Luck – that is what dominates so much of life in Parliament. Both in the Commons and in the Lords Members will admit that they have been as often lucky as skilful in their successes. And, indeed, bad luck can be even more devastating than bad judgement.
I was reminded of this yesterday, and then again today. On Tuesday the first Question only attracted a very quick exchange. No Peers followed up the original questioner, so it took barely 3 minutes instead of the usual 7 or 8. Fortunately, my Liberal Democrat colleague Lord (William) Wallace had slipped into his place, because the next Question was his. If he had been a minute later his whole mini-debate would have been lost. Instead the following discussion could continue for nearly 12 minutes, and, as a result, I was able to slip in a question of my own. Although unprepared, and responding to a previous point from a Labour Peer, it produced a very useful statement of the government’s position on fraud in elections. Pure luck!
Today, there was another opportunity at Question Time in the Lords. My Liberal Democrat colleague Lord (Tony) Greaves was lucky enough to get a topical question accepted on the recently published report on voting reform. I thought that there would be so much interest that my chances of making a point were nil. Since these topical questions come fourth out of four, and the Clerk moves the business on very smartly after 30 minutes, I expected to be squeezed out. Perhaps because so few Peers in the other parties had read the 200 pages of the report they may have felt that they couldn’t comment. So it happened that I was able to get in relatively early and point out that – despite the relatively factual and balanced report – the real issue was the “spin” added by Ministers. They had gone out of their way to emphasise that progress on reforming the Lords should come before reforming the way voters are cheated by the system which elects MPs I said I thought that this was ironic. Even Peers who dislike all types of fairer voting systems, whether fully proportional or not, don’t like being told by MPs that the Lords needs reforming more urgently than the Commons !
In the past I had my luck in the Commons too. I succeeded in the ballot to ask John Major a Question just when the first big “sleaze” issue was breaking, with a Conservative MP accused of taking bribes. The Prime Minister had to announce the setting up of the new Committee to investigate in answer to my Question. And then, the very next week, I was lucky again, and he had to retreat still further.
It is good for our modesty to be reminded how much success is down to luck!