Saturday, August 05, 2006


Straw's Plan for Lords seems Bonkers

I've argued before in this blog that Blair's legacy on economic management and social justice is something of which he can and should be proud. But his achievements in the field of constitutional reform is seriously threatened by Jack Straw's recent proposal to retain hereditary peers possibly until 2050. The 1997 manifesto declared it would terminate the 'right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords' but in practice it did a deal to ease the passage of reform by allowing 92 hereditaries, elected by fellow peers, to remain.

Since 1999 when this deal was implemented, seven more have joined via 'byelections' caused by deaths among the hallowed rump of 92. Straw seems to think that removing them will be problematic-though the reasons seem unclear to me- and that it might be better either to: allow them to stay until they die; or-not much different- to convert them into life peers. The downside is that such approaches would mean our legislature would probably still retain hereditary peers as late as 2050.

Given Labour's traditional hostility to the Lords and their inability to match their manifesto commitment with appropriate completion, this idea spells merely an extension of an issue which should have been sorted some time ago. Plus it would inflict damage to Straw's reputation with Labour backbenchers which he will need if he is to fulfill his ambition of being elected deputy Leader under Brown. Hereditary peers have no legitimate place in our democracy and it should never have been allowed that 92 of their number to maintain their toe-hold in the first place. Straw's paper should be ripped up before it is ever dignified by any formal discussion.

In light of the "loans for peerages" scandal, I think most people will see the hereditary peers for the irrelevance that they were.

The far greater threat is the huge patronage in the PM's hands, that has been so abused by Blair. Even Labour supporters must realise the Lords settlement is a shambles. Very few people opposed the abolition of the hereditaries, but we warned that the system would be open to abuse if there wasn't a coherent plan. We were ignored, but time has proven us right. And 92 old codgers sitting in the Lords has nothing to do with this shambles. It is Blair's fault.
I can see why he's considering leaving the hereditaries there until they all die off... even though I don't like the idea in principle. A compromise might be to have half (or a third or etc) of the remaining fossils become life peers, while the others would lose their seats (but would be allowed to stand in the elections to the Lords).

The idea of having only about 50% of the Lords elected is something I can live with though.
The far greater threat is the huge patronage in the PM's hands, that has been so abused by Blair.

It has been abused not only by Blair, but also by every single PM and leader of the opposition since... er... ever really.
But though the herediteries were obviously a strange bunch and a funny way to govern a country, they were famously independent. Only Blair sought to silence them and crucially not replace them with something. Only New Labour is being prosecuted with selling these honours and a Labour donor post 97 has a FAR greater chance of getting into the Lords than donors to any party at any time in history. Yes the system was not perfect, but that should not allow Blair to muddy the waters. The level of corruption of this Government surpasses any other, and this issue WILL damage them electorally. And so it should.
M. O.
Well at least we agree abvout that...
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