Cross-party Progress

Lord Tyler

Some of the most rewarding – and effective – policy initiatives I have been involved with have been deliberately cross-party. As so many decisions need to be “future-proofed”, and as Parliament becomes more multi-party and less tribal, more work of this kind is both inevitable and welcome.

After producing draft bills on Lords Reform (with Robin Cook and Ken Clarke), on other constitutional renewal issues (encouraged by George Young and Lord Morgan) and the funding of democracy (aided by Andrew Tyrie, Alan Whitehead and others) my latest attempt took a significant step forward last Friday.

The Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill received its Second Reading after a notably positive debate. This would allow 16 and 17 year old citizens in all parts of the UK to vote … and not just in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

The only opponent, Lord Cormack, himself noted the almost universal support. I was already sure of that of Lord Lucas from the Conservative benches, of Labour Peer Lord Adonis (who spoke in the previous debate in February), and Lady Young of Hornsey from the Crossbenches, who spoke so effectively again in this debate. She was joined by colleagues Lady Coussins and Lady Kidron from that part of the House, while Lady Smith of Basildon and Lady Royall of Blaisdon were equally encouraging from the Opposition. My own Liberal Democrat colleague, Lord Goodhart, whose granddaughter was listening with special interest as a potential new voter in the public gallery, was equally clear about the logic of our case.

Of course, the Minister replying (my colleague Lord Wallace of Saltaire) had to explain that there was no consensus within the Coalition Government: Liberal Democrats were in favour but Conservative Ministers were not. It surely cannot be long before they come around to this case too. If not, as I reminded Lord Wallace “the search for consensus is a shortcut to a dead end”. Gaining support from across the parties is not the same as giving a veto to the last opponent standing.

As the distinguished Conservative historian Lord Lexden encouragingly concluded: “My noble friend may find at some future point that his Bill’s time has come.”  The arithmetic of the next Parliament may militate toward serious progress.

2 comments for “Cross-party Progress

  1. maude elwes
    30/10/2013 at 9:35 am

    This is putting the cart way before the house.

    If people of sixteen are to have the vote, then it would be an excellent idea they should understand exactly what it means to vote and the basis it stands on.

    Therefore, the first move, surely, has to be comprehensive education in the full measure of democracy and its responsibilities, from a very early age. A full grounding in its history, the concept of how important to us all it is. And lastly the debating process from all sides. Which kids understand from a very early age. They are accepting of compromise and listening to another point of view.

    So, school and the notion that this should begin at once would be good here. Most youngsters have very little, if any, knowledge of ‘democracy’ and what it means, let alone the nous to decide which party is suited to their cause.

    Perhaps the idea they know nothing suits you all far better than a nation of young people who can intelligently choose a candidate on their merits. Especially ones educated well enough to believe in the idea of elected parliaments being the basis for democracy rather than an appointed one.

  2. Daedalus
    04/12/2013 at 11:57 am

    One thing that might confuse young people and prevent them from voting is a perceived injustice in today’s style of democracy. Take yourself for instance. But consider Hicks the man you went up against, why was he returned not you?

    More to the point do voters vote for the party brand or the individual. In 1964 you were elected Britain’s youngest County Councillor so the promise of this bill is meaningful to you. But consider did they vote for you as an individual as an independent or somebody representing a party.

    The analogy applies to many long serving members of the Commons who all do an excellent job being both committed parliamentarians and caring MPs. They receive an appropriate salary which allows them to take on financial responsibilities such as a mortgage, raise a family and generally get on with life as best they can.

    A difficulty now presents itself being the breakdown of the party brand with all of them merging into a confusing centre ground. Here voters must concern themselves with individuals and their merits and candidates can’t hide behind the strength of a party brand.

    For young people to vote would be for them to take part in an injustice. The ruination of some very good people our MPs. By their action they would remove an individual from a well paid job in the top 1% of earners. How would such a person find another job to pay his mortgage and feed his family? The young voter would feel very bad about such a prospect.

    They might vote on the basis of MPs being scoundrels and unworthy and they deserved what they got. I don’t think people are so uncaring so they get around the problem by not voting making this bill a waste of time.

    Being a member of the House of Lords means that you would not be blackmailing the voter because your loss to the house would not be your ruin. In coming to the house you have sent a message to your former constituents that says vote only for those that have financial independence. Such a stance can only strengthen by allowing people to embrace their politics in confidence and in earnest rather than cynically.

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