Labour must back reform
The Mother of Parliaments, they say. A model of democratic government unique in that it has been sculpted over time from tradition, and not through the auspices of a democratically enacted constitution. That the model has been followed throughout the world, the end product of over 800 years of evolution and carefully honed by tradition, has reinforced its supremacy. From the time of the civil war to the Glorious Revolution, the powers of the Commons have been won by sword, consent or stealth. Seemingly, our MPs are still willing to engage in rhetorical battle to retain the status quo, as witnessed by the high drama seen on the parliamentary estate. Despite the rebellion the case for democratic reform remains as strong as it ever was. An issue that the Liberal Democrats, and Labour, have been waiting the best part of a century to implement will not fade because of the actions of 91 Conservatives.
All three main parties should place to one side their parochial, cold calculations and focus on the opportunity to reform the second chamber. The political games that have been undertaken are a diversion from what should be a rare act of consensual politics, given that all three parties are pledged to reform the Lords. There were almost no issues on which the political parties were of the same mind at the last election. But Lords reform was one of them, the central thread being that it makes a mockery of a mature democracy to have one half of our legislature populated by political appointees, bishops and a sorry rump of hereditary peers. All parties made concrete manifesto commitments to give Britain a revising chamber fit for the 21st century. That consensus was not enough for some of our more illustrious MPs, who could not even agree the length of time to debate the subject.
The biggest opponents to Lords reform are not the Lords themselves but those down the corridor in the Commons. It has been their eternal resistance and division that have repeatedly smothered previous attempts. The House of Lords must be given the opportunity to debate its own demise; nothing would send a stronger message then a united Commons. But all we get is attempts to frustrate progress by obfuscation by those who hold Byzantine political views.
I support an 80 per cent elected, 20 per cent appointed system, advocated as a matter of principle rather than tactics. It is the system most likely to produce an effective second chamber, while avoiding some of the many pitfalls that would come with a wholly elected house. The new Lords must be neither a rival nor a replica. The Lords as already constituted does have major strengths, and it is important to preserve these as and when reform unfolds.
It is easy to see Lords reform as a cause which matters deeply only to liberals and anoraks. But what is at stake is whether the Commons are capable of rising above low and party self-interest to act on an issue that has long blighted our democracy. If Lords reform were easy, it would have been done long ago. It is harder now than ever. But if this generation of politicians are ever going to find a way through this morass, then the determination to do something about it must be renewed. If they fail, the issue will drift for a generation. And the status quo is risible.
We began our era in office with a fusillade of reforms that changed the British political landscape forever. A new parliament in Scotland, an assembly in Wales, self-rule in Northern Ireland and a mayoralty in London – it amounted to a quiet revolution that will endure as legacy. Lords reform now must be Labour’s most permanent legacy.
constitutional reform, House of Lords, Labour