Reform of the House of Lords may look like an inessential matter now, but we will live to regret we did not handle it properly, as a constitutional issue needing careful resolution, when we had such a good opportunity to do so.
There are times when I feel the received wisdom to be almost completely in the wrong. Europe, capital punishment – you name it. In all such cases, I tend not to be with the majority. So I’m irritated by the likes of Nicola ‘Superwoman’ Horlick being quoted all the time as complaining that we don’t have time for things like Lords reform in the present economic and financial crisis.
That’s treating it as a short-term issue of no particular importance. As such, and lacking any political protection, it was effectively mugged in the dark, rat-infested back alleys of the Conservative Party and has been left to die. The politician in whose care reform had been entrusted is also mortally wounded and his party’s prospects damaged for a generation.
It did not have to be like this. There is such a thing as the democratic deficit. If it exists with us, then we should take the trouble to fix it.
Last week, we were actually in the House of Lords as visitors, spellbound by the art and architecture and history of the place, and were at length shepherded by our guide to stand in the part of the chamber where the remaining hereditary peers sit.
It brings you up short, then, to realise that members of our national legislature include people who, to take one example, Lord Trenchard, are only there because their grandfather was a wartime leader of the military and, later Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who died 56 years ago (the present Lord Trenchard is an investment banker).
In such a setting, questions throng. Why isn’t everybody in the Upper Chamber elected? Why are bishops still there? Why don’t we have its members elected as senators on a regional basis, or by particular expertise and experience? Why don’t we take the opportunity to cut loose from Scotland and Northern Ireland and make the Lords legislators for England and Wales alone?
Oh, sorry, I forgot, it’s too trivial and time-wasting an issue to deal with now – we have, apparently, more important things to think about.
The democratic deficit lives on
Beyond all the asinine political antics we have seen this week – including those indulged by the Labour Party, whose leaders have capriciously missed the whole point – there really is a serious constitutional matter to resolve: “The failure of Lords reform matters most in the context of Britain’s long failure to bring its legislative institutions into the democratic era (Guardian, 06/08/2012). I n their zeal to inflict sword cuts on each other, the two main parties have happily consigned the whole thing in general, and the corpse of the Liberal Democrats as a party in particular, to the dust of history. That is shameful.
I would write to my local MP,a Conservative 2010 entrant, but since he concentrates on transport matters (and who, according to the wonderful www.theyworkforyou.com has received subsistence from a major airline), I shan’t bother.