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British politics

Starmer is wrong about the Lords

The Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty

It’s easy to see why Keir Starmer wants to replace the House of Lords with an elected body, says Paul Waugh in the I newspaper. It’s a way to fend off charges he would simply be a “managerialist prime minister” and inject a “frisson of radicalism” into an otherwise bland manifesto. But his plans risk “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Starmer will quickly run into the problem all reformers have encountered: how to prevent creating a powerful rival to the Commons. Look to the US, which is a case in point of how two elected chambers almost always end up “stuck in gridlock”.

Starmer insists the Commons would retain its primacy while the upper house would remain a “scrutinising and amending chamber”. But there’s a “frustrating lack of clarity” on how elected “Senators” could be restrained to this role. Getting “bogged down in the constitutional quicksand” risks creating a system where vital legislation cannot pass. If Starmer is set on improving the Lords, why not start by stripping the 92 remaining hereditary peers of their roles, or ending the “discredited practice” of resignation honours lists for PMs? Smaller changes like these wouldn’t sacrifice the upper chamber’s valuable “nuance and nudge” role of asking the Commons to rethink badly drafted legislation. An appointed House of Lords “is like a constitutional monarchy: you wouldn’t invent it from scratch, but somehow it works”.