Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The government will soon publish its plans for the Lords. By all accounts it will go for a wholly elected second chamber doing the same job that the current House of Lords does.
By refusing to make the Commons do a proper job, a second chamber will be needed to clean up the mess, if it can, on an everyday basis. I'm not talking about rejecting proposals like 42 days, which the reform will be designed to prevent. To be democratic it has to have experienced politicians elected to it. Hence it will be a 400 seat chamber elected by some kind of proportional method. Watch out for the party list system. If the Sunday Times is right, Straw will have thought up a nice wheeze to distract everyone by offering voters the powers of recall.
Once this would have been a huge step forward, if they were replacing hereditary peers. Now, hum. We have an independent House which is to the left of the Commons for the first time ever, forcing MPs to do their work and providing a degree of legislative independence from the executive that the Commons simply cannot do.
So what does it so - it abolishes this impediment to its corrupt and servile ways. Apparently all three parties will agree on the legislation to go through after the next election. So do we have a choice? No, this is democracy. The excuse, that this will prevent the existing Lords from rejecting the legislation after an election. (Could they say, but hang on, the public were not given a choice so we don't accept that this is the will of the people?)
I think it is time for some imagination. Peter Carty and I wrote a pamphlet on The Athenian Option saying that the Commons should be the legislature and the second chamber should ask such questions as: is this law in understandable english? and MPs did you read this? and will this do what you say? This kind of scrutiny and assessment could be carried out by the equivalent of an Athenian jury. It's called sortition. You'll hear a lot more of that word, even if it is not yet in your spellcheck. The Athenian Option is about to be republished by the excellent Imprint Academic in a new series.
But however they are chosen, what should we call them? Senators, like Supreme Court, reveals the American-slavishness of our political class. can't we think of something better. Whether elected or selected by lot, can there be a better, less Roman-imperial name?
The winner will get to chose whatever book he wants from Imprint Academic.