The Counterintuitivity of Voting for the Green Party

Green Party Logo

In recent weeks, it has become almost popular to discuss the rise of the Green Party. With membership soaring – now standing at close to 50,000 – the Green Party has argued that they now constitute a major-enough party so as to participate in the upcoming debates (assuming they happen at all!).

Now given the recent popularity of blogging about the Green Party I thought – given my return to blogging following a brief hiatus owing to work commitments – that I would follow suit. Rather than focusing on the policies or whether or not the Green Party should attend the debates, I would like to discuss something rather different but equally, I believe, as important.

It would hardly be controversial to suggest that the environment is one of the key issues for anyone considering to vote for the Green Party. Indeed, many environmentally-inclined voters have begun moving towards the Green Party as a result of the failure of mainstream political parties to fully incorporate the environment into their programmatic profiles – their manifestos. While the mainstream parties have environmental concerns, they tend to fall to the wayside when compared to the pursuit of growth or productivity.

Now, the environment is a typical ‘niche’ issue that, according to Bonnie Meguid, is an example of an issue that exists ‘outside the dimensions of party competition’ and there has been an unwillingness among mainstream political parties to heavily focus upon the environment during electoral campaigns. Indeed, some scholars have argued that the environment is a ‘mid-term’ issue: an issue which increases in saliency during the middle of the election cycle, and one that diminishes come election time.

Given the unwillingness, then, of mainstream political parties to respect the environment as an important political issue, and therefore unwilling to fully incorporate it into their programmatic profiles, it would make complete sense for environmentalists to begin voting for a political party that would prioritise the environment, namely, the Green Party. One could well make the argument that should the Green Party become an electoral threat to any of the mainstream political parties, they would be forced into competing on the issue; adopting it into their programmatic profiles and giving the issue the respect and attention it deserves. Indeed, this is the logic of the party competition model devised by Bonnie Meguid.

Briefly then, Bonnie Meguid argues that mainstream political parties have three strategies when responding to a niche political party, such as the Green Party. In the first place, the mainstream political party can adopt a ‘dismissive strategy’ whereby the mainstream political party actively ignores the issue, or more specifically, decides not to react to it. She argues that by deliberately failing to respond to the issue, mainstream political parties signify to voters that that particular issue lacks merit and importance. The result of this strategy would be to decrease the salience, or prominence, of the issue.

Alternatively, mainstream political parties can adopt either an ‘accommodative’ or ‘adversarial’ strategy. Unlike the dismissive strategy, both an accommodative and adversarial strategy requires the mainstream political party to adopt a position on the niche issue and therefore send signals to voters that the issue is a legitimate one. The net result of this is an increase in the salience of that particular issue.

An accommodative strategy would seek to capitalise on this new found issues’ salience by undermining the distinctiveness of the niche issue and by provide voters with an alternative avenues for its expression – the mainstream political party in place of the niche political party. The mainstream political party would be all the more attractive to voters as a result of its ‘legislative experience’ and ‘governmental effectiveness’.

It is Bonnie Meguid’s contention, then, that given these mainstream party advantages, ‘the established party copy will be perceived as more attractive than the niche party original’. Alternatively, an adversarial strategy declares opposition to the niche issue and in doing so, the salience of that particular issue is increased, however, no alternative avenue of political expression is made available beyond the niche political party.

Applying this theoretical toolkit to the environment and the Green Party, then, we would expect a mainstream political party pursuing an accommodative strategy to adopt greener rhetoric and include environmental protection policies in its programme. A successful accommodative strategy by a mainstream political party would therefore signal to environmentally-concerned voters that with the aforementioned mainstream political party that they should vote for in place of a now marginalised Green or Ecological party.

An adversarial strategy, however, would see the mainstream political party opposing environmental protection – or climate change mitigation – and would therefore signal to voters that they cannot be trusted on the issue, therefore signalling to voters that the Green Party is better placed to address it.

At the moment, however, given the relatively small size of the Green Party in England and Wales, it is entirely possibly for mainstream political parties to dismiss the party. If, however, more and more voters moved towards the Green Party, which seems to be the case, then it becomes progressively harder for mainstream political parties to ignore the new niche rival.

Indeed, some would argue that this is the exact process that has happened for UKIP – at first they were ignored and dismissed, and then when they became an electoral thread, both Labour and Conservative began pandering to anti-immigration voters by adopting progressively harsher and more restrictive stances of immigration.
Importantly, much of the research on party competition between niche and mainstream political parties has shown that mainstream political parties are responsive to the electoral threats posed by niche political parties.

One would thus expect a mainstream political party to respond with either an adversarial or accommodative strategy, and we should therefore witness an increase in the salience of the issue which these niche parties emphasise. In the case of the Green Party then, we should anticipate an increase in the salience of the ‘environment’.

Counter-intuitively, however, the success of Green parties seems to have little effect on how mainstream political parties respond. Indeed, recent research has suggested that when faced against an electorally successful Green Party, mainstream political parties will be more likely to de-emphasise the environment as an issue. This runs in stark contrast to immigration and radical right parties where we witness, such as in the case with UKIP, mainstream political parties seeking to pander towards their cause.

What is the explanation for this apparent disparity then?

The explanation for this result can be explained by the concept of issue ownership. Issue ownership is where political parties are, in the minds of voters, identified with specific policy issues and considered best able to deal with them. Further to this, one can distinguish between the associative and competence-based dimensions of issue ownership. While associative ownership refers to the ‘spontaneous identification’ of particular issues with particular parties in the minds of voters regardless of whether voters consider that particular party to be the most competent in dealing with the issue.

Tautologically, competence-based ownership is gained by parties when they are seen to be competent at handling the issue. From this perspective then, any politicisation of the environment as an issue, and the subsequent increase in salience, will cause partisan realignment in favour of the Green Party, and as Green parties are able to dominate the environment as an issue, both associatively and competence-based, other parties have a strategic incentive to drop the environment as an issue and therefore reduce its overall saliency.

Expressed more simply then, there is a direct correlation between the success of Green parties and the extent to which mainstream political parties actively de-emphasise the environment as an issue. This means that the more successful a Green Party is, the less likely it is that mainstream political parties will adequately address the environment as an important issue.

For any self-proclaimed environmentalist this should be alarming news and should really underscore the simple notion that if one wishes to prioritise environmental issues, then one needs to do so either through the existing political parties or need to accept that in the British context, the environment is nothing but a mid-term consideration that falls by the wayside come election time.

As of 2005, the Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron has shown far more interest in the environment than the Labour Party. Indeed, it was Cameron’s desire to decontaminate the Conservative brand that led him to adopt the environment as an issue so strongly. In this sense then, if one is willing to tolerate centre-right approaches to other policy areas, perhaps the best vehicle for environmental improvement is the Conservative Party.


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Leaked Labour Document – De-emphasise immigration!

Thanks to the leaking of an internal Labour document on party competition with UKIP (PDF), we have learnt some very interesting insights into Labour thinking. It seems that Labour have recognised their inability to directly challenge UKIP on the issue of immigration and are instead focusing on reframing the issue of immigration to focus on the public service and infrastructure impacts, such as stresses on the National Health Service, local housing, et cetera.

There is some explicit recognition of the issue salience literature and how it is informing Labour campaigning. Interestingly, research by Dahlstrom and Sundell 2012 (PDF) suggests that left wing parties are more important in promoting anti-Immigration party support compared to parties on the right. The implication of this is that the Labour Party may be more important in de-emphasising immigration than the Conservatives; assuming the latter were willing.

Watch this space for further comments on issue salience and immigration in party competition with UKIP.

A final note: while Labour seeks to de-emphasise immigration as an issue, what does it seek to do on the economy? It seems impossible to ignore and the Conservatives completely dominate the issue; thus making direct competition hard.


Nuclear Power: An Overview

Header Image: Nuclear Power


Nuclear power is one of those issues that has a tendency to invoke all sorts of emotional reactions. It has the ability, as an issue, to take self-acclaimed scientific parties, such as Green parties, from their scientific-environmental approach right through to pig-headed emotionalism. Given the environmental context in which we now live – and understand – this redundant emotional response is actually quite harmful.

Nuclear power is one of the strongest ways in which we can begin to mitigate our impact upon our environment, and therefore anthropogenic climate change. This article will be structured within the scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is very much a reality and a potent one at that. Any measure that allows us to reduce our impact upon the environment, while also being relatively inexpensive, and providing the necessary energy output, is a boon for policy makers. Nuclear power is not only a proven technology but, unlike many other renewable energies, is actually capable of replacing conventional power plants.

Problems with Renewable Energy

The most important thing to note is that no form of energy generation method we currently have is fully renewable as all require resources to create. To label something as ‘renewable’ one would automatically assume that sustainability and, for all intents and purposes, permanence, could be applied equally as strong.

The degree to which these technologies are renewable, however, is confined purely to their fuel source, and nothing more. By this definition, that permanence of fuel equates to sustainable and renewable, then surely municipal waste is also a renewable source of energy? Needless to say, I cannot imagine many environmentalists proclaiming a renewable source in the form of waste-to-incineration; and quite right, the technology is quite suspect and should be avoided given its negative impact on recycling rates.

However, there is far more to the technology than just the fuel they use, but the materials that compose the technology itself. To take solar panels as a case in point, although one can make them from silicon, a very common substance, solar cells made from silicon are unbelievably inefficient compared to other energy generation technologies. To make solar cells more efficient, and thus ultimately more attractive, one must utilise far rarer metals. Solar cells utilise the material indium which has not only become more sought after but significantly more expensive as a result of the substances usability in LCD Televisions. Furthermore, indium has been predicted to run out in roughly a decades time, a reality which can be witnessed within the price of indium: between January 1992 and January 2012, the price for indium shot up from a mere $200 per kilogram to just short of $800, after a peak of $1000 per kilogram in 2006 (PDF). A fuller contrast of total levied costs per so many units of energy will be covered later, this was but to highlight that renewable technologies are not all that renewable and utilise very rare, and potentially expensive metals. Indeed, when one considers wind power in terms of space used per energy unit produced [W/m2], we see that nuclear power is once again on top.

One element that appears absent from discussions surrounding energy generation is space: the amount of land in which we can develop and the amount of land in which we would wish to develop. I make the distinction because the United Kingdom is not a very well developed country in the sense that the majority of the land is undeveloped. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment found that in England only 2.27% of the land is actually developed (built on) meaning that just under 98% of England is defined as natural land.

When looking at the United Kingdom as a whole, we find that only 1.5% is developed (built on). According to the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, when taking into account all developed and agricultural land, the figure rises closer to one third (PDF). It would be folly to ignore these facts when discussing energy generation as the production of energy requires space, it requires development, and as environmentalists, we should be seeking to limit that development and consumption of space as much as possible.

The figures within Table 1 show that renewable energies are ‘space inefficient’ when compared to nuclear power or conventional plants and thus to replace conventional plants with renewable energies would require significant develop of currently undeveloped land and even greater development if nuclear power is removed from the picture. Table 1 makes clear that nuclear power is the most ‘space efficient’ energy technology.

Table 1
Sources: The Real Problem With Renewables – Forbes ||  One last chance to save mankind – opinion – 23 January 2009 – New Scientist || Sustainable Energy – without the hot air: Power per unit land area of windfarms


The Cost of Energy Generation Technologies

In 2010, Parsons Brinckerhoff published a report into the total levelised generation costs of several renewable, non-renewable and nuclear energies. As we can see from Table 2, in terms of cost, our more traditional natural gas proves to be the most cost effective, followed by biomass, nuclear power and onshore wind. Indeed, these figures show quite clearly that for an environmental group to claim that nuclear power is expensive and thus should not be developed, while at the same time advocating the development of renewable energies, is absurd. Table 2 makes quite clear that nuclear power is among the cheaper energy generation technologies we have.

Table 2
Source: (PDF)

Furthermore, what we witness from Figure 1 is that the expense from nuclear power is not from its emissions, nor from the decommissioning of the plant, the general overheads, nor its operation and maintenance, and definitely not its fuel. The primary cost is the upfront capital expenditure: the cost of actually building the plant itself. All other associated costs are relatively inexpensive, meaning that once the plant has actually been built, operation of the aforementioned plant is inexpensive. Nuclear shares its capital heavy expenditure characteristic with other renewable energies such as wind (onshore and offshore) and tidal power. What separates nuclear plants from wind turbines, however, is the lifespan.

The average life span of a nuclear plant can be upwards of forty years, with the potential to extent that to potentially a century. Conversely, the wind energy industry and Government base calculations on turbines enjoying a lifespan of twenty to twenty-five years, while recent analysis has shown that a wind turbines effective lifespan (in the sense that it can generate electricity effectively) is closer to twelve or fifteen years which is significantly lower than that for nuclear power. So we have a more long lived technology and, depending on whether the wind energy is derived on or off shore, cheaper too.

Figure 1

An important element of the discussion surrounding these technologies is also the degree to which they are subsidised by the tax payer. In 2010, a study by the Global Subsidies Initiative outlined the subsidies that each energy category receives per unit of energy produced. As we can witness from Table 3, nuclear receives significantly less in the way of public subsidies on a global level than does renewable or Biofuel. This means that nuclear remains the cheaper energy production method as well as the least supported by government in terms of subsidies applied globally.

Table 3


The Safety Record of Nuclear Power

One of the major criticisms of nuclear power from environmental lobbies, and Green political parties, is that nuclear power is terribly unsafe. One only has to look into the events of Fukishima or Chernobyl to appreciate this fact; and emphasis the word fact to ensure no discussion can take place. However, while no energy generation technique remains perfectly safe, to suggest that nuclear power is any more dangerous than conventional plants is not born out of the statistics.

Table 4

As can be seen from the statistics above, nuclear power has the lowest deathprint of all the energy generation types listed above, even when including the worst-case Chernobyl numbers and Fukushima projections and uranium mining deaths. The deathprint for nuclear power can be explained in that there are few nuclear power plants and that the ones that do exist produce such great levels of electricity as to diminish the deaths when measured against energy generation as expressed deaths per terawatt hour (TWh) .

Furthermore, nuclear power safety regulations demand high levels of protective technology with passive redundant safety systems, and must be able to withstand the worst case disasters no matter how unlikely they are. Indeed, it is the relative safety of nuclear power that encouraged George Monbiot, noted environmental journalist, to both ‘love nuclear power’ and be converted to the cause of nuclear power.

Like all technologies, nuclear power has its failures. It will be a common argument for anyone familiar with an environmental debate that both Chernobyl and Fukushima were deadly nuclear disasters that laid waste to millions of people. These two examples are utilised to explain the deadly nature of nuclear power.

But as outlined above, taken globally and averaged out as an expression TWh, we see that nuclear is no more dangerous than wind, solar or hydro power, something environmentalists advocate. Furthermore, the claims that nuclear power is somehow responsible for millions of deaths in either of these cases is wrong.

Indeed a report published by the Chernobyl Forum concluded that these claims ‘are highly exaggerated’ (PDF). The World Health Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Development Programme estimate that radiation from the disaster will cause up to about four thousand eventual deaths among the higher exposed populations.

Environmentalists often quote a Greenpeace report that suggested that there will be 270,000 cases of cancer attributable to Chernobyl fallout, and that 93,000 of these will probably be fatal. However, concern has been expressed about the methods used in compiling the report, and the report has not been subject to peer review nor does it rely on peer reviewed science as the Chernobyl Forum report does.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) concluded that the total death toll reliably attributable to the radiation produced by the disaster stands at 62* (PDF). The same highly exaggerated claims have been made toward the Fukushima disaster as well, claims which Dr. James Conca, an international expert on the environmental effects of radioactive contamination, dismissed rather flippantly by comparing the dose of radiation from living within the evacuated zones around Fukushima with his yearly consumption of crisps.

He goes on to offer advice to the radiation worried Germans that if they are ‘worried about radiation then a more sensible course of action [than shutting down their nuclear plants] would be to stop eating crisps, beets, brazil nuts and bananas, all of which are relatively high but ultimately harmless sources of radiation’.

Indeed, what makes this reaction more hyperbolic is that fly ash emitted by conventional coal powered plants carried into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. James Lovelock further explains away the radiation issue within his book, the Revenge of Gaia, by pointing out that during the nuclear testing in 1962 alone equalled the output of 20,000 Hiroshima warheads. Such tests, Lovelock argues, released radioactive materials into the air equal to two Chernobyl disasters per week for a whole year and yet no proven health damage to humans has been observed since.

[A full comparison chart of radiation can be found here: Radiation Chart | xkcd]


In short, what we witness with nuclear power is a proven technology that can provide masses of energy inexpensively, efficiently, and while being friendly to the environment. Much of the criticisms of nuclear power are usually hyperbolic in nature and rely on highly exaggerated statistics and figures, quite often from non-peer reviewed and non-scientifically sourced documents.

One need not like nuclear power to appreciate the necessity of developing nuclear power to meet not only our energy demands but also our international obligations for the reduction of certain emissions. Notably, like renewable energies, the carbon footprint of nuclear power is quite small save for the actual construction of the plant and the mining of Uranium.

Compared to conventional plants, and even renewable energies, nuclear power is resoundingly safe with a far lower death toll per unit of energy than any other mainstream energy technology. Even following crisis and disaster, the death toll from nuclear is resoundingly small. The Chernobyl incident resulted in the death of a few thousand individuals, while Fukushima has resulted in the death of none. Conversely, the worst energy disaster in the Banqiao dam disaster that killed upto an estimated 230,000 people. If we are to meet our international obligations; to produce sufficient energy to meet our demands; and to produce energy safely, nuclear power has to be part of our energy market.


Arguments for an Unelected House of Lords

At a conference in Blackpool on Saturday 1st November, Ed Miliband pledged that the Labour Party, assuming it won the 2015 General Election in May, would replace the current unelected House of Lords with an elected senate, representative of the country’s regions.

Miliband argued that the House of Lords was not just a constitutional issue, but an issue of fairness – more specifically, an issue of geographic justice. Quite simply, Miliband argued that the House of Lords is dominated by a clique from London, and fails to represent the other regions and nations of the United Kingdom.

In this article, not only do I wish to address why I personally believe in an unelected House of Lords, but I also wish to address why many of the concerns of the democratisers are unfounded or counter-intuitive. I should make it clear, at this point, that I am not advocating no reform of the House of Lords. After I have explained my support for the House of Lords, I will detail the many changes that I would make to the Chamber to ensure that it better serves the interests of the country.

A Reform Incomplete and Concerns Dismissed

Perhaps the best place to start is with the House of Lords Act 1999. The Act was meant to be the first step in a comprehensive, albeit incremental, reform of the House of Lords. Subsequent reforms of the House of Lords, however, have not been forthcoming. It was effectively abandoned by the Labour Government, and the proposals of the coalition government failed at the first hurdles. While the House of Lords Act 1999 achieved the partial removal of the hereditary peers – all but 92 – and introduced the Appointments Commission, a failure to engage in further reform has left a number of abnormalities; not least the remaining hereditary peers and the Lords Spiritual, as well as the powers of patronage at the behest of the Prime Minister.

For many ordinary voters, it is true to say that the House of Lords does not rank all that highly among their list of concerns. In fact, these constitutional distractions rarely appear as a blip on the radar of the electorate; save for a few anoraks. That being said, however, we should not conclude that House of Lords reform is unimportant. The House of Lords is an incredibly important institution and the failure of the Labour Government to settle this constitutional issue is problematic. There is a track record among Labour governments of engaging in meaningful reform but without the political capital or will to actually complete it. On a number of occasions, such a task has been left to a subsequent Conservative administration. I would posit, therefore, that the House of Lords shall not be any different. Much like the economy, another unfinished job has been inherited and to ensure a suitable constitutional settlement, it is up to the Conservative Party to address it.

Problematically, however, coalition with the Liberal Democrats will complicate this process. Should we wish to engage in meaningful reform of the House of Lords, then the exclusion of the Liberal Democrats from the process will be vital. While I suspect the Liberal Democrats are acting from the best of motives*, their compulsion with electing the House of Lords will prove counterproductive and achieve a more undemocratic constitutional arrangement than we currently have.

On a simplistic level, it does follow that to introduce elections would be to achieve greater democracy. Problematically, however, the introduction of elections would be to introduce the party whips into the chamber. It is the independence of the House of Lords from the party whips and the government that makes it such a valued and important chamber, and it is their independence that must be preserved. Any introduction of elections will severely damage their independence as a chamber, and provide yet another avenue for the Government of the day to ride roughshod over Parliament and the people.

Aside from democratisation, the idea of legitimacy is a reoccurring theme within the debate over the House of Lords. Democratisers would argue that without direct elections, it is impossible for the House of Lords to hold legitimacy as a chamber, and therefore unfit to wield power or influence decision making. This equation of legitimacy with elections is rather narrow and does not apply to a range of institutions within the state.

Noting the authority of international organisations, Steffek suggests that ‘there might be other reasons than democratic participation’, among them, ‘expert deliberation’. The most common application of legitimacy resulting from expert deliberation is perhaps the courts. At best, the judiciary has indirect democratic accountability, but yet are often held in far higher regard and esteem than politicians. The legitimacy of the judiciary, then, might well be derived from the expertise and non-partisanship of the institution.

Given the impact of the judiciary upon our Government, even to the point of striking down legislation (or more accurately, ruling legislation to be incompatible with European and human rights legislation), I would posit that should ‘non-election’ derived legitimacy be accepted for the judiciary, it should equally be accepted for the House of Lords. The question is not the notion of an unelected institution, but its composition as an expert and non-partisan chamber – something I will return to later when I address future reforms.

The third major concern among democratisers is the patronage of the Prime Minister; simply put, the ability of our Prime Minister to appoint members of the House of Lords. In contrast to concerns surrounding democracy and legitimacy, this is one concern that I share with democratisers. The ability of the Prime Minister to radically alter the composition of the House of Lords through party-political appointments is inherently problematic as it leads to an inflation in the number of sitting members, is hugely open to corruption, and severely damages the independence of the House of the Lords.

However, to suggest that election to the House of Lords would resolve this problem is wrong. Any election to the House of Lords would inherently, as outlined before, increase the powers of the political parties. So while we have weakened the ability of the Prime Minister to radically alter the chamber, we have merely distributed from one leader to two; maybe three if the Liberal Democrats recover their strength. This concern can be addressed fully while maintaining an unelected House of Lords; something I will come back to when addressing future reforms.

While I consider democratisation, legitimacy, and Prime Ministerial patronage to be the more pressing concerns of the democratisers, before moving onto why I believe in the House of Lords – and subsequently the reforms I would make – I should state that many within the reformist movement would highlight more than just these concerns, and would give them far more detail and explanation than I have done here. Due to brevity, however, I have kept them as short as possible and would urge any interested readers to further research arguments in favour of democratisation.

Arguments for an unelected House of Lords

Perhaps the strongest argument for an unelected House of Lords is the fact that, for the most part, the chamber is composed of experts in their fields. Not only does this lead to a far higher quality in the deliberative functions of the chamber, but in the rigorous scrutinising functions of the chamber also. It is widely accepted that legislation produced within the House of Commons is in immediate need of improvement and ‘cleaning’ and it is this revising function that the House of Lords excels at, and it is its expert composition that allows for this. A comparison of upper chambers abroad shows that no other upper chamber achieves a similar reputation as an intellectual powerhouse as the House of Lords does.

Much of the composition of the House of Lords consists of life peers who have been appointed as a result of their experience, achievements, and personal distinction. The imposition of elections upon the House the Lords would lead to this wealth of knowledge being lost. While like any chamber the House of Lords requires political experts in order to comprehend the workings of Parliament, too much of a political bias can skew the priorities of the House, and its intellectual resources.

Interestingly, not only is the House of Lords express more expertise than the House of Commons, but its appointments procedures result in a far more diverse selection of appointees. It should be of no surprise to anyone that the political parties, and by implication the House of Commons, is very male, very pale, and very middle class. Furthermore, there is a tendency for political parties to choose candidates who are ‘one of us’, and therefore certain sections of our community have been severely under-represented, notable women, minorities, and disabled people.

The proportion of women in both chambers is 22%. 4% of MPs come from ethnic backgrounds compared with 5% for the House of Lords. As of yet, there are no available (and credible) data on the number of disabled people in Parliament.

These statistics are problematic for the House of Lords, however. As we know, the majority of life peers are currently appointed by the Prime Minister, and as we already know, political parties – and their elites – promote their own kind. Therefore, for an accurate comparison, we need to visit the Lords appointed by the Appointments Commission.

Since the creation of the Appointments Commission in 2000, 63 people have been appointed to the House of Lords. Of whom, 22 are women, 13 are minorities, and 7 are disabled. This equates to 36%, 22%, and 11% respectively (PDF). A cursory glance shows that these figures are significantly better than for the House of Commons. It stands to reason, then, that if the House of Lords were to become a mainly or fully elected chamber, with candidates coming through political parties, the diversity achieved via the Appointments Commission would be lost in favour of ‘one of us’ – pale, male, and middle class.

Finally, and somewhat more contentious, is the notion of supremacy. It has long been argued by those opposed to elections to the House of Lords that such a policy would be to throw the supremacy of the House of Commons into dispute. A more democratic chamber would be far more unwilling to honour the conventions that restrict it, so the argument goes, and would therefore challenge the Commons far more often.

While such arguments are speculative, there is some evidence to suggest some degree of truth. Following the House of Lords Reform Act 1999, there has been a growing belief that the House of Lords has become more emboldened and that the conventions that constrain its powers have weakened.

In a wide-ranging review of the impact of the 1999 changes, Meg Russell shows that in those cases where the Commons has refused to accept House of Lords amendments, the House of Lords has become more willing to insist upon them.

As table.1 shows, post-1999, the House of Lords has become somewhat more assertive in ‘insisting’ that its amendments are maintained. While this does not speak to the result of direct elections to the House of Lords, it is rather indicative of the potential for the House of Lords – or Senate – to begin challenging the House of Commons ever more, and perhaps even its supremacy.

House of Lords insistences


It is as this point that I hope readers of this will accept that democratisation of the House of Lords is not as obvious a choice as proponents make out; that the House of Lords might well be worth maintaining in its current form as an unelected and fully appointed chamber.

That is not to suggest, however, that we should accept the status quo entirely. There are some reforms that could be implemented rather more quickly and achieve impressive results.

Perhaps the best place to start is with those members of the House of Lords who have committed criminal offences or have failed to attend for a given period. For some years, both Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Steel of Aikwood have attempted to steer through the House of Lords a private members bill that would introduce provisions for members of the House of Lords to retire or resign permanently, and for members convicted of serious offences to be expelled. It made provisions for members who did not attend to be expelled also. As of May 2014, this bill entered the statue books as the House of Lords Reform (no.2) Bill 2013-2014.

While this bill is a step in the right direction, it certainly does not go far enough. A member of the House of Lords, for example, would not be disqualified from sitting in the chamber if they committed serious offences abroad. In these cases the House of Lords would need to resolve that penalties apply. It seems rather anomalous to apply the chamber to deliberate as to whether those convicted of serious offences be expelled or not – the act of committing a serious offence, whether at home or abroad, should be met with automatic expulsion. Future legislation should include provisions for this.

There are many other aspects of poor parliamentary behaviour for which this Act has had no impact. In these circumstances, provisions to empower the House of Lords to expel or suspend members in cases where the member is found to have breached privilege or acted with disregard to formal rules or expenses seems prudent. Therefore, the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill introduced by Baroness Hayman should be accepted.

It goes without saying that the remaining hereditary peers should be removed, and as for the Lords Spiritual? While I shall not argue the issue, it has always been my belief that so long as the United Kingdom has an established church, the Church of England, we should maintain the Lords Spiritual.

Beyond this, perhaps the single most important and anomalous aspect of the House of Lords is the powers of Prime Ministerial patronage. The ability of the Prime Minister to reward followers and supporters with life peerages is concerning and certainly widens the scope for corruption within our Parliament. I would therefore submit that the powers of patronage, regarding the granting of life peerages to the House of Lords be removed from the Prime Minister entirely and given to the independent Appointments Commission. The Appointments Commission has proven that peers appointed through it are more diverse and representative of the country, and are of high quality.

A more responsible body to award life peerages, in conjunction with provisions to expel or remove members should ensure that the numbers within the House of Lords are reduced over time, but that the quality of peers is not in any way reduced. A stronger more representative House of Lords is in the interests of everyone, and while superficially democratisation makes sense, it would only serve to damage a precious British institution that still has much to offer.


Apologies for the huge gap between this and my last published article. I hope that I should be putting things on-line a bit more regularly now from now on.

As ever, please share your thoughts by commenting below or contacting us via the contact form. If you liked the article or want to spark some discussion, please share it with friends and family so that they may engage with it as well. Sharing is caring!

What Hope for the Nuclear Deterrent

The prospect of Scottish Independence has seen the emergence of a number of political issues with which the Scottish National Party hope to use as a dividing block between the Government in Westminster and a Nationalist government in a perhaps soon-to-be independent Scotland. One of the sensitive issues that has arisen is that of our nuclear deterrent. While the UK government remains committed to maintaining the ‘nuclear deterrent’, the Scottish Nationalists are determined that an Independent Scotland would be a nuclear-free state.

Following on from this, there had been suggestions that should Scotland become an independent state, the ability of the United Kingdom to maintain a nuclear deterrent would be compromised; some have suggested that such a thing would be impossible.

As ever, the reality is somewhat more nuanced than that. A report published recently by the Royal United Services Institution, the leading forum for national defence and security, suggests that a relocation of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent could be made possible with an investment of between £3 billion and £4 billion; although this figure does exclude any costs associated with land purchasing and clearance.

Given the sheer size of government expenditure, predicted at £714billion for 2014, it could be argued that such an investment is neither significant nor unreasonable. If one holds to the notion that the nuclear deterrent is a vital tool in Britain’s foreign policy arsenal, then the investment in infrastructure for nuclear forces is a necessary expenditure.

What is clear is that the potential upheaval caused by the withdrawal of Scotland from the Union represents the perfect opportunity for the British government to review its capabilities and whether or not the nuclear deterrent actually represents British interests. So far, the debate has presumed the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent and has thus been rather more neutered than it otherwise should be.

I believe that as the nuclear deterrent has been brought to the political spotlight, we should be engaged in full discussion and scrutiny of our nuclear forces both in terms of the service they provide and, indeed more importantly, the value they provide.

After all, the additional £3 billion or £4 billion spent on the relocation of our nuclear forces is but another expensive addition to an already expensive programme. We already spend billions of pounds per annum on maintaining our now dated nuclear deterrent and will, in due course, spend tens of billions more replacing and updating it.

Government estimates put the cost of procurement for the replacement of the Trident system at up to £25 billion. Once operating, maintenance, and other associated costs are taken into account, over the lifetime of the system, other studies have suggested the real figure is far closer to £100 billion, with upper estimates reaching as much as £130 billion.

Given the Ministry of Defences’ track record for bringing in budgets on time and at cost, these estimates could be unduly optimistic. An independent report produced for the Ministry of Defence concluded that, on average, defence programmes cost more than 40% than were originally budgeted for, a fact that means that the replacement of the Trident system could reach as much as £180 billion.

To quantify these costs, and using the governments rather low estimate of ‘up to £25 billion’, the opportunity cost in terms of newly qualified nurses is 120,000 nurses every year for the next decade, or 60,000 newly qualified teachers every year for the next 20 years. As outlined earlier, this is but the cost of procuring the new system and does not take into account other associated costs such as maintenance and operating costs.

It might be worth noting that £180 billion even dwarves our annual deficit – the raison d’être for the coalition’s cuts regime.

But while the independence debate has increased the salience of the nuclear deterrent, we have so far failed to move beyond how Scotland’s withdrawal will impact upon the system. The discussion we should be having is whether or not the system represents value for money, and ultimately, whether we should keep it.

Arguments for the renewal of the Trident nuclear system began to surface in 2006 when the then Labour Government, under the premiership of Tony Blair, sought a like-for-like replacement on the basis that, while we do not yet face threats from foreign states, we may do so within the foreseeable future. Against the backdrop of possible foreign hostility, it would be folly to ignore our nuclear deterrent.

Curiously, however, in 2010 the National Security Strategy entitled ‘A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty’ was published. The report concluded that the threats to the United Kingdom were no longer conventional and state-based, but rather came from a myriad of sources including terrorism, cyber-warfare, unconventional usage of conventional weaponry by individuals and collectives, as well as large scale natural disasters.

For none of these threats are nuclear weapons an appropriate response and no such threats are expected to emerge; at least not according to the Ministry of Defence. But even the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, in 2006, argued that there is no longer a hostile state in the world against which the kind of strategic deterrence represented by Trident would be appropriate.

The Committee concluded that ‘the UK will need to examine whether the concept of nuclear deterrence remains useful in the current strategic environment and in the context of the existing and emerging threats to the security of the country’. Any decision regarding future policy must be able to prove itself against the test of necessity within this environment but as already shown, neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Commons Defence Select Committee can envisage a scenario wherein the use of nuclear weapons would be appropriate. I would therefore posit that the nuclear deterrent fails the test of necessity within the environment we currently habit.

How Scotland’s withdrawal from the Union will impact upon British politics and various government programmes is an interesting and worthwhile debate, but that should not come at the cost of reviewing whether or not current or proposed government expenditure represents best value for money, especially in a climate of supposed austerity.

The failure of the coalition to include Trident within its initial defence review was a shocking decision and one that the coalition should rectify come the next review. Unless substantial evidence can be generated to prove the effectiveness and necessity for nuclear forces, Britain might well be best served by the removal of the system entirely.



Apologies for the huge delay in getting this article out. As many of you are aware, I have recently moved house and, when I finally got my computer set up, it suffered a mechanical failure. I am finally back up and running!

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