Lords reform is dead! Long live, erm, a bloated, ineffective, undemocratic Lords!

The Guardian reports today that dozens of new life peers are to be appointed to the House of Lords:

Political parties are preparing to draw up lists for dozens of new appointments to the House of Lords in a move that will reignite controversy over creating peers just months after the collapse of legislation to dramatically reduce the second chamber. The move, which is expected to create at least 80 new life peers with allegiance to political parties – most of them Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour – is an embarrassment to all three party leaders, who had pledged in their manifestos to cut the number of peers.

Personally I’m not sure why Nick Clegg should be embarrassed. He attempted to steer through Lords reform, a promise made by all three parties at the 2010 general election. Unfortunately for the sake of reform, only the Lib Dems stuck to that promise.

We are now where we are. And just as we will contest the next election under the first-past-the-vote system I see no reason why we would refuse to participate in the Lords simply because neither Labour nor Conservatives are keen on ending patronage. That will simply allow their small-c conservative stranglehold on democracy to become ever more dominant.

I’m a bit baffled then by Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott’s comments in the same Guardian article:

Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, a former member of the joint committee of both houses on Lords reform, said: “Stuffing the Lords up to 900 now would be a disgrace to democracy, utterly against our principles, and make a mockery of our campaign to clean up and reform British politics. How can we possibly excoriate personal patronage and a bloated house of Lords, then cynically U-turn and do just what we’ve been condemning just a few weeks earlier? Trust in politicians is already hanging by a thread – this would sicken Liberal Democrats and reformers in all parties and none.”

Yes, he’s right that ‘stuffing the Lords’ is a ‘disgrace to democracy’. But what’s his alternative? Letting the Lib Dem presence in the Lords become ever more diluted as Labour and Tories merrily add to their numbers on the red benches? I’m at a loss to understand how that will in any way advance the cause of democratic reform.

I want a strong Lib Dem presence in the Lords — one that reflects, as promised in the Coalition Agreement, ‘the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election’ — precisely so that there will be parliamentarians making that case.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • I think Matthew Oakeshott is right on this. A principled stand against stuffing the Lords with yet more peers is just the kind of thing Lib Dems should support. The gains in re-establishing the Lib Dem as a party of integrity would far outweigh the presence of a few more Lib Dem peers. Would Labour and Tories carry on appointing new peers if the Lib Dems refused? If they did, it would show their supposed desire for Lord’s reform as the sham it is.

  • Serious question :
    Why does democratic reform of the House of Lords matter?
    It is very clear that LibDems are desperate, to shove sovereignty and any democratic self determination, into the theatre of Brussels and Strasbourg. So why can’t those same Liberal Democrats, not see, that by doing so, you are turning the Commons and the Lords into mere talking shops anyway.?
    The prisoner/vote issue highlights my point in glaring obvious detail. By the day, it is becoming clear that it doesn’t matter, what Westminster thinks, (democratic or otherwise!).
    Can anyone explain this?, because I simply don’t ‘get’, the almost schizophrenic thinking, whereby you are ‘hell for leather determined’, to see a democratic House of Lords, whilst at the same time, also determined to put the whole of our sovereignty in a white van, and ship it to Europe anyway!?. Why can’t you see, that the end result of this crazy thinking, is to put sheets of plywood over the doors and windows of the House of Commons,… AND the Lords, with a sign over the door that reads [ Ring Europe for Further Details ]. ?

  • Why not simply block all appointments to the Lords? Let the body get older and greyer and smaller until its anachronism is apparent to everyone.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Nov '12 - 2:34pm

    I suppose if Lord oakshott feels so strongly he could give up his own seat in the Lords ?

  • David Evans 24th Nov '12 - 5:21pm

    In the absence of an up to date peers list chosen by the party, it is essential Nick chooses from that old list rather than just appoint people liked by people he knows. He let us down badly last time, he won’t get a better chance to do something to show he is sorry.

  • @Mark:
    You say:
    “Democratic reform of the House of Lords matters because those who govern us should be accountable,”
    But if you had read my earlier comment you would see that ‘those who govern us’, or (think), they govern us, do not reside in the Lords. They reside in Europe, and what is worse, is that they [Europe], are even less accountable, than the Lords. Democracy is certainly not a high priority, on any European radar screen, and Liberal Democrats for some undecipherable reason seem happy to sleepwalk into that absence of democracy.
    You say:
    Or is it that you would rather have the rest of the world run roughshod over us without a dissenting voice?
    No I don’t want the world to run roughshod over us. But, neither do I want Europe to run roughshod over us. But it is a fact that Europe is increasingly running roughshod over us, and all with the approval of Liberal Democrats.

  • Should have taken Lord Steel’s bill up…

  • “Why not block all appointments to the Lords except those candidates selected by the Lords Appointments Commission to be independent cross benchers?”

    Judging from the results of the PCC elections, that view might well be heartily endorsed by the electorate. But naturally it’s not going to be popular with party politicians.

  • Jean Evans says:
    “John Dunn appears to have a very limited view of what ‘democracy’ means, ie the blinkered view we expect from right wing Tories,”
    This right wing Tory, can remember shoving Focus leaflets through doors, many moons, ago, but not anymore.
    I’m not convinced you understand what democracy means. Herman van Rompuy is the president of the European Council. Who voted for him!? I didn’t get the chance on a say about that, and I don’t know who did.
    ” Europe is absolutely NOT, vital to us”, as you will eventually find out.
    It’s also a pity that many LibDems have not ‘got it into their head’, why UKIP got 14% and Jill Hope lost her deposit.
    Also, I don’t hate immigrants, any more than I hate Rotherham Council, for employing idiots.

  • @John Dunn
    “I’m not convinced you understand what democracy means. Herman van Rompuy is the president of the European Council. Who voted for him!? I didn’t get the chance on a say about that, and I don’t know who did.”

    The President of the European Council is elected by the members of the European Council as per the terms of the EU Treaties every clause of which have been democratically agreed to by the Houses of Parliament here.

    You do know who the members of the European Council are, don’t you?

  • Paul R writes:
    “You do know who the members of the European Council are, don’t you?”
    Yes I do. They are the very same members of the EU gravy train, who look at (TRUE), democracy, with the same trepidation that turkeys view Christmas.
    The LibDems stance on this EU madness is a complete loser. And I think most ‘awake’, LibDems have grasped this by now. As I pointed out several threads ago, the Tories would come to realise that UKIP, and not the LibDems are the key to the doors of Downing Street in 2015. Michael Fabricant has opened the debate on this, and it is a stone that WILL gather moss. Sadly, many LibDems are like the deer caught in the headlights of an 18 wheel truck, that will decimate them politically in 2015.

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