Monday, 26 October 2015

Landmark day in the Lords

Two outings to the GP surgery today at different times, one for consultation and another for a brief check. Then, an outing to Staples and the city centre to shop for new equipment. Since the death of my trusty Dell, I've reverted to using my equally old Acer desktop PC, also dual boot Linux Mint. It sweetly booted first time to a desktop, after months of idleness, as if it had only been started yesterday. None of this half an hour of scanning and updating, requiring machine minding before useable for work. It just worked. It's safe enough to leave updates until convenient. It's a bit noisy, but Mint is quicker than Windows. How much more power do I need for current purposes? Well, maybe a higher resolution display for photo viewing. It still satisfactory for photo editing. That's all I've considered so far, but to no conclusion. The HD monitors I've seen are all a bit too big for the space in which I want to use them.

Quite apart from a noteworthy welcome introduction of Bishop Rachel Treweek to the House of Lords today, its debate on proposed government tax reform has been revealing, and very creditable. The outcome, which obliges the government to look again at how it proposes to implement changes as part of its cost cutting strategy has really stirred up debate about the what business the House of Lords had in daring to jeopardise a long standing agreement that the Lords don't stand in the way of legislation agreed by the House of Commons. 

What was impressive was how so many peers, including the Bishops, expressed serious concern about the impact of the Chancellor's implementation plan on the poorest income earners, and refused to compromise on the grounds calling for the Chancellor to revise his plans at this stage by blocking the measure's progress threated constitutional democracy. In effect, the Lords were voicing the moral conscience of the public at a moment when government seems to be deaf to widely expressed concerns.

I believe every government needs its upper chamber, full of wisdom, expertise and experience, and whether elected or appointed or a mix of members is of less concern than the quality of its advice and the authority with which it is regarded. So often the Commons and the elected government are acting pragmatically more than ideally with the best interests of the nation in mind. If negotiation and debate are hindered in serving the people as best as possible, another set of eyes and ears can be a valuable corrective. We have a government in power that talks about doing justice for everyone including the poor but can be short sighted in achieving this, or listening to those trying to point this out. How much the voice of moral conscience is still needed at the heart of politics. All too often it is only heard in a selective way. Behind the guise and good intentions of people elected to public service, there can still be a strong streak of self interest that is not there to serve the common good.

Sure we need to look at constitutional reform, Common as well as Lords. The government won the voting competition, but doesn't command the majority of the votes of all electors let alone electors who voted, due to the demographical inequalities embedded in the system of parliamentary constisuency boundaries. I'd like to see voting compulsory, and by a proportional representation system rather than first past the post. It would mean more slow, difficult government by coalition compromise, but there are plenty of other countries that manage this successfully. Over time, proportions may not change all that much, so the same proportionality can be applied to upper chamber representatives, if they are to be appointed, or else let them be elected, starting the initial change with an election in which present House of Lords members are eligible for confirmation, and work from there. Let the world judge whose contributions are regarded as useful to society. Why not?

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