THE BLOG

Everyone Is Ignoring One of Labour's Most Important Promises

22/04/2015 17:50 BST | Updated 22/06/2015 10:59 BST

So far during this election campaign, debates on issues like the economy, the NHS or immigration have been impossible to avoid. In contrast, practically everyone has ignored a pledge buried back on the 64th page of the Labour Party's manifesto, given little more than a paragraph, which could have major implications for the future of democracy in Britain.

'Labour is committed to replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.'

For anyone who complains that there is little difference between the major parties, this area of political reform provides a clear division between Labour and the Tories, but few people have bothered to discuss it. The right-wing press have yet to warn us of 'Red Ed's' radical plans to destroy the nation's political traditions, and the left aren't discussing who should be elected to our exciting new senate.

Nobody would argue that the economy doesn't deserve attention, but honestly, whoever wins this election - or at least manages to form a government after it - won't change much in the long-term: the pace of GDP growth might change by an extra percentage point, and certain policies might manage to affect who among us benefit or suffer most over the next five years, but it will be little that another government couldn't reverse. In five years time Britain will definitely be a rich, developed country, but it might finally be a democracy.

Right now, we are one of the only countries on earth with a completely unelected second chamber. The House of Lords currently has 783 members, including men (fewer than a quarter of the Lords are women) who owe their position to their religion, their parents, or the size of their wallets. Even the Lords themselves admit the House is too full to function properly, so it's probably lucky that almost half of its members regularly don't bother to turn up. We would be swift to condemn such a system anywhere else, but it seems that giving the people involved some funny robes and a nice title makes it acceptable here.

The ignorance around Lords reform is understandable - compared to accusations that one leader or another's economic plans will plunge us into 'chaos,' discussing the relative merits of different forms of 'constitutional convention' sounds a little dull, and none of us need any more boredom during this campaign. The thing is, it really matters, and could actually happen.

As the reactions to last week's manifesto launches showed, the public don't have much trust in politicians' 'commitments,' which are now seen less as guarantees than as tools for horse-trading with potential coalition partners or supporters. However, even though Labour almost certainly can't win a majority, if they form any sort of government neither of their potential partners is likely to block their plans for the House of Lords. The SNP started their own campaign to get rid of the Lords earlier this year, and the Lib Dems have been calling for reform since the 1970s.

Creating a new elected second chamber would do more than just address Britain's democratic deficit. Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon might not like to think they have anything in common, but both of them owe their current power to the last round of constitutional reform in Britain. Tony Blair's New Labour government wanted to fight the 'national crisis of confidence in our political system,' and the long-term impact of their changes is only just becoming apparent. The current Labour policy was announced after a Scottish independence referendum that probably never could have taken place - and definitely wouldn't have been so close - without devolution, and the establishment of an elected mayor of London has allowed Johnson to become a viable contender for leadership of the Conservative Party without even being an MP. A promise to give more representation to people from all of Britain's regions - and allowing an extra 1.5 million 16- and 17-year olds to vote for them - could change the dynamics of British politics even more profoundly. There will probably be a lot of people who don't think that would be a very good idea, but if that's the case they should start talking about it soon.