I think I have to agree with the critics that fixing the anomalous situation of England in Britain’s almost-but-not-quite-federalist arrangements, thanks to the reintroduction of home rule in Northern Ireland and Scotland and the establishment of a Welsh legislature over the last decade, by only allowing English (or, in some cases, English and Welsh) MPs to vote on some things only affecting England (or England and Wales) is probably not really going to work very well in practice, since the whole notion of cabinet government in the UK relies on there effectively being one government supported by a majority of Parliament that can muster majority votes on all issues that come before it. When the “England” majority and the “UK” majority differ, as could easily be the case due to the regional variations in party support in Britain, it seems likely the whole business will become a mess.
Not that many of the alternatives are much better. Labour’s plan for regional devolution was pretty dumb, since few of the “regions” have any historical standing and governing different parts of England under different laws runs counter to the rationale for devolution elsewhere in the UK. A separate, single English parliament seems like overkill, given that most Britons live in England, but in the end it may be the only workable arrangement in a parliamentary framework.
Fresh on the heels of promises to adopt changes to elections to the Commons, Labour is now promising to finish its reforms to the House of Lords with some concrete proposals coming “shortly.” The outline of Labour’s proposal suggest:
- A third of the members would be elected at each general election for the Commons; since a general election must be called every five years, this pattern would give members of the upper chamber a potential term of up to 15 years.
- The chamber would have 300 members elected via some form of proportional representation; what exact form is left unspecified, although it is likely to be a “pure” PR system (possibly using the same constituencies used for European Parliament elections) instead of the alternative member system used in the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies.
- Members would be subject to some sort of “recall” process and would have to pay taxes in the U.K., excluding nonresident citizens.
All three of the major parties in Britain are now on-record as favoring a mostly- or fully-elected upper chamber, so presumably an “elected Lords” in some form is coming sooner rather than later. The Liberal Democrats in particular have suggested in the past that parliamentary reforms are a condition of their participation in any coalition, and given the growing chances of a hung parliament after the next election, they may finally be in a position to insist on reform in both chambers.
I’m not particularly inclined to do any long-form blogging at the moment (here or at OTB), but here are a few random thoughts on issues of the day:
I can’t think of any good reason to object to a merger between United and Continental; it’s probably a long shot, but maybe the combined airline will see fit to introduce a flight from here that’s further afield than Houston.
I don’t have any better tea leaves than anyone else when it comes to the British election. I watched all three debates (which is three more than I watched during the 2008 U.S. presidential contest) and generally think that LibDem leader Nick Clegg simultaneously came off as the best presence and the most politically naïve, which is just as well since Clegg (unlike, say, David Cameron) will never be a British prime minister. Putting the LibDems in charge of the Home Office would probably be a good idea though. Realistically it seems there’s no way Gordon Brown comes out of this as a real (as opposed to caretaker) PM. Your current Nate Silver guesstimate is here.
Predicted constitutional crisis of the week: the Conservatives take a majority of the seats in England but few in Scotland and Wales, and try to muddle through with an overall minority, on the (not unreasonable assertion) that on devolved matters at least the party that won the vote in England should govern, at least on matters of domestic policy where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can go their own way. See also: the West Lothian question. As discussed before, this problem is an icky mess to solve.
I probably could extend the discussion above into a lengthy post on electoral reform in Britain and the prospects thereof, but… nah. Complicating matters: each plausible reform is essentially rigged in favor of the party proposing it (IRV/AV favors Labour, STV or “top-up” PR favors the LibDems [and UKIP and the Greens and probably the BNP, Pliad Cymru, and the SNP too, although the latter three are radioactive as potential coalition partners for anyone, and UKIP is borderline], and the current plurality arrangement favors the Tories [and whichever unionist and nationalist faction is on top at the given moment in Northern Ireland, similarly radioactive]), making consensus unlikely.
On the one hand, Arizona’s tough new immigration law (as amended) probably still treats illegal immigrants better than they would be in most other countries in the world, including Mexico itself and most Western European societies. On the other hand, I think we probably ought to aspire to higher standards than those countries, even putting aside my crazily-anarcho-libertarian-open-bordernik principles.
Assuming that the “no” vote prevails in the Scottish independence referendum, the next question for the United Kingdom is to consider constitutional reform to implement a quasi-federal system and resolve the West Lothian question once and for all. In some ways, it may also provide an opportunity to resolve the stalled reform of the upper house as well. Here’s the rough outline of a proposal that might work.
Devolve identical powers to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with the proviso that local self-rule can be suspended if necessary by the federal legislature (by a supermajority).
The existing House of Commons becomes the House of Commons for England, which (along with the Sovereign) shall comprise the English Parliament. This parliament would function much as the existing devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales; the consociational structure of the Northern Ireland Assembly (requiring double majorities) would not be replicated.
The House of Lords is abolished, and replaced with a directly-elected Senate of the United Kingdom. The Senate will have authority to legislate on the non-devolved powers (in American parlance, “delegated” powers) such as foreign and European Union affairs, trade and commerce, national defense, and on matters involving Crown dependencies and territories, the authority to legislate on devolved matters in the event self-government is suspended in a constituent country, and dilatory powers including a qualified veto (requiring a supermajority) over the legislation proposed by a constituent country’s parliament. The latter power would effectively replace the review powers of the existing House of Lords; it would function much as the Council of Revision in Madison’s original plan for the U.S. Constitution.
As the Senate will have relatively limited powers, it need not be as large as the existing Lords or Commons. To ensure the countries other than England have a meaningful voice, given that nearly 85% of the UK’s population is in England, two-thirds of the seats would be allocated proportionally based on population and one-third allocated equally to the four constituent countries. This would still result in a chamber with a large English majority (around 64.4%) but nonetheless would ensure the other three countries would have meaningful representation as well.