Friday, February 11, 2011

Oh Lordy. The Establishment Fights On.

In all my years following politics, I can’t say the House of Lords has ever grabbed my interest. It’s a bit like Morris dancing – a national embarrassment that we would rather do without, but is somehow comforting to know it is there. It is the bumbling old uncle you only ever see at Christmas soundly asleep.

It is quaint, historical and very British. After all, how many democratic countries have a non-elected legislative chamber consisting of bishops, failed and has-been politicians, and descendants of men (and women!) who did favours for various Kings?

There have been attempts to reform the House, but, as the Lords so often cry in triumph, they are still here. The Blair government, to its credit, made a start on reforming the House by getting rid of most hereditary peers, but then they didn’t see further reform through!

What has got my anger now is the recent deliberate attempt by the House of Lords to interfere with the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum – for example, in specifying there must a turnout of 40% to be binding on the government. Most council and European elections rarely get about 33%. If it is a yes without such a turnout it goes back to the Commons for the MPs in safe seats (the majority) to wait for a convenient moment (e.g. a big news story) to quietly vote it down.

Overturning this amendment, as well as the other filibustering the Lords have attempted, may well mean that the referendum is delayed – and holding it at another time will be much more expensive.

Some argue that the Lords object to the constituency size element of the bill. I can sympathise with that – but why all the amendments re: the referendum? If certain Lords are opposed to AV, why don't they just campaign for a No vote?

My objection to this 40% stipulation is that people should have the right to say ‘don’t know’ or ‘don’t care’. Under this amendment, if they don’t vote, it is assumed they are supporters of First Past The Post (FPTP).

It is a typical spoiling amendment deliberately designed to sabotage the people’s right to be able to choose their own voting system. What is wrong with just Yes or No?

It is sad that defenders of FPTP are not able to defend the system but instead seek to get their way by such tactics or by posters having a go at Nick Clegg. I can respect anyone who wants to defend the present method on its own merits but not if their campaign takes on these tactics.

The Lords’ defenders argue that is a chamber that can leisurely consider the actions of the government on a non-political basis – especially as there are so many crossbenchers. This argument has been blown out of the water by recent events. It’s actions may well lead to the end of the coalition, a general election, and a Labour government. Of course, Labour supporters will applaud this – but it could be their turn next time round.

It has historically been an ambition of the Labour party to abolish the House of Lords. Proposals for an 80% elected house will arrive soon and I hope that Labour will support these.

What replaces the Lords is the big question but the bottom line is that the Lords has lasted too long for its own usefulness, it is an anachronism in the 21st century, and it is about time it was consigned to the history books.

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