Friday, August 05, 2016

Time to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber

I fought the 2010 general election on a Conservative manifesto which included a policy to replace the House of Lords with a wholly or at least largely elected second chamber.

I still think that was the right policy and if I had been elected I would have voted for it.

The coalition did try to do exactly this - and Nick Clegg's proposals, though not perfect, were not a million miles away from the ones in our manifesto - but sadly this was killed by an unholy alliance of Tory backwoodsmen and a Labour party which claimed to want more radical reform while actually  willing to kill any reform at all.

Twas ever thus - every serious attempt to reform the House of Lords for a century has been killed by an unholy alliance of those who want more radical reform, or no second chamber at all, and those who want the status quo.

The only "reform" to go through, when Tony Blair had a massive majority and could have delivered real reform, was his removal of most hereditary peers - hence replacing a house dominated by the descendants of the cronies of long-dead Kings and Ministers with one dominated by the friends and supporters of the last few Prime Ministers.

It is far from obvious that this was any improvement at all - the completely unreconstructed House of Lords was often more independent than the present one, including when there was a Conservative government.

Despite all the opprobrium heaped on it, David Cameron's resignation honours list is probably less venal than most such lists were in the days when all outgoing Prime Ministers issued one - at least this one has been subject to a degree of vetting which means that the names on it are unlikely to be of interest to the police, which was not always the case in the past.

It didn't, however sit all that well with the message of reform which he tried hard to express and deliver during his premiership.

No opposition leader in history other than Jeremy Corbyn could have managed to make his contribution to such an unpopular list look even worse. But Jezza was up to it.

When the Sunday Times leaked part of DC's list, someone noted that the Leader of the Opposition had been very quiet and asked if that was because it was really true that as rumoured he had given one to Shami Chakrabati.

It looks like that is exactly why he was so quiet because yes he had.

Had Ms Chakrabati not just chaired an inquiry into anti-semitism within the Labour party which concluded that the party was not over-run with anti-semitism, her appointment as a peer would have been entirely appropriate.

But in the context that she has just chaired that inquiry, appointing her immediately afterwards to sit as a Labour peer was a really bad move.

I would ask anyone reading this, particularly any Labour supporters, who cannot see the conflict of interest there to consider this scenario reversing the picture.

Supposing it had been agreed that UKIP could nominate a peer or two.

Suppose Nigel Farage while he was UKIP leader had set up an "Independent inquiry" into allegations of racism within the UK Independence Party.

Suppose that inquiry had found that  UKIP was not over-run with racists.

And suppose that Farage had then nominated the chair of the "Independent" inquiry to sit as a UKIP peer in the House of Lords.

Does anyone seriously doubt that the entire left and indeed most of the rest of the political spectrum other than Kippers would scream blue murder about the appointment?

It has been suggested that Theresa May is considering looking again at plans to reform the House of Lords.

I would like to see that happen.

But there are only two ways it is possible

Either there would have to be a constitutional conference which delivers a cross-party consensus not just on the need for genuine reform but on what that reform should be. Without that, and without an oath signed in blood from the Labour and Lib/Dem leaderships that they will support it, there is absolutely no point in a government with a majority of twelve making the attempt. Because in the absence of such a deal any attempt at reform will be killed by the same sort of unholy alliance which killed all previous such attempts.

Alternatively Theresa should wait for after the next election when she may well have a large enough majority to get such a proposal through. Jeremy certainly seems to be doing everything in his power to help with that!


Jim said...

Its always seems a daft approach to me that "I am going to vote for absolutely no change at all, because the changes proposed don't go far enough"

Its kind of like being skint and trying to get from London to Glasgow, Then turning down a free train ticket to Carlisle.

It has to be easier to get to Glasgow from Carlisle than London in my book.

We are seing the same with Brexit, and the talk of leaving the single market right away, people just are not very good at thinking longer term and the idea of a Phased approach, not everything needs to happen overnight, but if we are headed in the right direction then it gets easier and easier to reach the final destination.

Chris Whiteside said...

It is indeed daft, but it is surprising how often people saying things like that make common cause with people supporting no change at all and get - surprise surprise - no change at all.

I suspect that in many cases that is what they really want.