The problem isn’t Lords reform – the problem is these proposals
After the reaction the country gave the Lib Dems on AV, we should not be surprised that they want to change the Lords without giving us a say. The Tories can't allow this to happen
Once again, talk of House of Lords reform is doing the rounds. The Coalition has targeted 2015 for the first elections to a reformed chamber, and this aim still looks as ambitious as ever. While I see the merits of changing the upper house to include elected members, I have reservations about the current proposals.
The Liberal Democrats like to talk about accountability. They said AV would make our politicians more accountable. But they now want the House of Lords to include members elected for a single term of 15 years. How would this increase accountability?
Why would politicians in the Lords listen to their electorate if they knew they were set for 15 years? At least some appointed peers are chosen for their expertise in a certain area. These proposals would surely lead to less accountable elected politicians.
During the referendum on AV, we knew that in spite of the behaviour of the Lib Dems, their hearts weren’t really in it. AV was Clegg’s “miserable little compromise”. His party’s “holy grail” is proportional representation – which is why they’re so desperate to reform the Lords.
The Liberal Democrats cannot use the boundary review in order to get their hands on the House of Lords. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act consist of the Conservatives’ boundary changes, and the AV referendum demanded by Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems must remember that they had their referendum, and made a right Horlicks of it. They can’t now stick Lords reform to the boundary changes. But while Lords reform does need to be discussed, I really don’t have confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister to be in charge of it.
While the Coalition inevitably isn’t as “conservative” as many would like, the Tory leadership must realise that the Lib Dems don’t have anywhere else to go. If they had a strop and brought down the government, the Lib Dems could not justify their support for proportional representation, by saying “more coalitions won’t lead to instability.”
While the Conservatives (albeit reluctantly) and the Lib Dems agreed on a referendum on something no one wanted, they are not willing to give us a say on the EU and the Lords. Of the 440 voting areas in the UK, only 10 actually voted for AV. Dylan Sharpe, head of press for No to AV, tweeted that following the AV debacle, the Lib Dems wanted Lords reform without a referendum – surely the AV result highlights how out of touch the Lib Dems are when it comes to asking the electorate.
The Liberal Democrats insisted on a referendum on AV, but broke their promise for one on Europe. The No to AV campaign led by Matthew Elliott “ignored the talking heads and ran a campaign that chimed with voters, not the metropolitan elite.” It’s that same elite which want to rush into Lords reform.
Let’s remember, it’s the same elite who said little over a decade ago that if Britain stayed “outside the euro, we will simply continue to subside into a position of relative poverty and inefficiency compared to our more prosperous European neighbours.” Can they really be trusted?
Boris Johnson described the proposals for the Lords as a “pay day for has-beens and never-wozzers.” This may be true, but the existing system is open to criminals. Lords who are imprisoned (for, let’s say, expense fraud) can return to the chamber following completion of their sentence. I cannot see how it is just, for those who abuse their position of power to steal taxpayers’ money, to be allowed to continue to govern us. Whether or not peers are elected, this must be urgently addressed.
There are undoubtedly some merits to having an elected second chamber; we’re a 21st century democracy, after all. But I have concerns about these specific proposals.
I fear that the system proposed will lead to elections but no accountability, in a system the Lib Dems want for their own interests. They tried (and failed) to tell us that AV would make politicians work harder for our votes; now they want to have 15 year non-renewable terms.
Justine Greening said on Question Time last night that “if you had a blank piece of paper and proposed what we’d got now, people would say that’s totally unacceptable.” True, but the same can be said of the current reform proposals: 15 year terms; proportional representation; even calling it a Senate. And, of course, no referendum.
After the reaction the country gave the Lib Dems on AV, we should not be surprised that they want to change the Lords without giving us a say. The Conservatives can’t allow this to be swept through. House of Lords reform deserves discussion, not a stitch up.
Darren Rutland has worked for the No to AV campaign and the TaxPayers' Alliance. He tweets at @DarrenRutland
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