The House of Lords can’t be anything like the US Senate, Mr Caldwell
Letters, Financial Times, 17-18 March 2007:
A reformed Lords essential to hold executive to account
By Brian Barder
Sir, For once Christopher Caldwell's feel for the British constitution and politics has deserted him ("An impasse at the House of Lords", March 10). An all-elected second chamber would not result in "'gridlock' arising from two co-equal legislatures with clashing cultures and interests", because the two chambers would not be "co-equal": the Commons would retain its primacy as generator, host, sustainer and potential destroyer of governments, the chamber in which virtually all significant ministers sit and which alone controls supply, and the one able ultimately to override objections of the second chamber to its decisions.
If in addition the second chamber is elected a third at a time on a different timetable to the Commons, with each member serving for a longer term, and by a different electoral system that denies an overall majority to any single party, no danger of a challenge to the Commons or even of a claim to equality with the Commons can arise.
For all these reasons Mr Caldwell's analogy with the US Senate is faulty. However, Mr Caldwell is correct in pointing out that the current controversy over alleged "cash for peerages" has effectively discredited any idea of appointing even a small proportion of members of the second chamber, a proposal (along with the suggestion of party lists for elections to it) brazenly designed to perpetuate the executive's power of patronage and its already excessive control over both Houses of Parliament.
Finally, Mr Caldwell should know that the question whether we "need a second house in the first place" is often raised and that the answer to it is that abolition of the second chamber would leave us with a House of Commons already almost completely subservient to and controlled by the executive via the party system and the whips, whereas what is needed is much greater parliamentary power to hold the executive to account, for which a reformed, wholly elected second chamber is absolutely essential.
(HM Diplomatic Service 1965-94)