Thursday, June 28, 2012

All very depressing

The news yesterday was particularly depressing; worse than that was the discussion around some of the items.

The picture on the front page of the Evening Standard of the Queen shaking the bloody hand of Martin McGuinness filled me with despair. The man should have been put on trial for multiple murder and for involvement in many more. Instead his hand is shaken by Her Majesty who, no doubt, had to go and spend some time washing her own fingers afterwards. It is appalling that she was made to do this. I cannot even begin to imagine how survivors of murderous attacks and families of those who had not survived must have felt.

Compared to that, the information that Tony Blair was guest-editing the paper elicited nothing but a snort of derision from me. The Standard is so bad that even Blair could not make it appreciably worse though I did leaf through it even faster than usual, speeding past his cronies Bill (Clinton), Bob (Geldof) and others.

If I thought Sarah Sands, the editor, capable of such a joke, I would have assumed that she deliberately handed the editing over to Blair today so she would not be responsible for the first publication of that dreadful picture (no I am NOT linking to it) but I really do not think she has enough sense for that.

The other depressing news is that the wrecking of the House of Lords misnamed reform is going ahead though I am looking forward to it tying up Parliamentary time to the exclusion of absolutely everything else. This may be Cameron's Hunting Bill, which took seven years, interminable hours of debate and was finally passed in a seriously botched version.

It seems that Cameron, who spoke in support of this measure at PMQ has threatened to sack any Minister who opposes this utterly un-Conservative piece of legislation. There are threatened rebellions but, as usual, I do not hold out much hope. The best one can assume is amendments that develop into long debates though, as usual, there is talk of guillotining these in the Commons, which would be outrageous on a matter of constitutional change.

The egregious Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the Lib-Dims who managed not to improve on their electoral achievement two years ago and whose support has been sinking steadily since then, has told us in his own inimitable fashion:
We should just get on with it. I hope people won’t tie themselves in knots in Westminster. It’s something people want.
I have not come across many people outside the rather ridiculous Westminster hothouse who do want this or even care about it.

When it comes to MPs, that is members of the elected House, the public is quite adamant:
The head of the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog today warned MPs they should be “very worried” over reforms to their pay and pensions.
Ken Olisa, senior board member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, has received scores of damning assessments of politicians’ value during his review of parliamentary salaries.
Responses from the public branded MPs “despicable, incompetent, corrupt and treacherous” and said they “should get paid the same amount as British Army privates”.
Maybe it is time the government had a look at the Commons. Oh wait, they have had a look. So far they have managed to legislate on a set parliamentary term, have controlled the possibility of introducing a vote of no confidence, made two attempts to control the 1922 Committee and are now intent on destroying the independence of the House of Lords. Not, I think, a government that cares about democracy, constitutionalism or liberty. Yet their vandalism of the British Constitution is applauded by the very people who should find it abhorrent.

An elected House of Lords, I hear in jubilation from members of the party formerly known as Conservative and others of UKIP. We are progressing towards democracy.

Well, that depends on your definition of democracy. If it consists of nothing else but voting and the right for anyone who gets more votes than other candidates to do whatever they like, then these people should be supporters of the European Parliament (UKIP might be since that is the only place in which they can get any seats) and of an elected EU President. Surely, once that President is directly elected by the people, or however small proportion of them bothers to vote, it will all be democratic.

If, on the other hand, one thinks of the need to control elected dictatorships, the need for some balance in the political structure and the need for independence in at least some of our legislators, then possibly an elected House of Lords is not the answer to the problems we are facing.

Of course, this is all displacement activity. As I asked one Conservative MP who was pontificating on the need to reform the House of Lords in such a way as not to lose the primacy enjoyed by the Commons, what does any of it matter while most of our legislation comes from the EU? She refused to discuss the matter, dismissing the European issue as of no importance. That tells you a great deal about Conservative MPs and their understanding of the legislative process.


  1. whilst the appalling BBC NI were doing their level best to make the handshake a 'momentous occasion', the law abiding decent majority in NI shook their heads in disgust at the insult inflicted upon them and the Queen by this Government. We've long grown used to and bored with this kind of bollocks in the never ending peace/appeasement process.

  2. Don't politicians just love to meddle? It should be fairly clear to anybody that an elected body performing its duty for a term of 15 years (will we elect a whole new HoL every 15 years or will we get to elect a third every 5 years?) will attract career politicians who will not be able to resist attacking the supremacy of the House of Commons. This would be a major change in the political landscape and not one that anybody I know is calling for.
    A far better solution, in my opinion, is to have some sort of jury system, a system where members of the public are chosen at random to sit in the House of Lords. . Of course being randomly selected to sit in the HoL for fifteen years would be a bit onerous and not generally acceptable. There may be another way, however, of choosing people in a random fashion and in a way that guarantees that they do not need to be paid because they will be independently wealthy without recourse to the class system. Why not make it a condition of winning the lottery that you have to sit in the House of Lords? Simples.

  3. Bring back the hereditaries! You'd get far more sense out of them for far less cost than the professional political class.
    The Lord Willoughby de Broke of the time of the Parliament Act (1911) put the case for the hereditary principle very well. It worked for breeding his foxhounds up to a high standard of excellence and he didn't see why it should not apply to politics.

    The idea of bringing in new blood from the lottery winners could certainly help to avoid in-breeding.

    If we are going to get lumbered with an upper house with "democratic legitimacy", then surely it should have extra powers. I recall that the Australian Senate (with more or less the powers of the old House of Lords) was able to refuse a budget.

    It is a family legend (which I believe to be entirely true) that my grandfather decked his pony and trap in Tory colours for "the Peers v the People" election of 1910 and was pelted through the streets of Liberal Derby. He had a deep loathing of Lloyd George which my father inherited. When dealing with problems in our workmen's national insurance records, my father always called it "The Lloyd George swindle".

  4. In brevis, a truly excellent post.

  5. Paul, that is a suggestion of the purest genius. At heart, it's essentially the same as the hereditary system - people of independent means, randomly selected, in thrall to nobody - but with the virtue of being entirely defensible on “democratic” principles. I like it a lot. It'll never happen.

    As to Helen's original post, I completely agree about the mistake of equating democracy with voting. An elected government is more democratic than a dictatorship, but that doesn't make one in which everything is voted on the perfect democracy. Would a country in which a binding vote was taken on what to have for dinner every night be “more democratic” than this one in which we all decide for ourselves? It's not quite correct to say there are limits to democracy, but electing representatives is not the be-all and end-all.