Labour and Tory MPs have a new twist on an old game. Block democratic reform. Then criticise lack of democratic reform

clegg on levesonLabour and Tory MPs have a new favourite hobby. It’s one they’ve been practising for decades, but they’ve really refined their art in the last three years.

Basically it works like this…

A political scandal happens. Abuse of expenses by MPs or cash-for-questions/honours/favours, that sort of thing. Everyone demands reform. This must never happen again, they say. Cross-party talks are immediately convened. Then re-convened a few months later once the pressure’s off a bit. And finally they’re abandoned once they’re sure people have got bored with it all and the news agenda has moved on. Everything can go back to normal. Hurray!

So far, so usual. We’ve grown used to this deliberate Labservative inertia. What’s changed since 2010 is that the government minister now trying to break this log-jam of vested interests is the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. And if there’s one thing that unites Labour and Tory MPs — besides keeping the current system just as it is because it suits them — it’s an intense dislike of the Lib Dems and of Nick Clegg. And so the decades-old hobby has a new and delicious twist.

Basically it works like this…

Nick Clegg proposes a reform. An elected Lords, fairer party funding, a register for lobbyists, that sort of thing. Labour and Tory MPs block the reform. Each and every one, in turn. And then they pop along to the House of Commons to throw bricks at Nick Clegg for not making more progress.

Such sport!

And then everything goes back to normal.

Here’s Labour MP Kevin Brennan at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, for example, criticising the current (woefully unambitious) Lords reform proposals:

When did the scale of his ambition as the greatest constitutional reformer since 1832 reduce to the level of housekeeping?

Nick Clegg tartly pointed out the contradiction:

It was when the hon. Gentleman’s party abandoned its historical commitment to giving the people a say. It used to be the people’s party and now it is the party of privilege all over again.

And to another Labour MP who later joined in the game:

That is pretty rich, coming from a Front Bencher of a party which, despite its own long-standing manifesto commitment in favour of democracy in the House of Lords, could not even bring itself to support a timetable motion to make that a reality.

Labour and the Tories are quite content to see calls for democratic reform go round and round in circles: it disorientates and exhausts while keeping everything rooted in the same place. It’s a game they’ve mastered, devising the rules, thwarting any attempts to update them, while mocking those who try.

What japes!

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Two things here
    1 This strategy is pretty much the same as that used by tabloids and europhobes against the EU.
    2 Nick Clegg is disliked also among many circles within the Lib Dems.

  • Was thinking the same thing.

  • mike cobley 5th Jun '13 - 11:35am

    well, must say I found it ribticklingly hilarious when the calls for lobbying reform turned into an attack on trade union funding for the Labour party. Oh, along with the serious finger-wagging over vested interests because, as any fule kno, trade unions are exactly the same as big, multinational corporations! Oh, those naughty devils.

  • I must say if Clegg allows the hijacking of lobbying reforms and refuses to call Labour’s bluff on Lords Reform by agreeing to the referendum then it is actually a plague on all three houses (or at least all three leaders).

  • David Wilkinson 5th Jun '13 - 11:51am

    Clegg has had 3 years to hammer home the corrupt nature of both H of P and argue a case, but waffled so much no one takes him serious any more.
    Another lost cause from a lost leader

  • As Tim13 says this is the strategy used by successive Labour & Conservative governments at EU levels for years – e.g. Block proposals from others to make it more democratic (in order to keep it “inter-governmental”) and then criticise it for not being democratic enough.

    Indeed, the PM is still doing it. After all, why does he need until 2017 to come up with possible reforms of the EU? Couldn’t he come up with let’s say 2 or 3 for starters? After all, not all possible reforms must be so subtle that they take years to think about, right?

    PS By possible reforms I mean reforms actually formally proposed at EU levels not just one talked about in the bar at the Conservative party conference.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '13 - 1:27pm


    I have not met any Lib Dem who dislikes Nick.

    I don’t think we’ve been introduced.

  • Alex Harvey 6th Jun '13 - 4:02pm

    It’s when a group of privileged politicians in government act like they’re being persecuted that you know they’re rattled…

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jun '13 - 5:21pm


    If he fails as our Leader in this quest, it won’t be for want of trying, it will be because we fail to give him the solid support he needs and deserves. Nick’s HQ team must do far more to ensure that those of us behind him understand what he is doing and where he is going. Communication is what is needed.

    Communication goes both ways. When does Nick Clegg ever listen to communication coming in from party members? Why does he have all these advisers who are people I have never heard of rather than long-standing and experienced members of the party? When Clegg’s reaction to criticism coming from party members is to get a top adviser of his to write an article saying “If you don’t like it, p*** off and join Labour” (I paraphrase, but only slightly), there’s a communication problem, yes, but not the way you’re suggesting.

    Since the coalition was formed I’ve been using LibDem Voice to state why I think Nick Clegg is getting the message across wrongly, and what he could do to get it across better. Really, I know I dislike the man, but I do try to be constructive. So far as I can recall, he’s done almost the opposite of everything I’ve ever suggested.

    Underneath, I continue to defend the formation of the coalition, and defend the leadership of the party for its being able to get relatively little out of it. While I may be very critical of Clegg here, most stuff I put out to national media is arguing the case for the Liberal Democrats in the coalition. I’m always spending effort here giving the lines which, from my experience talking to ordinary people, would get our message across better. And Clegg’s response? As I said, see the last sentence of my first paragraph.

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