BlogOfTheMoon

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Get over it!

I have a new hero. After nearly three lustra away, I've mostly lost touch with politics in Northern Ireland, so I listened with some interest to today's edition of Beyond Westminster, in which the BBC's recently-retired Ireland correspondent, Denis Murray, discovers the state of the country. At one point, he was interviewing the head of the Orange Order following the DUP's raising of the parades issue in the recent discussion over policing and justice, and after listening to the usual statements about history and so forth regarding the parade in Drumcree Mr Murray, to his everlasting credit, replied, Get over it. Times have changed... it's time to move on! This is the kind of thing I'd like to hear more of, and from some of the interviews that Murray conducted, it sounds like people in the Province are starting to agree.

Another comment in this programme also piqued my interest: it seems that the Northern Ireland Assembly has no Opposition. The Executive is a power-sharing agreement, with ministerial posts going to members from all four major parties. On the one hand, this ensures collective decision-making, but on the other, and this was the point of view of the contributor talking about it, it means that all the parties have a vested interest in the status quo, meaning no real driver for change.

I'm not sure what to make of this. While I've been a staunch supporter of proportional representation for a long time, something which almost inevitably leads to coalition government, I think that having no opposition to poke the government on a regular basis probably isn't healthy for democracy.

Finally, on an administrative note, Blogger, which has powered this blog since its launch in 2002 has deprecated FTP support, meaning that I will have to migrate to a new platform. There may be some disruption, and I apologise in advance to anybody reading this through the LiveJournal feed if it goes mental (as it has done in the past).

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Seven Nine Lords a-Blogging

I heard a discussion on Radio 4's The Week in Westminster this week about members of the House of Lords running a group blog. I was in Norn Iron at the time but I took a note of the the participants and looked them up when I got home. This led me to Lords of the Blog and I was quickly sucked in by some of the material I found there.

Unlike a lot of people, I have a lot of respect for the House of Lords. Not only is it a more civilised chamber than the Commons (it always amazes me that MPs whinge that they get no respect from the public after seeing how they behave in the House; they could certainly learn a lesson from the Lords) but it's vital to our democracy. Although it's not perfect, the Lords is a revising chamber and it has successfully revised and redrafted legislation over the years, improving it no end. Yes we've still got bad law, but think how much worse it would have been without the Lords (in one of the comments in that blog, Lord Norton of Louth states that the Lords makes 2000-3000 successful amendments a year to legislation).

The other vital function of the Lords, in my mind, is its expertise. While the Commons has the elected legitimacy, its members are often jacks of all trades, and masters of none (and, increasingly, not even Jacks, since they come straight into Parliament from political jobs without having any "real world" experience), while the Lords contains experts from all walks of life, from art and science to business and politics. These are exactly the kinds of people who should be in a revising chamber – experts in the fields, who will know when an idea has merit and when it is simply fanciful.

Yes, I'm painting an idealistic picture here, and no doubt the second chamber could be improved, but if we ever do move to a fully elected 'senate' for our second chamber, the term of office must be a long one – another benefit of the Lords is that they are more resistant to lobbying, since there is no electorate to have to please and no chance of being deselected if they vote against the party line.

All in all, I think our second chamber does a damn fine job, and if it's going to be changed, we really need to think very carefully about how it's done. It keeps the government in check, it's full of expertise, it's more civilised and its members are more independent than the Commons. I'll vote for that.

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