Unexpected support

Lord Tyler

Yesterday’s debate on constitutional affairs marked quite a moving moment for those of us on the Liberal Democrat side.  Having argued tirelessly for decades that Britain needs thoroughgoing constitutional reform – a new electoral system, an elected second chamber, fixed term Parliaments, to name just three – it was astonishing and gratifying to see Tom McNally at the dispatch box finally setting out those objectives, not as a challenge to Labour or Tory opponents, but as a programme for Government.

The House of Lords has always taken a more consensual approach to its debates, so it is perhaps more malleable to the disciplines of this new politics.  At our end of the building, we are more comfortable with carefully negotiated agreements – we had to make them in the last Parliament to get business through.

I was pleased to find thoughtful support on both sides, for example, for the proposal for fixed term parliaments.  There has been much made of the proposed 55% threshold for early dissolution, and in all the media bluster people seem to have forgotten the basic principle at stake.  It is quite wrong, and always has been, that the Prime Minister or Government of the day should have the power to dissolve Parliament at will, and to time an election for its own political convenience.  Gordon Brown’s relentless dithering around a date for the last election is all too good an indication of the need for change, as – incidentally – was John Major’s self same indecision about the date of what eventually became the 1992 election.

So if Parliament is to have a fixed term, something has to hold it in place.  A super majority is the obvious mechanism since a simple 50%+1 would give any government with a majority the same power to time elections for partisan advantage.  Canada has tried this model, and it has had little useful effect.  When the Scotland Act set a threshold for dissolving the new Parliament there, all parties agreed the threshold should be two thirds – many would have preferred that for Westminster, but 55% seems a reasonable compromise.  I was pleased to see that Lord Norton – though he characteristically counsels caution, and further investigation – was not opposed to the idea, and, on the Labour side, Lord Rooker (an excellent former Minister) was more supportive still.

Naturally the House remains conservative (small ‘c’) on the issue of its own reform.  The former Conservative Cabinet Minister Norman St John Stevas, summed up the collective feeling of the existing Lords best when he said, “We do not want a lot of people elected by proportional representation; we want some distinguished people”.  Despite all that smug complacency, it does seem to me that there is now a better chance than ever that the manifesto commitments of all three main parties and the clear preference of the public for an elected House might now come to fruition.  The Lords has always been pragmatic, and I believe many Peers will now want to think about how best to make changes work, rather than how best to stand in their way.

At the Commons end, the spirit of consensus seems less marked.  Harriet Harman’s first contribution indicated that her brief period at the Labour Party’s helm will be one marked by snyde partisanship.  Labour MPs are not ready for a new politics yet.  Alas, her colleague Baroness Royall of Blaisdon – for whose work in the last Parliament I have some considerable respect – seemed to have had her first contribution written by the same eager Labour hack, laced as it was with sarcasm and disdain.  It looks to me as if the public have rejected that sort of politicking – opposition for opposition’s sake – and if Labour think they can prosper by going backwards, they’ve got another thing coming.

7 comments for “Unexpected support

  1. Gareth Howell
    28/05/2010 at 6:38 pm

    “Gordon Brown’s relentless dithering around a date”

    I can’t agree with that LT; He merely followed the decision of Tony Blair who declared roundly at the beginning of the five year term, that, that is what it would be.

    The comment made by Norman St.J Stevas applies equally to FPTP, equally to their distinction. The only real distinction of those elected to the HofC is that they are/were good at getting elected, a distinction common to every one of them!

    • Frank H Little
      30/05/2010 at 11:01 am

      “Gordon Brown’s relentless dithering around a date”

      I can’t agree with that LT; He merely followed the decision of Tony Blair

      But the evidence is there. Brown put the Labour Party machine in motion for a mid-term election, then cancelled it.

    28/05/2010 at 8:14 pm

    I dont think the Public actually is all that supportive of an Elected House of Lords. You certainly can’t tell this by the Election results, as all three Major Parties back an Elected House the Electorate had no real Choice. Heck, even a lot of the Minority Parties few vote for want an Elected Chamber, such as the BNP and the UKIP. (Not that I want to lump those two parties together, I mean to show differing perspectives.)

    if the Electorate doesn’t support the Reform they still end up voting for a party that favours it.

    Thats hardly fair.

    I also think that the Majority are apathetic, and I’ve heard a lot of support for the Lords as is.

    I myself am still not sold on it.

    So, not sure hat to think of this claim.

  3. Croft
    29/05/2010 at 11:27 am

    “There has been much made of the proposed 55% threshold for early dissolution,…It is quite wrong,…that the Prime Minister or Government of the day should have the power to dissolve Parliament at will, and to time an election for its own political convenience”

    Um. The majority of governments since the war would have had a majority sufficient to dissolve the house even with the 55% majority. Come now Lord Tyler this is the new politics! – lets all be open and admit the 55% was picked solely because the LDs don’t trust the Tories not to call an election at the time of their own convenience or after the LDs storm out of the coalition when they don’t get their own way on some issue or other. 55% is simply the effective difference the LDs make to either giving the government a dissolution majority or giving the LDs and Lab a blocking minority. This isn’t about parliament but LD electoral concerns.

    I note with slight amusement the present suggestion is a grandfathering of existing peers. Funny old world, this is supported by in many cases those who were telling the hereditary peers they had to do the decent thing and vote themselves out of existence. Apparently LPs are different and need to stay on for the good of the country 🙄

    I’m not getting started on the dissolution honours list as looking at some of the names I just don’t have the words!!!

  4. Senex
    29/05/2010 at 4:58 pm

    LT: Whilst the war of words with cannon balls flying the size of full stops now enters a cease fire perhaps its time for you to reflect on what the real meaning of bringing suffrage back to the house is really about.

    Historically, all powerful Monarchs had no real interest in democracy. Rather, it was a convenient way to deflect criticism away from itself when accusations of cronyism or favouritism were levelled. The Monarchy needed the full support of its independently minded nobility for its army and taxes.

    The suffrage that hereditary peers enjoy today is also a convenient way to deflect such criticism but does nothing to deliver an Aristoi. They now have an opportunity to adopt the suffrage enjoyed by their Scottish and Irish forbears in the Acts of Union to allow them to field their best candidates. In doing so it would allow the Monarchy perhaps, to consider abandoning its moratorium on granting patents to new hereditary peers?

    The role of the ‘Lords Appointments Commission’ could change to that of a ‘Lords Candidates Commission’ to ensure that aspirants met the house’s rigorous standards for entry.

    As to the nature of suffrage itself, it need only be a token affair that aims to deflect criticism in the manner of earlier times. However, it must be relevant to the needs of an unassailable hybrid house composed of both hereditary and natural aristocracy.

    Some would argue why suffer a hereditary nobility when the natural aristocracy could fulfil its role quite adequately. The answer lies in the nature of our unwritten constitution; the presence of hereditary peers acts as a sentinel to that constitution.

    If the house were to fill with ‘appointed’ peers then they would bring no sense of history to it; history and its precedents is our constitution. Instead, having no importance for history they would find a written constitution most appealing. Written constitutions are the instrument of democracies with no history.

    And talking of history: New Labour has been fond of calling your party the ‘Liberal’ party to move you backwards through time to an earlier era. However, can New Labour justifiably call itself ‘New’ anymore? It too now seeks to move itself back through time, to better days, to call itself the ‘Labour’ party.

    Better I think to move much further back and call itself the ‘Republican’ party in honour of Cromwell and latterly a former US President that found such solace and support in its arms.

  5. Carl.H
    30/05/2010 at 11:00 am

    Oh well this was only to be expected I suppose….After all the great British public voted loads more Lib dems in after all didn`t they ?? Er …No.

    So let`s get this straight once and for all. The Lib Dems put their faith in a PR manifesto and elected Lords…They lost seats. Some Politicians are crying out that the public want an elected Lords and the electorate should get what it wants, it`s democratic….Oh dear what a load of nonsense. The public also want 0% tax and most politicians to be shot.

    How much of the lib dem crowing will the Tories put up with before they are forced to say “just shut up”.

    The Lords needs reform, I know it, they know it. The Lords needs less members….YET the Government who KNOW THAT are doing what ? Oh yeah putting more members in…One wonders at that reasoning, it is either foolhardy or a deliberate attempt to make the House look unjustifiable.

  6. 01/06/2010 at 9:38 am

    My Lords, pray patience, for I believe the following will show the relevance of certain greater issues to the fixed 5-year term one, and to greater positive-potentials which are presently deeply hidden.

    Not only a Democracy but any worthy system of government has the job-and-duty of recognising and best-meeting the real Needs of every one of its People.

    The name of that governance-business is ‘Politics’, in which the People have not only no skill but totally inadequate enablement and therefore no practical and constructive empowerment.

    {Barber ‘Strong Democracy’ 2003, pages 121 (“)To be political is to have to choose…under the worst possible circumstances(“), and 307 Agenda for (“)A Strong Democratic [egalitarian] Program for the [re]Vitalisation of Citizenship(“)}.

    My Lords, with every respect given where that respect has truly been earned, but you (we) do not need solely ‘distinguished people’ in Parliament; nor even younger professional-careerists, albeit further down the decade-by-decade constitutionally-barriered track such might be proportionately-elected.

    Person A in Britain today, living healthily, happily, and citizenlike off £200 per week, can thereby be said to be 100% personally-efficient, at making ends meet and at minimally destroying (consuming) Earth’s and civilisations’ Lifesupports.
    #1 Person B ‘needing’ twice that amount is only 50% personally-efficient (at living in the 75% lifestyle-timeframe regardless of his/her job-efficiency in the 25% workplace-timeframe).
    #2 Person B is twice as destructive of common-lifesupports as is Person A.
    #3 Person B can be assessed at best to be only 50% long-term sustain-worthy.

    Banking chiefs, and many similarly wasteful politicians and professional-careerists, are still held to be indispensable, ‘worth their weight in gold’; and tens of millions of other Britons are drawing and being given from the Common Purse many multiples of that one legislated healthily sufficient human-living (£200pw)shown above.

    It can even be said, formally-argued, morally-reasoned, and life-experience substantiated, that any person drawing or being given more than that one human-living is being falsely and more importantly wastefully ‘distinguished’.

    What matters between elections and other sorts of voting is the quality of British Governance, and of its constructively two-way linking to the non-politicised serious needs and submissions of the individual citizen no less than to the collectivised needs and submissions of numbers of citizens.

    I suggest that the achievement first of such greater quantity (and quality, incidentally) of serious submission from the Citizenry (between Votings) would greatly catalyse and support the achievement of better quality parliamentary and political governance.

    Thereupon, by definition, both the 75% lifestyle-timeframe of the People and the 25% workplace-timeframe of the Government would become much more positively efficient, and thereby eventually be judgeable as being longest-term sustain-worthy as well as in all senses sustainable.

    As British ‘democracy’ currently still languishes, no term of parliament fixed or otherwise will become efficient until a non-political proficient intermediary service is implemented between the People and the Parliaments.

    Such a new service should facilitate, seriously comprehend and consider, respond to or publicise, and recommend further advocacy for, every citizen’s seriously submitted need, question, life-experience or constructive-suggestion.

    Call it perhaps ‘The British Citizen’s Serious Governance-Submissions Clearing House’; and staff it not only with prospective parliamentary candidates, officers, advocacy-students, and a proportional voluntary (expenses-only) cross-section from The People, but with facilitation and guidance by Lords who for one reason or another are unable to be in their chamber or committee seats.

    The term of Parliament will no longer matter, because Britain will have achieved both quality and sufficiency, in place of inordinately-wasteful & destructive quantity-chasing.

    My Lords and watchful People, I plead that these Matters be seriously worked around both governance and community Tables.

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