Winston Churchill reportedly said that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. Defenders of the House of Lords express that thought more sensitively but essentially say the same thing. An unelected second chamber, they argue, is more representative of Britain and can draw on wider experience than a House of Commons selected by the popular vote from ranks of career politicians.
It speaks to the appeal of the argument that it can be heard from those of all ages and all political colours. And even though I dislike the House of Lords as it is, I could see the appeal of the argument if it were true.
Sadly, it is not.
Anyone who has stumbled upon BBC Parliament while searching for Sky Sports News on a Saturday afternoon will know that the House of Lords has problems. Immediately obvious is that the few claret leather seats with a body on are topped by elderly white faces.
Whereas 9% of Britons described themselves as non-white in the 2001 census, just 5% of the House of Lords would claim the same. An even deeper failing given the equal number of male and female Britons is that for every woman, there are well over three men.
For decades, race and gender have been the key battlegrounds for equality. We are improving, but there remains much to do. Yet in our fight for better representation I fear that we are continuing to ignore a deeper inequality. It is a bias that is less offensive and damaging to our society, but just as effective in quieting certain voices.
With over 7 million residents, the North West of England is the UK’s third most populated region — only London (8.2m) and the South-East (8.7m) are home to more Britons. And yet of the 604 peers who in 2011 reported the location of their main home, just 23 did so in the North West of England. In London and the South-East the figures were 143 and 153 peers respectively.
Can we really call this a United Kingdom of equals when in our second chamber of parliament the voice of each person in London is represented with five times the weight as the voice of each person in Liverpool?
The House of Commons requires its members to live and work in London and, though I would like to, there seems little hope of changing that. There is however a real possibility of moving the House of Lords. One of its leading members has even suggested it.
My answer is to the city of the greatest talent that the House of Lords in London could not attract.
"Alex Ferguson" by Austin Osuide. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
If the House of Lords claims to represent the best of Britain then surely there is no better candidate than Mr. Ferguson? He would bring a deep knowledge of socialisms origins, successes, and failures to the house and also a deeply pragmatic approach to paying for, managing, and reaping the rewards of capitalism. Mr. Ferguson’s decision to take time with his family after a long and focused career is admirable. Even more than admirable, it is the very reason why he should have a role in government.
So let’s move the House of Lords to Manchester, and see if we can tempt Mr. Ferguson to pop in a few afternoons a week for a team talk.