Parliamentary sketch – Lording it with the tribalists

Posted on: 12th July 2012

The score-settling, nil-sum-gain, partisan tribalism of the House of Commons this week demonstrated why it is so vitally important to have a second chamber of more independent minded people who are not infected by the Commons Punch and Judy show. And on what subject did they display their ‘yah boo’ credentials to the full? Yes, you’ve got it. Reform of the House of Lords.

Only in such a fevered atmosphere of tribalism can a Party which has campaigned for Lords Reform engage in tactics which are likely to defeat any chance of that very reform for years to come; just so that they can enjoy the momentary pleasure of witnessing a Government defeat!

Even though I’m one of those who is most critical of the Government’s proposals I support the opportunity to give this Bill the chance of an unprecedented 10 days of debate in the chamber; something I hope will lead to improvements.

I know it sounds like a Westminster village obsession and a million miles from the everyday concerns of us here in West Cornwall and Scilly, but it’s a subject which can’t be left unresolved forever.

The Government wants to do some sensible things. Like remove the remaining hereditary peers. There are still 92 of them. It’s hard to justify awarding public office purely on the basis of the accident of your birth. They will also end ‘patronage’ (the Prime Minister and Party leaders ability to ennoble their ‘favourites’ and ignore their troublemakers) and allow Lords/Baronesses to resign/retire and there are many other commonsense measures.

They ought to go further and stop reserving places in the Lords for a certain number from a particular faith group. They could find representatives through a broadly based independent Appointments Commission.

The Government also wants to have elections to the second chamber; 80% of the Lords. The other 20% would be selected by the Appointments Commission.

Now I love democracy and want more of it; and better accountability. But only when it’s appropriate. The strength of the House of Lords is that there is a degree (though not enough) of independence from party politics. By electing their Lordships you’d end up with the same tiresome partisan tribalism that disables the House of Commons from effectively doing its job of holding the Government to account.

There would be no point in have a second chamber if all it did was become just another version of the first. You might as well abolish the Lords and turn it into a lucrative museum rather than sap the public purse of £millions more.

The point of a second chamber is for it to do the kind of things we in the Commons seem unable to do – i.e. provide sober second thought and independent scrutiny.

The Commons showed this week why we need those qualities in ‘another place’.


10th July 2012