Saturday, 12 May 2012

Lords reform - necessary but suicidal

Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  This is as true for those seeking renewal of the Coalition after two years of Tory duplicity and Liberal Democrat naivety as in a more considered analysis of Nick Clegg's apparent shibboleth of Lords reform.

Changing the nature and powers of the Lords is a necessary but marginal contribution to the renewal of politics in the British islands - it is not a panacea in itself, as it needs to be accompanied by the kind of complete clearout of the Royalist apparatus that maintains a seventeenth-century approach to the liberty and sovereignty of the subject.

The road to reform is littered with good intentions and the corpses of those who have tried to implement it.  Asquith and Lloyd George got closest in 1910, although this would not have been reform, merely the kind of swamping with placemen to pass legislation that Blair and Cameron have emulated in the last fifteen years.

Neither Attlee nor Harold Wilson - the last two Labour Prime Ministers with vaguely radical credentials and a working majority in the Commons - were able to push Lords reform.  Wilson was warned that it would put his legislative programme into a quagmire of filibustering and prevarication - techniques that Labour and the reptile Tories are now threatening to use against the Coalition's apparent proposals to move towards a slightly more modern revising chamber, gradually elected.

This is precisely what Cameron wants.  The baying cretins on the right of his party have already been attacking the idea of Lords reform as a diversionary tactic from the real task of redistributing wealth back to their mates in the City, as if it is impossible to pursue more than one piece of legislation through Parliament.  Labour see a chance to score political points, so it will be portrayed as the Liberal Democrats obsessing with constitutional tinkering while the real damage is inflicted by Osborne and his chums.

Constitutional reform is important, but it is also too important to be botched.  The Tories are treacherous scum who cannot be trusted, which is the mantra that every Liberal Democrat enmeshed in their vile grip should chant seventy times before engaging with them.  The Tories can come up with a few pseudo-arguments against reforming the Lords, mostly to do with the alleged sovereignty of the Commons - but it is easy enough to examine the UK-designed constitution in Germany to determine that a reformed upper chamber both increases scrutiny and "localism", a prime piece of Newspeak that the Tories trot out at the same time as undermining local and regional accountability.

My prediction is that Clegg won't get Lords reform through - and he will be unfairly blamed for the continued cloddishness of wider economic policy.  The only way reform will be pushed through is for there to be no alternative narrative of filibustering and semi-feudal respect for one's betters that the apologists for the Lords come out with.  Given the nominations to the Lords in recent years this is so laughable that only somebody with the mental and moral capability of Baroness Trumpington could defend its current role and composition as evinced by her high-quality contribution to the "Evening Standard" letters page.

Cameron wants to hang the Liberals out to dry - his back-benchers are now only content with using them as human shields.  If there is any backbone left in the Liberal Democrat party machine it's time to recognise this and run for the hills.  "There is no alternative" was a lie and a travesty when Thatcher used it as a justification to pillage the UK's manufacturing base and enrich her cronies - and it remains so now.  Time for honesty - and recognition that proposing Lords reform is a further cynical manoeuvre by the Tories, rather than a delivery of all parties' manifesto commitments.

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