The left must stand its ground on Lords reform

Written by Kevin Maguire on 1 November 2015 in Opinion
Peers were right to scupper tax credit plans. But the House of Lords still looks very wrong

Cock-a-hoop Labour peers drank Strangers’ Bar dry after George Osborne’s tax credit double defeat.

The celebrating ermined brigade flooded the Parliamentary watering hole after achieving what evaded their out-gunned comrades in the House of Commons, throwing millions of low-paid Britons a financial lifeline while inflicting a potentially fatal blow on the political credibility of a Tory plotting to follow his chum David Cameron into Downing Street. What’s not to like?

My ears should’ve been burning because the bar’s regulars recounted with undisguised glee how Labour’s triumphant members of the House of Lords mockingly inquired if I’d be writing an adulatory piece praising an institution I regularly mock as the House of Cronies.

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

The victories were an undoubted success and Osborne’s tin ear should sound alarm bells ringing for Conservative MPs when they come to elect a new leader.

The blue blood posing as champion of blue collar Britain is in a deep hole of his own digging when he’s buried by unaccountable law-makers who demonstrated on this issue they’re more in touch with public opinion – and an increasingly vocal band of worried Tory MPs – than a Chancellor who postures as a political strategist, a Bullingdon Boy-of-the-people and, if was listening, he wasn’t hearing the outrage of struggling strivers.

So I acknowledge the glory in the quaintly-named other place of the likes of Labour’s Baronesses Angela Smith and Patricia Hoillis plus the redoubtable cross bencher Molly Meacher. Credit where it’s due. Theirs was a formidable conquest in the public interest.

The phoney constitutional “crisis” is a smokescreen, an invention, a magician’s distraction to divert eyes from the real questions of slashing family incomes and Osborne’s dishonour.

The Tory graspers lost fair and square under a Parliamentary Dr Doolittle pushmi-pullyu the screaming party perpetuated, as everybody eventually acknowledged from John Bercow and whiskery former Commons clerk Robert Rogers who now sits as Lord Lisvane to Chris Grayling when the Leader of the conceded it was no finance question.

It suited the shamed Government to whip up a row about Parliamentary process. And the irony is seemingly lost on them of appointing super posh hereditary peer Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron of Strathclyde since the age of 25, to deliver a “rapid review” in a strained democracy. How about abolishing yourself, oh Lord of Self-Entitlement? Thought not.

The constitutional crisis is a governing party deliberately lying in an election campaign and omitting from its manifesto a poisonous measure exposing so much of its pitch as vote-winning baloney.

The bad losers declared in their May manifesto (p49 if you want to read the single paragraph) that elected law-makers in the Upper Chamber “is not a priority in the next Parliament.” It still isn’t when it should be.

Because the principle of we the people electing law-makers is fundamental to democracy and any bouquet for the tax credit cut-slayers would be wrapped in the demand for votes to pick members of a second chamber. Unless we go unicameral which has its considerable attractions, not least on cost grounds.

Britain has far too many national politicians but they aren’t the 650 MPs. They’re 817 peers.

Tory MP Liam Fox pointed out during an Urgent Question in the Commons one of the absurdities. Britain is the only country apart from Iran with unelected clerics in its legislature.

Ayatollah Dave should be pledging to unseat the lot, secular and clerical, on principle rather than manufacturing a controversy over tax credits under a Parliamentary system he hitherto endorsed.

The current Government is allergic to criticism whether from trade unions (to be shackled), under the Human Rights Act (to be replaced) and now the Lords. Cameron stuffing the place with fresh Tory peers to strengthen his party’s position while axing 50 MPs under a boundary review is again intended strengthen the Conservatives.

Individually the measures would make a dictator blush. Together they reek of Tory coup.

Democracy shouldn’t be gerrymandered in the Commons or fixed in the Lords. So the Left, Libs, SNP and assorted progressives may a week on enjoy last Monday’s reprieve for the low paid. Yet democrats everywhere shouldn’t give an inch on the principle of electing law-makers. The Lords remains indefensible as ever as an institution. And that’s what I would’ve told the merry peers in Strangers’ Bar.



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