Meet Baroness Henig, Stoking Fear Of Terrorism To Benefit Her Private Security Business

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Baroness Henig’s exploitation of the Paris Attacks anniversary to advocate new laws demanding that concert venues invest more in security – while herself employed as chair of a private security firm which just so happens to provide these services – showcases British politics at its most tawdry and corrupt

There are innumerable reasons why the House of Lords in its current state is an utterly intolerable affront to democracy and ethical decision-making, but an example from today really takes the biscuit.

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the heinous coordinated terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall and across Paris, and Baroness Ruth Henig – a Labour peer appointed in 2004 – decided that today would be the perfect day to pop up on the BBC News Channel to declare that private concert venues should do more in terms of anti-terrorism security and training, enforced by law through a potential change to the Licencing Act 2003.

From BBC News:

Licensing laws should be changed to force entertainment venues around the UK to undergo counter-terror training, a private security expert has said.

Baroness Ruth Henig told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that some venues did not take such training “seriously”. The former chair of the Security Industry Authority now plans to table an amendment to the 2003 licensing act, to include counter-terror training. Her comments come nearly a year after 130 people died in attacks in Paris.

[..] Baroness Henig said: “There are clearly a number of venues, often the larger venues, I think, but not always, who have airport-style security, who, for example, do have metal detectors, who do have very well-trained security personnel and they top up this training regularly.

“But I think at the other end there is a tail of venues who aren’t taking it seriously, we know this from the police, who don’t co-operate, who don’t take up the offers that are made to them and where I think there are some concerns.

“And the issue is how do you get to that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security.”

So far, so noble, you might think. After all, Baroness Henig only recently completed two terms as chair of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the government regulator for private security firms run under the auspices of the Home Office. Who better to make a reasoned, fact-based case for more necessary security regulation than somebody who was in charge of holding the industry to account?

Only that is no longer Baroness Henig’s role. Rather than regulating the industry and ensuring that professional standards are upheld, Ruth Henig can now be found on the board of SecuriGroup, a private security consultancy and provider itself regulated by the SIA – and not just as any board member, but as the Chair of that organisation.

Here’s her official company bio:

Baroness Henig joined SecuriGroup after completing two successful terms as Chair of the Home Office Regulator, the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Baroness Henig’s commitment to security and policing is well documented having held the post of Chair of Lancashire Police Authority and the Chair of the Association of Police Authorities in England and Wales which led to the award of a CBE in 2000 for services to policing. The Baroness also served on the National Criminal Justice Board and Street Crime Action Group, chaired by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

She was appointed as Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire in 2002 and made a life peer in 2004 as Baroness Henig of Lancaster. As a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Henig takes her place on the European Security Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a member of the Independent Policing Commission.

And most conveniently, some of the services offered by SecuriGroup include counter-terrorism strategy training, security guarding, door supervision and event security. One might say that SecuriGroup are perfectly poised to provide the very services that their CEO is currently insisting are made mandatory from her unelected seat within the UK Parliament.

To move instantly from a position regulating an industry to the chairmanship of one of those companies being regulated is concerning in and of itself. In fact, the free flow of individuals back and forth between regulator and regulated organisations is one of the primary symptoms of “regulatory capture,” a phenomenon whereby a government body established to regulate an industry “instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating”.

In this context, Ruth Henig’s sudden concern that smaller music venues are not stumping up for expensive anti-terrorism security countermeasures starts to look a lot less like high-minded public interest and a lot more like grubby concern for the bottom line. Is Henig worried about “that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security” because the safety of concertgoers has been keeping her up at night, or because a valuable revenue stream for SecuriGroup has been going unexploited? Given that she now derives her pay cheque from a private security firm, one has to assume that it is at least partly the latter.

Henig tries to cast herself in a virtuous light by pointing out the fact that the initial police consultations with event venues offered as part of Project Griffin are free. And so they are. But when the risk-averse police advise small venues operating on shoestring budgets that they need to pay for additional private security (by hiring the services of SecuriGroup or its competitors), that certainly will not be free. The sums of money involved would likely shut down or severely restrict the operations of many of Britain’s smaller music venues.

Of course there is nothing surprising about a Labour politician downplaying the cost of regulatory compliance – this is their bread and butter. But to do so because one has a direct financial interest in more stringent regulation is morally grey at best.

And this is one of the main problems with the House of Lords. Henig’s case is far from unique. It is just particularly disgusting, because it involves taking advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist murder of more than a hundred people to help drum up more business for SecuriGroup. But regulatory capture is an inherent feature of an appointed House of Lords, not an awkward and unintended quirk.

When governments appoint people to the upper legislative chamber based often on their industry experience (and that’s a best case scenario, assuming they aren’t simply cronies being rewarded for political services rendered), those people will naturally retain extensive links to the industries in which they built their careers and reputations. Sometimes this can be a good thing and lead to better, more considered lawmaking. But if the legislator in question is still working (or intends to return to work) in that field, then their judgment is inherently compromised.

Unfortunately, rather than realising the glaring conflict of interest and recusing herself from debate on the subject, Baroness Ruth Henig decided instead to roll up her sleeves and abuse her position as an unelected peer to further the interests of the company she runs – and all in the run-up to the anniversary of a terrorist attack which killed 130 innocent people.

Britain is crying out for proper constitutional reform to build up the public’s diminished faith in our democratic process. Part of that means proper reform of the House of Lords – making it a fully elected chamber (with term limits, length of terms and the candidate pool open for discussion, so long as we produce a more deliberative body), ending the “elected dictatorship” of the primacy of the Commons, kicking out the theocratic Lords Spiritual and drastically shrinking the membership.

But it also means cracking down on the kind of morally dubious behaviour exhibited by people like Baroness Ruth Henig. We must end the revolving doors which currently exist between Parliament and industry, Parliament and lobbying and between regulator and regulatee. Somebody who just completed two terms regulating the private security industry should not then immediately be allowed to go and work in that same sector. Just because it is commonplace and seen by the establishment as a “deserved reward” for having previously slummed it on the public purse does not make it right.

Using the anniversary of the November 2015 Paris Attacks to promote a bill making it mandatory for even the smallest of music venues to invest heavily in additional security is politics at its most cynical – particularly when you consider that heavily armed and well trained gunmen such as those who committed the Paris Attacks (and the previous attack on Charlie Hebdo) would hardly be deterred by the presence of additional unarmed security guards.

But promoting an ineffective course of action which also happens to result in significant monetary gain for one’s outside business interests is about as low as it is possible to get. By all account, Baroness Henig’s career thus far has been distinguished and honourable. She should reverse course and either give up her chairmanship of SecuriGroup or otherwise immediately recuse herself from any further part in legislating security issues – or risk tarnishing that good reputation forever.

 

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Top Image: BBC

Bottom Images: Pixabay, Twitter / SecuriGroup

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The Daily Smackdown: Cynical Bishops Exploit Terrorism For Publicity

BBC Religion Television

Who will condemn the bishops for exploiting our fear of terrorism in their grubby bid to preserve taxpayer funding of the BBC’s religious output?

The Church of England is very upset that the BBC is considering cutting the amount of taxpayer money it spends on (predominantly) Christian television output.

From the Telegraph:

A spokeswoman confirmed that the BBC was planning to “look at ways we can reduce costs” as it faced “huge financial challenges” but added that cuts would come from across the corporation.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, the Church of England’s lead spokesman on media issues, said the move could threaten something which was “fundamental to our public life”.

“It seems to me that religion has already taken a hit,” he said.

“It has already been reduced certainly in terms of its scope as an independent part of the BBC, at a time when we already need – as everyone acknowledges – more religious literacy in the nation.”

Nothing unusual there. The Church of England is a well oiled lobbying machine, and any private organisation lucky enough to have a bloc of 26 unelected representatives sitting in parliament to influence our laws in their favour would be foolish not to make good use of them. Thus it is no surprise that the unelected theocrats of our state church have been hard at work speaking out against the BBC’s planned actions.

But the fact that the Church of England’s behaviour is understandable does not make it any less reprehensible. Firstly, because it makes a total mockery of the idea of the BBC as an independent broadcaster. Nobody seriously believes that an organisation whose budget is nearly totally dependent on taxpayer money can be truly independent, but the fact that the Lords Spiritual are now actually speaking in parliament about the internal decisions and strategy of the BBC makes any pretence of the BBC’s impartiality or the government’s non-involvement utterly ridiculous.

Worse than this, though, is the flimsy rationale now offered by the bishops as a pathetic excuse for more taxpayer funded religious programming:

Bishops have warned the BBC it risks turnings its back on efforts to tackle extremism and aid integration by slashing spending on religious programming.

[..] The first female cleric in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, remarked that the decision had presumably been taken “to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday”.

It is good to see the newly enobled Rachel Treweek, my Lord Bishop of Gloucester, is wasting no time in rolling up her sleeves and interfering in our national democracy as generations of theocrats have done before her. She will be making the home team very proud. But unfortunately, she and her fellow Lords Spiritual are talking nonsense.

The argument that cutting the amount of taxpayer money devoted to religious television and radio programming on the state broadcaster is somehow a threat to anti-extremism efforts is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.

More moderate Christianity on TV will not result in less Islamic extremism on the margins of British society. And pontificating, busybody bishops who abuse their parliamentary platform to suggest otherwise should provide evidence for the supposed link, or else retract the claim and admit that they are simply exploiting serious issues of national security in a cheap ploy to gain more taxpayer-funded airtime.

The real issue is not so much the pull factor of extremism as the push factor of the alienation of too many young Muslims from British society. It’s the fact that we have living among us too many self-segregated societies comprised of people who hold the same passports as us, but look upon us – and the enlightenment values of reason, education, liberty and democracy to which we try to adhere – as alien and unwelcome. By failing to inculcate a strong and inclusive sense of Britishness, out of craven fear of causing offence, we provide the Islamist recruiters with easy fodder.

Do my Lord Bishops of Gloucester and Norwich (flowery titles for a bygone age) seriously believe that the kind of alienated youths and their families who are now quietly slipping away to ISIS in Syria or seeking out radicalising materials online are the same type of people who tune in to BBC Two at six o’clock in the evening, ready to be reached out to and placated with a documentary about public spirited imams, rabbis and priests working together to open a new community centre? What nonsense.

The people most in need of the BBC’s moderate religious programming and generally liberal worldview are those whose eyes are glued to YouTube videos of anti-American 9/11 conspiracy theories or seditious social media conversations on their smartphone screens. More government intervention – be it through Prevent or the BBC – is not going to make meaningful inroads to these people. The only lasting solution must come from the bottom up, a revitalisation of patriotism and pride in Britain, and the promotion of a common British identity which transcends racial divides (rather than revelling in a multicultural dystopia which sees groups living side by side but separately in parallel, alienated lives.

Do the Lord Bishops have anything meaningful to say about that? No, they do not – perhaps with the exception of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

This is in no way intended as an attack on religion, or on the Church of England (so long as it stays within its own boundaries and stops trying to play an undue role in our public life). I grew up watching Songs of Praise on a Sunday, and have happy memories of doing so. But it is not right for general taxpayers of an increasingly secular country to continue funding religious programming using a model that invites some appointed bureaucrat or another to choose which religions or denominations are to be favoured above others.

Perhaps the Lords Spiritual begin to grasp this. Perhaps they are grasping at these increasingly ludicrous excuses for their continued influence because deep down, they realise that they have no place in the government of a twenty-first century democracy.

But if these are the death throes of theocracy in Britain, they are still very offensive indeed. Claiming that the BBC should continue to spend taxpayer money on religious output favouring the established church because failing to do so will unleash more extremism – and note how the bishops cannot bring themselves to utter the name of the religion from which that extremism currently emanates – is cynical and manipulative, playing on the fears of British people just to win more free promotion.

I have never expected much from the Church of England’s upper hierarchy, or their antidemocratic parliamentary delegation. But this is low, even by their rock-bottom standards.

First female bishop to sit in House of Lords

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David Cameron’s Abominable Plan To Neuter The House of Lords

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Britain’s unwritten constitution is not David Cameron’s plaything, or a convenient omission to be taken advantage of by opportunistic politicians who want to sidestep proper scrutiny

What do do when the British system of democracy fails to ensure a smooth and easy ride for each and every government bill or personal initiative of the prime minister?

Why, simply change the rules of the game, and meddle with the constitution so the only answer that anyone can give is an enthusiastic “yes!”.

This is essentially what David Cameron is now proposing to do, with some of the most nakedly autocratic changes to our legislature in recent memory.

The FT reports:

David Cameron has been secretly drawing up a plan to bypass an increasingly hostile anti-Tory majority in the House of Lords, which is threatening to wreak havoc with his legislative plans.

The UK prime minister will use the recent bust-up with the Lords on tax-credit reform as a chance to neuter the powers of the upper house.

Lord Strathclyde, the Tory grandee charged by Mr Cameron with reviewing the role of peers, is set to propose this month that the Lords should lose its veto over delegated or “secondary” legislation, such as the measure implementing tax-credit cuts.

Once that veto is removed, Mr Cameron is expected to step up his government’s increasing use of delegated legislation — also known as statutory instruments — to ram contentious measures through the upper house.

A typically arrogant move, as befits our current prime minister. But the worst comes in the form of this sneering, boastful threat from an unnamed senior Tory:

“If the House of Commons insisted, that would be it,” said one senior Tory.

“The House of Lords has to tread carefully,” he added. “If they don’t accept this proposal, we could stop them having any say at all on secondary legislation. That’s a big bazooka.”

In other words, the upper chamber of our national legislature should exist only to serve as an ermine-clad rubber stamp to the will of the prime minister. Sure, Cameron is happy to let the Lords poke around and pontificate on minor legislation of no real importance, just to give the appearance of a well-functioning and accountable system. But when it comes to the big ticket items involving finance, foreign or military affairs, the House of Lords should remain about as weak and toothless as its average, septuagenarian member.

In their outrage at being thwarted on tax credits and defied with regard to the voting age in the EU referendum, the government appears to have forgotten that scrutinising hasty legislation, thinking independently of the House of Commons and checking the “elected dictatorship” of the executive is exactly what an upper legislative chamber is supposed to do. If the composition of the upper house exactly mirrored that of the lower house, and voted in exactly the same way, there would be no point to its existence. This friction and tension between the two institutions forms one of the key checks and balances in our democracy – it is not something to be casually tossed aside whenever the government of the day finds its preferred pathway blocked.

There’s a dangerous chicken and egg dynamic at play when it comes to the House of Lords. The fact that the Lords are not democratically elected effectively gives cover to authoritarian governments who want to impose their will on the country unchecked. “None of these people were elected, while we just won the last general election”, governments can say. “Therefore we should be allowed to overrule or bypass the Lords in order to do the will of the people”.

But this also creates a powerful incentive to delay attempts to make the Lords more democratic, because to do so would add legitimacy to the body and make it much harder to steamroller ill-considered legislation past reasonable scrutiny and on to the statute books. The last attempt at positive House of Lords reform stalled early on during the coalition government of 2010-2015, after the Liberal Democrat initiative was blocked by a group of recalcitrant Tory MPs, and there will certainly be no further attempt now that the Conservatives govern alone.

It is certainly hard to argue that today’s House of Lords – made up of unelected grandees, failed MPs, influential party donors and the intolerable Lords Spiritual – should have the right to delay or veto government legislation. The current system is by definition undemocratic. But shamefully, David Cameron’s answer is not to make the House of Lords a powerful and democratically legitimate upper chamber, as he should, but rather to use the current state of the Lords as a convenient argument to help his government avoid much-needed scrutiny.

As this blog has been arguing for three years now, Britain urgently needs a full constitutional convention so that the weighty questions of how we govern ourselves and where power resides can be tackled, resolved and formalised in a document.

Equality for the four home nations in terms of devolved power. A fresh look at pushing power down to the lowest possible level, preferably the individual. Empowering cities, counties and regions (building on George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, but going much further). More elected mayors. Term limits for politicians and ministers. A pre-determined order of prime ministerial succession, so that the leader of our country is not chosen behind closed doors in the event that the unthinkable happens. House of Lords reform. House of Commons reform. Electronic voting in parliament to save vast amounts of valuable time. Perhaps splitting the executive from the legislature, so that MPs can concentrate on their jobs without being distracted by attempts to climb the greasy pole. All of these ideas and more should be on the table, with a view to fixing ancient democratic deficits while preserving all of the best of that which makes Britain great.

But what we have at the moment is piecemeal constitutional reform on demand – not with a view to promoting democracy or ensuring a well governed country, but simply in order to solve whatever problem happens to be confronting the government of the day. This is no way for politicians to govern, and it is no way to run a modern nation state.

Unfortunately, issues of governance and constitutional reform rarely bring people out onto the streets in protest, despite being of far more long term consequence to us all than relatively trifling matters like NHS junior doctors pay, HS2 or tax credits. But all concerned citizens should fight David Cameron’s latest lazy attempt at constitutional reform on the fly with every weapon at their disposal.

First we must stop the damage already being done. But that is not enough. It is not enough to stop David Cameron’s government from inflicting further vandalism on Britain’s constitution. The time has come to take a more holistic view of these matters, instead of the myopic, short-termist approach which thinks only in terms of immediate political advantage.

Serving MPs and ministers are obviously the last people who can be expected to give fair and impartial input to these decisions, though there is obviously a wealth of experience and knowledge held by current parliamentarians which must absolutely be harnessed. So we need to go directly to the people, however much the elites may recoil at the thought.

No more piecemeal reform. Britain doesn’t need any more opportunistic constitutional tricks. There may be little appetite for it – particularly when other current issues seem to loom larger, and when any discussion about who we are as a country provokes more awkward silences than expressions of patriotism – but we need real reform, through a full constitutional convention of the United Kingdom.

The longer we wait to drag Britain’s patchwork constitutional settlement half way to meeting the people, the less democratic – and more ungovernable – our country will become.

House of Lords reform 2

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Church Of England Parliamentary Team Revel In Their Antidemocratic Role

Church of England - Church and State - Parliament - Lords Spiritual - Cartoon - 2

The Church of England’s Parliamentary Team have taken to joking on Twitter about the various ways in which they subvert British democracy. But there’s nothing funny about these modern-day theocrats

Imagine if a private sector firm had twenty six seats in the upper house of the British Parliament and possessed the ability to debate bills, lobby government ministers and even vote on Acts of Parliament – all without receiving a single vote from anyone in the United Kingdom. That organisation would be counting its undeserved blessings, and doing its best to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention to their wildly over-privileged position.

If the RMT possessed nearly thirty votes in Parliament and used them to thwart key transport bills or trade union legislation, there would rightly be an uproar. If Tesco had their own parliamentary caucus who voted against minimum wage increases and greater employee protection rights, people would march on Westminster with burning torches to evict the voice of the Evil Corporations. And yet when the Church of England enjoys the exact same privilege – twenty six Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords and exert influence over our democracy in the name of the established church – there is a deafening silence.

Well not quite. The one group of people making any kind of noise about this state of affairs are the Church of England’s own Parliamentary Team, who thought that it would be in great taste to post this cartoon on their official Twitter feed today:

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As The World Burns, Britain’s Political System Remains Broken And Neglected

 

If it suddenly feels as though there are more loud-mouthed juveniles wandering about during the daytime, it is because both the nation’s schools and the House of Commons have wrapped up their business and gone home for the summer holiday. But while no one should begrudge our young people or their harried teachers a much-deserved break, Westminster’s politicians are returning to their constituencies with few solid accomplishments to their credit, and with the very effectiveness of Parliament itself now in question.

While the world is captivated by the latest slaughter in Israel and Gaza, and scrambles to respond to Russia’s aggressive expansionism and the downing of flight MH17, a number of far less dramatic but equally intractable problems continue to chip away at British democracy and our political institutions. Normally, these “dull” issues only see the light of day at election time – at which point everyone stops to wring their hands about how terrible it is that so few people bothered to vote, or (heresy of heresies) that they voted for UKIP – but a pair of articles in the Spectator and at Conservative Home  sound an early warning that we would all do well to heed before we get distracted by the 2015 general election campaign.

The Spectator piece, by James Forsyth, starts by bemoaning the fact that so many of the ex-ministers recently departed from David Cameron’s Cabinet following the reshuffle have also elected to stand down as MPs at the 2015 general election. But it grows into a broader, important discussion about the kind of MPs that we should want debating legislation and holding the executive to account in the Commons:

Most of those leaving are not doing so because they are past retirement age. Sir George Young might be 73, but William Hague, Andrew Lansley and David Willetts are only in their fifties and Greg Barker is a mere 48. When they go, they will take expertise and experience that the Commons desperately needs to do its job properly. Former ministers play a particular role in the Commons’ ability to scrutinise what the government is doing.

Although the details of each ministerial case are different, Forsyth correctly taps into an increasing sense among many current and aspiring MPs that the only goal worth shooting for is a top-level Cabinet position, and that any other trajectory (a brief tenure as a junior minister or a few terms on the backbenches) is an unacceptable outcome for their political career.

Forsyth then makes an important point about an over-emphasis on youth which seems to attract the ‘wrong’ kind of young people into Westminster politics (such as Labour candidate Emily Benn):

This emphasis on youth precludes people having had a long career outside of politics. One doesn’t have to agree with the former minister who says that ‘we have the worst of all worlds — people who aspire only to be managers but can’t manage’ to think that it is unfortunate that the ambitious feel they have to stand for office before they have had time to reach the top of another profession.

This complaint ties in very strongly with this blog’s own concern at the lack of real ‘citizen politicians’, people whose sense of civic duty compels them to take a mid- or late-career break to sit in the House of Commons representing their constituents for just one or two terms of office. Of course there are always a handful of one-hit wonders, but most one-term departures are a result of losing re-election, scandal, failing to achieve work/life balance or bitterness that plans for rapid promotion and the acquisition of power and prestige did not come to fruition.

Indeed, an MP voluntarily leaving Parliament for a reason other than these typical motivations is almost guaranteed to be newsworthy, as it was when Conservative MP Dan Byles, of the 2010 intake, announced his decision not to seek re-election. And instances of British political candidates pledging upfront to serve only a single term or a set number of terms are almost non-existent.

Forsyth’s twin solutions are quite radical – he proposes increasing constituency sizes to dramatically cut the number of MPs to around the 400 mark, which would make it harder for them to be coerced into wasting time going to battle  for individual constituents and their personal problems, something which better falls under the remit of local government. (It should, however, be noted that US congressional districts are as much as ten times larger than UK constituencies, and American representatives are still expected to fulfil this role).

But ultimately, Forsyth believes it may be necessary to split the executive from the legislature and impose a separation of powers in Britain once and for all. This really is quite visionary stuff, and would form part of the comprehensive UK-wide constitutional reform that Semi-Partisan Sam has long advocated. If the legislature and the executive were separate, the quality and effectiveness of the House of Commons would be less polluted by the presence of young whippersnappers who regarded their seats and duties to their constituents as a mere springboard to higher office. The opposition to such a split would be immense and the details would need to be worked out – would all government positions be purged from the Commons, necessitating a separate election for Prime Minister, for example – but it is a fascinating idea worthy of serious discussion.

Meanwhile, Mark Wallace at Conservative Home has the House of Lords in his sights, arguing that the size of the upper chamber (rapidly nearing 1000 peers) is too large, too inefficient and so stuffed with “cronies and failed politicians” that the ability of the chamber’s subject matter experts to properly scrutinise legislation is severely limited.

With a very unflattering comparison to the 3000-member Chinese National People’s Congress, Wallace explains that such a large body can only be a recipe for confusion:

The swelling ranks are an outcome of the Lords’ confused role. On the one hand, the Upper House is meant to scrutinise legislation as a home of expertise; on the other, it is a tool for morale and political management in the Commons – convenient vacancies are created on the green benches by bumping MPs up, patronage (or the hope of receiving it) is extended to maintain party discipline, and partisan appointments are made in the hope of improving the chances for Government legislation …

The Mail‘s description of many appointees as “cronies and failed politicians” is too often correct – we are meant to get experts, but a lot of the time we get party apparatchiks, trade union officials and the great and good from Whitehall and the media. For every great debate, like that on assisted dying, there are a dozen in which the prevailing ideological trends of our left wing establishment are recited as fact.

It’s hard to argue with that assessment. Semi-Partisan Sam was in the public gallery at the House of Lords on Wednesday, and was shocked by the perfunctory laziness with which Oral Questions was rushed through, the sloppy way in which the self-regulating peers kept (or rather didn’t keep) order, and the sheer amount of timewasting that takes place as the House resolves itself into a committee, out of a committee or divides for a vote (mechanics that are rarely seen by the British people as the House of Lords proceedings tend to be shown only in highlight reels by the BBC). Quite why many of the peers filling the benches for Oral Questions were there at all was a mystery, given their disinterested faces and sleepy postures – until one remembers the £300 daily allowance.

Reform of this sleepy and dysfunctional institution will not be easy – the most recent plans, hammered out in the coalition negotiations in 2010, were abandoned when Conservatives reneged on their agreement to support the changes. But at a time when any mention of House of Lords reform is met with sighs and knowing warnings that it can’t be done, Wallace’s proposal for an easy quick win on the issue should garner support from everyone:

We do agree on a starting point, though: the numbers must be reduced to make the House functional. David Steel’s proposals to require members to commit to being active, working Peers or face expulsion and to introduce an age limit both have merit and would go some way towards fixing the problem.

Yes, it would. We still see the problem of peers “clocking in” to Parliament to be eligible for their daily allowance, while otherwise doing nothing to contribute to the workings of the institution or the democratic process. Accepting an ennoblement should be contingent on making a commitment to turn up for work and do the job. The current situation – where there are life terms, no upper age limits, no requirement to actually do any work and no simple procedure for removing lazy or criminal peers – is a virtual incentive for poor performance and represents the antithesis to a well functioning upper chamber.

None of these very unsexy constitutional issues are likely to set the world on fire, not when so many pressing international human tragedies are doing such a fine job of keeping it aflame in the worst possible way. But we in Britain have a nasty habit of ignoring pressing questions about how we want to govern ourselves and make decisions, allowing them to smoulder untended in the background until events cause them to suddenly burst to life in a wildfire of public outrage.

Think back to 2010, and the pompous outrage that met the formation of a Conservative-led coalition government that “nobody voted for”. It’s certainly true that there was no box on the ballot paper marked “Cameron & Clegg Double Act”, and so in that strict sense the plaintiffs are correct. But we all went into that 2010 general election knowing (or deliberately choosing to remain ignorant of) the way that our voting system worked, and that a hung parliament was a possibility. If the people do not have the proactivity or the attention span to think about these possibilities and make their preferences known beforehand, there are no grounds for complaint when Sir Gus O’Donnell and other senior civil service mandarins facilitate a resolution of their own behind closed doors.

In the same way, we all know (or deliberately choose to remain ignorant about) the variable calibre of politicians that are currently attracted to Westminster, and the hazy unwritten rules and conventions which govern Parliament’s workings. But as well as being cognisant of the problem, we are also now armed with a few radical suggestions for digging ourselves out of our democratic deficit.

With a small window before the 2015 general election campaign to get these issues debated and make them part of the policy discussion before the parties publish their manifestos, advocates of constitutional reform should see this moment as a rare opportunity.