Thanks to a constitution where elections prevail throughout the system the United States now faces one of the most hazardous moments for individual liberty in its history. It provides a warning about the dangers of a fully elected second chamber which is often suggested for the UK.
Currently in the US one party holds the Presidency and a workable majority in both houses of Congress. Moreover this is a party being dragged away from consensus politics by a charismatic leader intent on enacting policies which present a threat to the constitution itself. The situation is made worse by a willingness to appoint members to the US Supreme Court on a partisan basis which shows signs of destroying the balance of opinion for years or possibly decades.
There is now a real danger of what Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth century called the ‘tyranny of the majority’, a situation where the Government takes action supported by the majority of voters which significantly harms the rights of minorities. To be strictly accurate, through a quirk in the Electoral College system the United States is in danger of falling into a tyranny of the minority! All this means that significant autocratic power (through Executive Orders and sackings of Government Officials) is being wielded by a President intent on pursuing an oppressive agenda.
It is for these reasons that while replacing the House of Lords is an urgent task, to make it a fully elected Chamber would be a mistake. Instead a new upper-house Senate should be only part elected with the majority of Senators appointed – but by a system vastly different from the present one. This would enable us to give legislative responsibility to groups which at the present time are grossly underrepresented in Parliament. Underrepresentation may occur for any number of reasons, for example, disability or prejudice against being selected by major political parties as candidates.
Appointed Senators will allow us to balance experiential gaps in the lower chamber. At present such groups are only consulted on specific pieces of legislation as expert witnesses. But it would be far more effective to have the possibility of every piece of legislation reviewed by, say, a group of blind or wheelchair-bound Senators.
Clearly the size of the new Senate must be greatly reduced from its current bloated size stuffed as it is full of toadies, oligarchs and the left-overs of an autocratic past. For this reason the second Chamber would have specific responsibility for liaising with special interest and civil society groups outside Parliament. Finally the appointment of Senators must be taken out of the partisan political domain with citizen nominations to the Senate overseen by an appointments commission. Such a commission would have a specific remit, for example, to check that nominees are resident in the UK for tax purposes. Nominees who do not meet these criteria will not be considered further.
Final selection would be undertaken by a citizen panel which would be drawn in a similar way as a jury but on a national basis. Appointments would be made for a fixed period, for example 8 years, which could be renewed once by agreement of the citizens panel.
The existence of such a Senate would mean the Government working much harder to ensure legislation is fair to all sections of the community. While certainly not ruling out wealthy Senators, the possibility of decisions hinging on people such as Andrew Lloyd Webber flying in for the express purpose of passing oppressive acts (such as the Tax Credit Cuts) would be eliminated. Likewise the increase in Senators committed to doing a competent job will mean the body is fully able to examine evidence on the effectiveness of enacted legislation and hold the Government properly to account. This is currently a woeful inadequacy of our system
It would also mean the feared suppression of rights which may occur in the United States over the next four years would be minimized!