Remember the Labservatives? That was the brilliant Liberal Democrat advertising campaign which satirised how Labour and the Conservatives collude to prevent meaningful reform.
We saw it with the AV referendum. Much as though I’d prefer we just hadn’t gone there, the nasty and vitriolic no campaign, backed by rich, powerful vested interests, fuelled by a collusion of people like Tom Harris from Labour and Tory Nadine Dorries emphasised that politically and socially conservative forces would stop at nothing to hinder even the most modest of reforms. Ed Miliband’s half hearted support for the Yes campaign and his reluctance to work with the Liberal Democrats did no favours for either him or his party.
And now we have it again over Lords Reform. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, which went to the country promising:
Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now. We will consult widely on these proposals, and on an open-listproportional representation electoral system for the Second Chamber, before putting them to the people in a referendum.
Nick Clegg’s House of Lords Reform Bill gives them pretty much what they want. Not all, but closer to what they want than the status quo by a long chalk. Why on earth they are intending on walking into the voting lobbies behind the likes of Nadine Dorries and Eleanor Laing and other right wing Tories is beyond me. For a party that’s supposed to believe in democratic accountability, this is a major betrayal of the British people. Do they really think defeating the Programme Motion gives the Bill a better chance of scrutiny? Really? By giving the floor to the Tory right to pontificate for hours on
how much they hate Nick Clegg how giving power away brings them out in hives. Structure to the debate is always preferable to that sort of anarchy.
Every Tory MP stood on a platform of building a consensus on a democratically elected second Chamber. Nick Thornsby has had a good look at their recent history on this. In terms of consensus building, the Liberal Democrats have been prepared to compromise and so should they.
Now, let’s face it, there are elements of the House of Lords Reform Bill that make me foam at the mouth. Why on earth we are keeping in an albeit small number of places for Bishops is beyond me. Nobody should sit in a Parliament by rights because of their religious position. If they want to be in Parliament, they should stand for election like everybody else. I’d also rather see the Chamber 100% elected rather than 80% and I think there should be the option for people to re-stand. Having said all of that, I’d happily vote for the Bill as it stands. There is no way, in a modern democracy, that members of a parliament should be appointed by the political leaders of the day for life with no way of ever getting rid of them whatever they do. It is a major change to ensure that 4/5 are chosen by the people.
You can always find an excuse not to do what you know needs doing but you really don’t want to. I know that more than most. There’s always an excuse not to give up overeating unhealthy food (well, I’m going out for dinner 3 weeks on Saturday, no point in starting now) or go to the gym, even though I know perfectly well that, however much I don’t want to, I’ll be a lot healthier and happier even if I managed it half the time.
Labour needs to stop being so precious and decide whether it’s for greater democracy or against it. It failed to deliver Lords reform in 13 years when it had a parliamentary majority so we know their heart isn’t in it even though on paper they accept it’s the right thing to do. If Ed Miliband follows Peter Bone and Nadine Dorries into the no lobby tonight, he’ll be saying that his Labour party is no different to its predecessor.
The Guardian, not exactly the Liberal Democrats’ best friends, has strongly urged Labour to get a grip and seize the opportunity to reform this arcane institution.
If Labour cannot bring themselves to agree such a motion, then they are not being true to their history as a party of reform. Neither dislike of the coalition nor frustration at its proposed timetable justifies going into the lobbies with Tory MPs whose only concern – as they made clear in a torrent of reactionary interventions and speeches yesterday – is to preserve the Lords as it exists today. To vote in a way which effectively abandons the bill to filibuster and delay would be a shameful decision for Labour, with its fine record, ancient and modern, on Lords reform. Keir Hardie and Robin Cook would turn in their graves.
So, what will Ed Miliband do?
Also in the Guardian, our Charles Kennedy says:
I actually feel quite fearful and sad this morning at the way vested interests and conservative forces are trying to hold us back, to stamp all over the dreams and rights of others. In Scotland we have a Cardinal, the head of the Catholic Church, basically telling LGBT people that he’s coming to get them. We can’t allow a Church to threaten the democratically elected Government of the day when poll after poll shows that a significant majority of people back equal marriage. It’s not for me to set the Catholic Church’s priorities for them, but surely any war chest of £100,000 would be better spent on helping the poor and vulnerable than funding a campaign of hatred against people who simply want to marry the person they love. It’s not even as if the Catholic Church is going to be forced to conduct same sex marriages so why they should feel the need to prevent others from exercising a basic human right is beyond me.
Liberals have to stand up to this sort of pressure from vested interests, whether it comes from within the Westminster Bubble or from the churches or from large corporations. It will be very clear, looking back on all of this, that the Liberal Democrats were unwavering in their quest to give power away, to tackle the establishment, to argue for the freedom and tolerance that is so important for any society. If the arguments over Lords Reform and equal marriage prove anything, it’s that the Liberal Democrats are badly needed. Labour and the Tories definitely can’t be trusted to challenge the established order of things. We’ll see how far the SNP will go on equal marriage and whether they will stand up and how, or if, they vote tonight on Lords reform. Their Angus McNeil made a lot of interventions yesterday but didn’t actually tell us very much. There’s a surprise.
I’m finding the whole atmosphere of politics really difficult at the moment. It’s poisonous, polarising and not helpful for proper development of ideas and debate. Politicians generally need to do better. It’s hardly surprising people just aren’t engaged in the debate or think that politics or politicians can do anything to help them.