Monday, May 23, 2011

Who cares about reforming the House of Lords?

Well, of course I do. I'm a Lib Dem political geek - the desire for radical political reform is part of my DNA. An entire Parliamentary Chamber which owes its existence to political patronage, the whim of the sitting Prime Minister, or to the family you were born into, or to your position in one particular church, well, it all just seem so 18th century to me.

So, obviously, I was pleased to see Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg publish a white paper which includes plans which go further than anyone else ever has to give a bit of political legitimacy to Parliament's second chamber. Where you and I can have a say in who makes our laws. And by STV, too. The idea is that the Chamber will gradually reduce in size from 830 to 300, with elections taking place in thirds every 5 years. People will be elected for one 15 year term only. That has to be good, although it takes a long time to implement. Presumably, the thought is that the current members of the House of Lords won't vote themselves out of a job. If that doesn't sum up exactly why we need the change, what will?

I was not impressed to see the retention of 12 Church of England bishops. That's actually marginally a higher proportion than is in the Chamber at the moment. This is presumably a compromise to satisfy some of the more traditional Tories. Nick must have known that it would annoy most of his party, but is, I presume, calculating that using STV will mollify us.

There are three things which come out of the debate around this discussion which worry me greatly, though.

The first is that Nick Clegg has spent most of the last 3 months talking about constitutional stuff. First it was AV - and we all know what happened to that. How the hell this country let powerful vested interests persuade them that a system which gave them more choice was a bad thing is beyond me, but that's gone now. The very next thing we see him talking about is reform of the House of Lords. All very worthy, but does the ordinary person, struggling to pay everything they have to pay at the moment, maybe worrying about whether they will have a job at the end of the month, really care? I suspect that they might think it's a good idea, but it won't be setting any heather on fire, that's for sure.  What I'm trying to say is that Nick needs to be speaking out on issues people really do care about, which affect their daily lives as well as on the constitutional stuff.

He can't allow himself to be confined to one particular corner. Yes, he's been speaking out on the NHS reforms, but they really don't matter in Scotland. He needs to be talking about low pay, the body confidence stuff I spoke about earlier that Lynne Featherstone's doing - because there's not a mother of a teenage girl who doesn't worry about those sorts of pressures, about mental health, about jobs, about helping pensioners.

I am really keen for Scotland to see the Nick Clegg that I know - the compassionate, decent human being who wants to make sure that nobody is held back by their background. That will be a lot easier if he spends more time talking about those sorts of issues and not seen to be solely preoccupied with tinkering at the edges.

The second thing that is annoying me at the moment is that our peers, like Lord Steel and Lord Lee, are now speaking out against an elected House of Lords which has been our party policy for pretty much ever. Can they not just think about how that sort of stuff could be seen as self serving vested interests protecting themselves? I think that Steel raises a few points which are worth debating, about the relationship, and powers of the respective chambers, but to oppose the principle of election is just plain wrong.  And as for Lord Lee. Well, I could say that this is what happens when you promote former Tory ministers above people in the party, whom the party has chosen to be on the interim peers list, and who could all be relied upon to support party policy. Mark Pack has asked us to write to Lord Lee to try to change his mind. He certainly needs to be aware of the strength of feeling in the party.

And the third thing that worries me is that this package of reforms will be watered down by the vested interests, both in the Commons, where there are plenty who see their future as an indefinite spell wrapped in ermine and the Lords and will end up virtually meaningless, or not even enacted at all. Then we'd be as bad as Labour who failed to sort this out in 13 years.

I think we need to be better at showing how all our efforts are designed to ensure that everyone has the chance to get on in life, to give ordinary people real power and influence and a say in things which affect their daily lives. We need to be better at showing how our core values shape all the ideas that we have. The hearts and minds stuff has never been more important.

1 comment:

Richard Lucas said...

The British political system has a relationship with the House of Lords that reminds me of an addict's need for his drug. There aren't going to give it up - it suits them all too well. Incompetent? Take a seat in the Lords. You know where the bodies are buried? A seat in the Lords is yours. Written a few cheques to the right payees? Take the ermine. Nick Clegg v the vested interests didn't do too well oin the AV debacle - I wouldn't bet a penny on the chance of him doing better with HoL reform.

Of course, as Scots, we have a straightforward way to rid ourselvers of the ermine vermin...


Related Posts with Thumbnails