Beware martyring Clegg
With the possible exception of Jacob Rees-Mogg, virtually everyone in Westminster wants the House of Lords reformed.
They all agree that it’s getting too big, and that the hereditaries should leave. Beyond that, there is disagreement about whether the Lords is elected. This isn’t trivial – if you really believe, as I do, that election would lead to a worse-functioning chamber with no discernible benefit to accountability, then fighting that change is important.
Yet over the last few days there have been moments where I would have gladly seen the whole constitution turned upside down if it meant restoring a little faith in politicians’ ability to rise above their career ambitions in pursuit of good governance.
Because the real tragedy of the situation at present is the way it’s making Nick Clegg look like a character from holy scripture. He has always had potential. As I wrote over a year ago, the constant humiliation – particularly from that band of Tory backbenchers to whom John Bercow’s quietening exhortations are most frequently and vainly addressed – has brought out a certain fire in the Lib Dem leader.
He has one aim: to come out of the coalition smelling like a person of principle, even if the body count at the end of it includes himself. Until now, this has made him look pretty pathetic – ‘like a supply teacher out of his depth in a sink school’, according to Simon Hoggart – and the received wisdom remains that of Steve Richards in this morning’s Independent: ‘This is a blissful moment with both coalition leaders in severe discomfort.’
But there is a fine line between being persecuted and worshipped. Britons love the underdog. And as Richards notes, along with (supposedly) a large cohort of Cameroons, Labour ‘broadly supports the cause that is causing so much internal strife.’ As with the proposed boundary changes, which favour the Tories, do we really want to just be ‘seen assisting the cause of reform while maximising parliamentary opposition’?
As Bercow so often says: ‘Members must remember that their behaviour is not likely to advance the standing of the House in the eyes of the public.’ As painful as it is for me to advocate a course which will undoubtedly lead to deeply unwelcome change, Labour has to put its money where its mouth is.
We cannot be the party of change – the ones who are here to sweep away the vested interests and selfish, unprincipled public acts of the last three decades – unless we do.
Patrick Macfarlane writes the Blue Labour column on Progress and edits BlueLabour.org
Blue Labour, House of Lords, Independent, John Bercow, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg