf and offered for election directly. Here this is generally via a smokescreen of what the party plans ‘perhaps.’

        The people of the UK do not choose directly in either form, they are not asked to vote by referendum and those chosen as their agents are not given directly for selection. They are the old shuffle we always have, and that is by appointment by God knows who. It is never very clear who does the choosing. Which is why we have short lists and other means of deception.

        On top of that, we get manifesto declaration of what a particular party ‘may’ do once in office. Which, as we can clearly see, lurches side to side from day to day. There is no set path and no vision through which a voter can project or vote on with comfort.

        As a result of this nonsense, I prefer the Swiss system which gives direct democracy, where citizens have an opportunity to demand a voice on any issue so long as enough of them want to use that voice.

        What our country has is related to a form of democracy which has little advantage to it’s citizens. This is a fudge… Because, as already stressed here by, Alex, we have a minority role in the Commons (a third of the total body) which is an appointed chamber handed to the electorate as preordained agents of what is ‘questionably’ proposed and which is not a means where the ordinary citizen can direct the way forward for its own good health. It is run for the good health of the few who oversee. And that is why we are in the mess we are in today.

        An overview. by Wiki is below

        PS :A post I put up yesterday has disappeared, Is it once again, in your spam box?

      • Lord Norton says:

        maudie33: You still have not defined democracy. You say what you think it is not and indicate a system of govermment you prefer, but do not really get to grips with the concept. As for the Swiss system of referendums, this always appears more attractive than it is. I could go on at length, but I won’t. People always say they think referendums are a good thing, but when you hold one people tend to stay at home. They are majoritarian tools (which you may support if you define democracy in one particular way, taking out any liberal element of liberal democracy) and can be used against those outside the system – notably in the Swiss case women: when was it they got the vote?

  3. Alex M says:

    The main problem is what people understand by democracy. If the definition of democracy is “having elections”, then arguably Britain isn’t one, despite the accountability of the Government of the day to an elected body that ultimately is supreme over the other branches of Parliament.

    However, if it is defined as a process, then what we have in the UK is, while not perfect, a far better and effective democracy than other places where there is evidence to suggest electoral rigging, suppression of freedom of speech and other “non-democratic” activities occur. Quite naturally, the unelected “undemocratic” Lords receives more attention for reform than the elected “democratic” Commons, when it could be argued that it is the latter chamber that is in more dire need of radical reform.

    If scrutiny of the Lords means that we are more aware of the scrutiny they subject the Government and Commons to, ie. being more aware of the institutions that support democracy and aware of the state of our democracy, then I would say there is an additional argument for advocating for a complimentary advising chamber!

    • maude elwes says:

      I added two responses to your post, Alex, both of which were up, lost, then up again, now lost again.

      Don’t know what is happening but it is peculiar.

      • Lord Norton says:

        maude elwes: If you include links, the comment gets redirected to the ‘pending’ file and only finds its way on here when I have checked the file.

  4. maudie33 says:


    So, we have a sort of democracy that is better than Uganda or Nigeria but not as good as Switzerland and Norway. And if we are very clever we will subject ourselves to this as it is, otherwise what may rise up is, electoral rigging, removal of freedom of speech and much more.

    Well, we do have electoral rigging, hidden as much as possible, of course, to keep us all happy, and the freedom of speech, that that is heavily censored and is, of course, only for our own good, lest we really gain some kind of pseudo power from it. Even now the discussion on the muffling of the internet is underway, claiming pornography is creating the need by infecting our children. Whilst our schools teach as much pornography as it can, claiming it’s all natural and normal dears.

    Here is how they do the electoral rigging. Short lists, hiding the ballot boxes overnight and on and on.

    And freedom of speech? Do we see any truth printed in this country about, Julian Assange, or that stalwart of the young soldier boy, Harry Wales.

    Please do us all a favour and stop playing silly games. Don’t pretend we are a country of democracy, when it is far from that.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maudie33: You rather make my point. Because you have not defined democracy, you throw in a rag-bag of comments which do not necessarily have anything to do with the concept. The Assagne case has got nothing to do with it. As for Prince Harry, if you define democracy in terms of what the majority want, the opinion poll carried out for ‘The Sunday Times’ found that a majority thought ‘The Sun’ was wrong to print the pictures. It would be interesting to have a poll to know what most people think should be done with Julian Assagne.

      • maudie33 says:

        @Lord Norton:

        Your comments on Switzerland are oddly disparaging of a country not noticeably affected by the devastation the US dropped us in with all the banking foul play, along with the help of the UK financial services that is. I hear they are asking Europeans to pack up and move there if they can’t stand austerity.

        Writing as a woman, I truly prefer a government with a stable economy to one that pretends to salute Feminism, whilst everything it proposes is anti female from start to finish. All female short lists and forcing women to abandon their family to take on a low life job to pay rent is not what most women regard as a female friendly environment. Quite the reverse is true. Regardless of what those in trousers who prowl the halls of power tell you. They are a breed unknown.

  5. Malden Capell says:

    Hilarious that maudie33 applauds Switzerland’s feminism, the country that only legalised votes for women federally in 1971, and only for all the cantons in 1990.

    • maudie33 says:

      @Malden Capell:

      You are so full of hilarity it’s hard to sit up straight and take it in. If you read my post accurately you will see I did not applaud anything other than Switzerland’s ability to give their people direct democracy as well as a stable economy. Which we, in this great so called ‘Feminist’ society find too ominous to address let alone ape. What we have here is as close to feminism as a donkey is to a peacock.

      And I don’t hear any Swiss women fighting for their rights in that country, do you? If so, put up a link. However, a great deal of women here are living with starvation and penury here today, which is why the so called ‘feminists’ we have feel they have done so well.

      And whilst we are at it, Lord Norton, mentioned the facade we saw in our daily beasts on how everyone loves, Harry Wales, for his Las Vegas billiard game. A State spun lets reduce the mess game if ever there was one. Very chivalrous that. And my answer is this, a quote by, Jaques Barzan:

      ‘When people accept futility and the absurd as normal the culture is decadent’.

      • Lord Norton says:

        maudie33: You may find that women were fighting for their rights in Switzerland somewhat later than in the UK! What is your evidence of a causal relationship between the Swiss referendum system and the nation’s economic performance? Are you aware, incidentally, that judges in Switzerland are appointed on the basis of their party political membership? I would also be interested in what evidence you have of any state involvement in the publication or otherwise of the pictures of Prince Harry. As far as I can see, there was a notable hands-off approach (no pun intended; well….).

      • Malden Capell says:

        ‘I don’t hear any Swiss women fighting for their rights in that country, do you?’

        I don’t know, can you read French, German, Italian or Romansch? And as Lord Norton says, you haven’t demonstrated any causal relationship between these things. In fact, it seems that Switzerland’s direct democracy retarded their progression to votes for women.

        And how’s this article for examples of sexism in Switzerland?

  6. maudie33 says:

    @Malden Cappell:

    You do realise you have put up for us to digest the ramblings of a female yank who has now moved to Switzerland to get out of the ‘wonerful’ land of the free. That same one we cling to in the hope they are going to save our asses. That is not a Swiss voice, that is a voice of a so called emancipated individual.

    The satisfaction of democracy they have in Switzerland is not achievable in this country you want to crow about. The Swiss know they have a good life.

    Maybe you would like to read a Swiss woman’s account of life today in her country, and find that akin to most British women, they don’t want this so called liberal new world we are so horrendously being forced into by our so called feminists. Contented Swiss women are smarter than the put upon British.

    Give me a break.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maudie33: Hmm, you criticise someone for posting comments by a particular female and then post comments by a particular female…..

      • maudie33 says:


        The difference being, MC, claimed his story was by a Swiss female, when in fact it was a yank living in ch. My citing was indeed a Swiss woman telling her story of life in Switzerland from a native female point of view. There is a marked difference. One valid and one a propaganda attempt.

      • Lord Norton says:

        ‘my view is objective, yours is propoganda.’

  7. maudie33 says:

    @Lord Norton:

    Here is the proof you require of State involvement of support for Harry Wales.

    Of course, it is being sold as defiance against superiors, which we all know is absolute nonsense, They couldn’t do this without the support of the Army and the State. It would not be in the press and it certainly would lead to more than a telling off had they done it without permission or encouragement.

    Propaganda is a clever illusion. And the British are masters at that game, with or without Alistair Campbell.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maudie33: What evidence? You cite an article that makes clear that top brass disapprove of such behaviour and then claim it as ‘proof’ of state involvement! Proof derives from evidence….

      • maudie33 says:

        @Lord Norton:

        Had they disapproved in reality, the story could never have emerged.

        Give it a few days. Just you wait and see. But, will you be eating your hat, the big one of cleverness? I don’t think so.

      • Lord Norton says:

        maudie33: And how exactly could they have prevented the pictures being circulated? And who cares?

  8. Malden Capell says:

    I think you may as well save your breath Lord Norton, it’s clear that maudie is utterly potty.

    It chews her up inside that anybody could possibly disagree with her.

    • maudie33 says:

      Or, could it be a dissenting voice is too much for the narrow to tolerate? …Nonconformity often being construed by the mundane as ‘potty.’

  9. ladytizzy says:

    The link between Lib Dems and cuckoo-land was just too tempting.

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