Sunday, 22 April 2012

Tory Democracy, Petrolhead and the Hypocritic Oafs

It's over a century since the Tories tried to use the House of Lords to thwart the introduction of National Insurance and Old Age Pensions, so it's hardly surprising that, despite committing in their manifesto to reforming the revising chamber, they are now back-pedalling.

Amusingly, the Secretary of State for Defence, whose unlamented tenure at Transport seems to have been enlivened only by disingenuous dealings with the criminal inciter John Griffin of Addison Lee - who has been egging his drivers on to break the law, attacking cyclists, and giving large amounts of cash to the Tories, is one of those expressing most concern about any efforts to enact reform of the Lords.

In the "Observer" today, there is an incredible piece by Nadhim Zawahi, the Tory MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, attacking Lords reform as an assault on the supremacy of the House of Commons.  This argument was deployed with some effect by the democratic tendency of Tony Benn in the 1980s, but most parliamentary systems function with a primary legislative chamber and a reviewing / revising supervisory authority.  Besides, in forelock-tugging Britain with its confusion between legislature, judiciary and executive such a move would be tantamount to giving the keys of the asylum over to the lunatics.

Perhaps the Tories would do well to study the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is based upon the principles laid out by British reformers, where the Bundestag and Bundesrat operate an effective partnership - providing scrutiny and an entrenched voice for empowered devolved Lander, and consider whether such a model would work for a federal Great Britain - a much more powerful approach than their current supine and hypocritical support for the Union, while secretly desiring Scottish secession to entrench their undemocratic hegemony south of the Border.

The Tories have never been very good at thinking through the internal logic of their positions, least of all on the constitution.  The fact that all three parties wanted to see change before the 2010 election, ostensibly on the Tories' part to end the cronyism that had been entrenched since the emasculation of hereditary peers and the nominees that My Little Tony sought to pack out the Lords, has been forgotten in the Gadarene rush for Cameron to put such hugely influential and active legislators as Julian Fellowes into the Lords.  The fact that he has nominated over 110 Tory cronies since not winning the 2010 election is indicative that the Lords should be reformed forthwith.

It is impossible to justify the current fudge, where apart from 92 hereditary peers and 27 bishops, the entire House of Lords is stuffed with placepeople to whom the party leadership owe favours - financial, political or something worse - and superannuated, defeated MPs.  Not an election in sight - and therefore no legitimacy.  Just how the reactionary bigots like it, as the Tories have folk memories of the 1980s when the Lords, despite a majority of Conservatives, inflicted humiliation and defeat on some of the most egregious examples of megalomania presented to them.

There is some speculation that this could be the final straw for the Coalition - which would be a welcome rediscovery of spine and principle.  The Tories seem to think that every change to electoral arrangements requires a referendum, which is a hypocritical sham given their managerialist and absolutist tendencies in every other area of our political life, and that Lords reform should go the same way as AV and any other change that threatens their stasis.  Liberals fought two elections in 1910 on the basis of reform which was only staved off by a compromise, and there is no reason now to back-pedal.

With Hammond and others effectively goading Cameron into a spineless retreat, and on something that has both moral and political legitimacy, the Tories have now revealed their continued unreconstructedness and toxicity.  Time to call their bluff.

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