We must prove Lords reform is not a Lib Dem pet project

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 10 July 2012 in Diary
Unless Lib Dems can show House of Lords reform to be a matter of democratic importance, it could end up in the same heap of embarrassing failures as AV, worries Charlotte Henry

You would have thought that the Lib Dems would have learned wouldn’t you?

After the shambolic attempt (not all our fault) to reform the country’s outdated parliamentary electoral system we’ve got the gumption to try and democratise the second chamber that is antiquated, in every sense, too.


Well no, it isn’t. Democracy, accountability, and dispersed power are key liberal beliefs, so a liberal party in government is quite entitled to have them prominently in our political agenda.

We just have to show that this is a serious issue, one about the democratic rights of the British people, and not succumb to the frivolous, patronising, nonsense of the Yes to AV campaign.

The problem is constitutional reform doesn’t win votes at the best of times, and it certainly doesn’t win votes during a recession.

Lib Dem candidates knocking on doors won’t get very far if, when asked why the local library is closing (the local Labour councillor says it’s due to government cuts,) why university “costs £9,000 a year”, and why VAT is 20%, they reply: “Yes, that is difficult, but you’ve got an elected Senate now, so that’s all right.”

The public may not care if you discussed Lords reform in the pub, although Twitter conversations and radio phone-ins indicate differently, but that doesn’t mean it is unimportant.

As we have seen in the case of Barclays, and News International, the culture set from the top matters, and it matters that in a modern society we don’t have unelected legislators sitting unaccountably in a golden palace.

There is little doubt that many Lords are high capable individuals whose experience benefits the legislature. However, as Nick Clegg said when moving the motion yesterday: “Dedicated individuals cannot compensate for flawed institutions."

It is simply impossible to logically justify why in a modern democracy we should have an entirely unelected chamber.

As with the monarchy, you would not create the House of Lords if you were building from scratch. Unlike the monarchy, correcting this institution is relatively straight forward, and will benefit, not damage the UK.

Of course, the problem is convincing people of this.

Thankfully we don’t have to fight a referendum on Lords reform as all parties committed to it in their manifestos.

During the debate, many Tory MPs, such as Peter Bone, tried to show this as a Lib Dem pet project.

The Lib Dems need to prove that constitutional reform is a lasting benefit of their presence in government.

Unless Lib Dem, and indeed Labour, parliamentarians can show House of Lords reform to be the matter of democratic importance to the country that it is, Lords reform could end up in the same heap of embarrassing failures as AV.

Tags: Charlotte henry, House of Lords reform, Liberal Democrats, Peter Bone

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