Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Lords, the Tories and the stink of immorality

Of the myriad problems with Britain's constitution, the House of Lords is an egregious example of the fetishisation of history over practicality.  A modern, revising second chamber was an option at least before Blair discovered the satisfaction of mediocre placemen, and before the Tories' achievement of throttling the reformist agenda of their deceased coalition partners.  In the context of a constitutional settlement that is, to put it mildly, unworkable, unaccountable and untenable, the Lords represents the manifestation of a persistent reluctance to address fundamental issues.

Savouring the irony of the Tories denouncing unelected privilege is hubristic but fun.  To witness the poltroonish yobbery of Osborne claiming that the Tories have a resounding democratic mandate to implement policies not in their manifesto is akin to time travel back to the 1980s, when he was still fantasising about the conjunction of porcine greed and the late and partially-lamented Thatcher.  For the Tories to pick on features of government that frustrate their will is rank hypocrisy given their contempt for democracy and accountability, and their amoral bulldozing of the basic standards of probity that a citizen might have the right to expect.

Tax credits, in their current form, are an untenable legacy of well-intentioned Labour paternalism.  Brown's extension of the regime to become an effective top-up in the context of exploitative employers was economic folly on one level.  In encouraging firms to underpay staff in the knowledge that the state will redistribute other people's money, another large corporate subsidy was established; the inevitable squeals that increasing wages would reduce viability has enough short-term traction but not enough economic literacy to suggest that even the unfettered market is able to function.

Therefore to watch the line-up of such paragons of philanthropy as Andrew Lloyd-Webber and the scions of JCB diggers lining up to support Osborne's misguided policy was a salutary reminder of why opposition is needed at all levels.  A government of oligarchs, sucking up to any rich third party, with disdain for the impact of their policies - hardly a recipe for a popular or measured approach to policy-making.  When challenged by the Lords on the basis of humanity, economics and the mendacity of Cameron's snouty trotting-out of sham piety around "hard-working families" the Tories don't like the evidence that their writ, untenable on democratic grounds in the Commons, is not all-encompassing and that there are to held to account.

The major confrontation between the Lords and the Commons during the Liberal government of 1906-15 was around the Lords blocking the popular policies that founded modern social security, an which resulted in a workable compromise whereby the Lords had limited blocking powers - further refined b the Attlee administration of 1945-51.  In the absence of an elected second chamber, this is reasonable.  To watch the hamster-faced maunderings of the Tories you would have thought that the current situation was analogous.

In reality, the tax credits issue is one that tests the boundaries of the Tory perversion of the constitution.  The understanding is that the Lords do not object to a finance bill - and the lies being spread by the Tories are that this was a finance measure.  It wasn't even a primary bill, but secondary legislation which has been used by both totalitarian parties to push dubious policy changes through parliament with the minimum of scrutiny.  Osborne and Cameron resemble bullies caught in the act, a position of immense psychological pleasure for them but dangerous for the rest of the country.

It is clearly hyperbolic to observe that the process that the Tories see to neutering the Lords resembles the progress towards dictatorship in inter-war Europe, but there is a certain resemblance to the German Enabling Act of 1933, where a government installed on a minority of the votes suspended all vestiges of constitutional government.  In the context of the assault on liberties and accountability, vigilance is needed to ensure that petty spite is not allowed to descend into the final removal of any citizen power and challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.