Tuesday, 17 May 2011

If Labour has any decency they will support the Lords reforms

It's now 14 years since a Labour government was elected after 20 years in the wilderness on a manifesto that promised an elected House of Lords and a referendum on changing the voting system. Despite the failure to fulfil those pledges despite 13 years of power, Labour still retains in its manifesto a commitment to an elected Lords.

So too, funnily enough, do the tories. And the Lib Dems obviously have a commitment to an elected Lords as well which is evidenced by Nick Clegg's just-published proposals for Lords reform.

There are now two options on the table. One is an 80% elected/20% appointed upper chamber with an, as yet, unspecified name. This is the official government proposal. The alternative is one for a 100% elected upper chamber. Both are equally feasible proposals. However, already reactionaries on the tory and Labour benches are champing at the bit to rubbish the proposals in-keeping with their own fucking manifesto promises.

The tories are, obviously opposed because they hate change despite having campaigned on a manifesto that said otherwise. Labour on the other hand is simultaneously officially demanding a referendum on the proposals (i.e. a way to kill them off whilst retaining the appearance of commitment to reform) whilst also allowing dozens of Labour peers to say that the reforms are totally unneeded.

After all, why would we want the lawmakers to be accountable to those subject to the law when we already have a system where unaccountable peers get to decide.

Let me make this absolutely clear. The Lords has the capability to block and introduce legislation. It is composed almost entirely of political appointees and any PM could stuff the Lords with friendly peers if he wanted to. It is a grave constitutional flaw that could be easily exploited by any corrupt government (and didn't we see just that with the "cash for peerages" scandal?)

Lords reform has been talked about for exactly a century. If Labour block these proposals then all they will be doing is betraying their manifesto and the British people. Labour is crucial to getting these proposals passed (and there's still plenty of scope for them to amend the bits they disagree with) so the ball is in their court. If the Labour party genuinely believes in a system of government based on representatives elected by the people, for the people and accountable to the people then they should back these reforms and help end a century of dithering. If they don't then they'll forever tar themselves as just another reactionary part of the establishment.

Lords reform can in fact be seen as a battle for the soul of the Labour party between the genuine progressives and the reactionary, small-c conservatives. I hope for the sake of this country that the progressives win.

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