LibLink: Vince Cable: With 100 Lib Dem peers, Brexiters are coming on to our turf

Vince Cable has written for Politics Home about what the Lib Dem peers hope to achieve with the EU Withdrawal Bill:

He summarises where we are. As public opinion turns against Brexit, Labour just wants to make it more extreme:

This is why Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement this weekend that the “ship has sailed” on staying in the EU is so bizarre. At best, this shows he does not have the stomach for the fight; at worst, it reveals what many of us have long suspected given his decades of Parliamentary opposition to the EU – that he wanted out all along.

Either way, he is letting down his members and Parliamentary base. A recent report by Queen Mary University found that 78% of Labour members back a vote on the poll. Even more favour a ‘soft Brexit’ of remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union – again, Corbyn has ruled this out from being official Labour policy.

The Labour leadership, then, is creeping towards backing the economically damaging hard Brexit that a weakened Theresa May is pursuing to placate her right wing.

There is, however, the potential to defeat the Government many times in the Lords:

But now we’re on to the House of Lords. With 100 Liberal Democrat peers, the Brexiters are coming on to our turf. We have identified several amendments, perhaps into double figures, that we can win, including reducing Henry VIII powers and getting rid of the Conservatives’ insistence on setting a ‘Brexit Day’, which would only denude our negotiating position.

There are plenty of rebel Conservative peers – 15 helped defeat the government on aspects of the Article 50 Bill last year and their number has surely grown. Labour peers must also realise the is their time to strike and join us in taking the fight to the Conservatives.

And we might even get our Exit from Brexit referendum.

Parliamentary support for a referendum on the terms of any deal has not yet caught up with public opinion, but I’m increasingly confident that it will. MPs and peers just want to know they are backing a horse that has a chance of winning.

You can read the whole article here. 

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22 Comments

  • 100 ‘unelected’ peers, or 17% of the 600 life peers against current electoral and polling support of 7%.

    What part of representative democracy does this actually come under.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '18 - 2:33pm

    Oh my goodness!
    The leader of the Lib Dems is describing the House of Lords as “our turf”. That just sounds so wrong.
    Making a political point about exploiting the unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords would be one thing, but celebrating an institution that Lib Dems supposedly want to scrap or reform as if it were instead the Lib Dems’ home is something else entirely.
    I think the tone of this statement risks giving a terrible impression of the party, reinforcing any notions that it is inconsistent or lacking principles.

  • Alex Macfie 31st Jan '18 - 2:47pm

    Peter Watson: “Our turf” simply refers to the fact that there are a lot of Lib Dem peers. We may not like or support the House of Lords as it is, but regardless of how we feel about it, it exists, and as we have the power to influence legislation there, we should use it. To do otherwise would be a gross dereliction of duty.

  • paul barker 31st Jan '18 - 3:03pm

    There are 2 crucial points about The Lords that we need to keep repeating :
    1st, that The Commons voted to retain The Lords unchanged just a few Years ago, if The Commons have Democratic Legitamacy then, by extension, so do The Lords;
    2nd, The Lords are Elected, in effect, just indirectly, like The PM. The effect of appointing Peers in proportion to Vote shares is to even out shifts in opinion, to act as a Political Anchor. That effect is intentional & was backed by The Commons just a few Years ago.
    This is all a matter of broad consensus.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st Jan '18 - 3:22pm

    I don’t agree with an unelected House of Lords but when you’re fighting for your country’s future I’m afraid I think we have to use the troops we have.
    The future I’m afraid of is a country of relative poverty living under a right wing or left wing dictatorship. The Tories want to increase their Henry VIII powers and regard anyone who disagrees with Brexit as traitors: it’s only a short step to ‘the end justifies the means’ politics being practised.
    I’m also deeply suspicious of Jeremy Corbyn. I’m afraid he welcomes economic disaster because that will create the conditions for a Communist style takeover which with extended Henry VIII powers he will be able to achieve quite easily if he wins an election. Then there will be a greater threat than dirty old Russian warships sailing up the Channel.
    We have to convince people Brexit will be a disaster for our country. There is no rule that says Britain is immune from dictators and I’m afraid the atmosphere of hatred of foreigners is starting to create the right conditions for this to happen. If our Liberal Lords can prevent this then I hope they do everything in their power to do so.

  • @Simon Shaw

    ” Now isn’t that a shame! ”

    It is a shame, and it speaks volumes about the bankruptcy of our political system, and whilst I acknowledge that the LibDems have long called for reform including Paddy Ashdown in this morning papers, it seems to be as fleeting as the morning mist when it suits.

    This rather gloating essay by Vince Cable would make Groucho Marx proud.

    “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well I have others.”

  • We do shoot ourselves in the foot. The campaign should be to abolish the House of Lords full stop. Outrageous that we have 100 in the place. No more please.

  • Alex Macfie 31st Jan '18 - 4:38pm

    Barnaby: Working under the current system in NO WAY implies support for it. If it did, then the Lib Dems should be boycotting elections held under First Past the Post. If we decided to be so precious as to refuse to use our influence in the House of Lords because we don’t approve of it as an institution, then our opponents, principally the Tories, would say “Thank you very much” and would be able to get everything they want passed their without scrutiny. And they would consider it yet another reason for keeping the HoL exactly as it is.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Jan '18 - 4:44pm

    Peter Watson, we must make the case for defeating Brexit in the country’s interest where we can, and we have few chances in the Media. Moreover our peers will be acting in the general democratic interest by sharing in the attempt, sought by both Houses, to curb the Government’s use of ‘Henry VIII powers’.

    We also need our peers to point out again the folly of the positions of both the Government and the Official Opposition: the former in expecting a ‘bespoke deal’ having all the advantages of being in the EU internal market and in the customs union without accepting the accompanying requirements, which cannot be granted by the EU; and the latter in opposing staying in either, which is apparently their Leader’s position. Only accepting staying in both by remaining in the EU is the correct solution, which our party in all its official voices has to reiterate.

  • Andrew McCaig 31st Jan '18 - 6:41pm

    When you add our terrible under-representation in the Commons with our over-representation in the Lord’s you actually get very close to the number of legislators we deserve….

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '18 - 7:27pm

    @paul barker “The Commons voted to retain The Lords unchanged just a few Years ago,”
    I’m not sure that they did. Nick Clegg’s attempt at reform seemed simply to fizzle out.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '18 - 7:41pm

    Whether or not the Lib Dems should be using the House of Lords to block Brexit is a separate issue. If Vince Cable justified it in the way that Alex, Simon, Sue and Katharine have, then it would be entirely understandable: the lesser of two evils springs to mind.

    What I don’t like is the way he has described the House of Lords as “our turf”. Such a silly little phrase (from the OED: “An area or sphere of activity regarded as someone’s personal territory”) seems to go against a key Lib Dem policy, risking further damage to the electorate’s opinion of the party’s competence and consistency. A little more reluctance and solemnity in the statement could have conveyed an entirely different impression.

  • Nick Collins 31st Jan '18 - 8:45pm

    Referenda do not fit very well in a representative democracy. Neither does an unelected second chamber. This country’s obstinate adherence to its unwritten constitution and the “virtues” of muddling through and making it up as we go along was bound eventually to get us in a mess. Brexit is just such a mess. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable for members of the second ill-fitting item to use their powers to try to mitigate the damage caused by Cameron’s foolish deployment of the first.

  • Alex Macfie 31st Jan '18 - 8:48pm

    theakes: Don’t worry we are most unlikely to get any new peers in the foreseeable future. But our policy on the HoL or any equivalent second chamber is a totally separate issue from our policy on Brexit and defeating the government, for which we should use whatever constitutional tools are available to us.
    Frankly, the electorate at large don’t give a rodent’s behind for constitutional issues, and so are not going to take any notice of what Lib Dem peers do, or its implications for the policy of HoL reform, about which the vast majority have never heard. They may take notice of the outcome, in which case we can hope they give us some credit.
    Lib Dem spokespeople do answer questions on the appropriateness of using their influence HoL in terms that we have done on here. I remember Tim doing so on the Andrew Marr show when party leader.

    There is nothing hypocritical about using constitutional tools we think shouldn’t exist, because if we didn’t do so, we wouldn’t have any influence. What *is* hypocritical is the fake threats from the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg to “reform” the HoL if it doesn’t fall into line over Brexit. JRM has not had a Damascene conversion to reforming the HoL; he is but the latest in a long line of Labervative politicians who are very happy with a unelected and docile HoL, but are then always ready to issue empty threats against it if it ever dares to stand up to the government.
    Peter Watson: The Lib Dems in coalition tried to get HoL reform. We lost that fight. But that’s not the point. The point is that the HoL that we have now is what the Tories wanted, and they have no business complaining if votes against the government.

  • None the wonder the Lib Dems are not taken seriously.

  • Arnold Kiel 1st Feb '18 - 9:03am

    Just by the relative qualities of debate one would not exactly conclude that elections (just as referenda) produce a better outcome than an illustrious selection of individuals with a record that goes well beyond having recently been FPTP in any constituency. Many here despise, e.g., Nick Clegg, but what about his successor? No such subject is nowhere to be seen in the Lords.

    Just imagine living under laws this first chamber produces unchecked (neither by the HoL, nor the EU-parliament). Very scary.

  • Working with the system we have to keep our normal parliamentary system working is one thing, in the absence of a more balanced democratic system.

    However deliberately using the system you claim is undemocratic to try to overturn a referendum that falls outside our normal democratic process, and which was forced on parliament by popular democracy because of parliaments decision to defy the concerns of the electorate for 40 years, is another.

    I would suggest you are not using the tools available to mitigate a party electoral committment you disagree with, you are attempting to usurp the will of a popular majority mandate , because you simply disagree with their view.

    Political opposition is an honourable position in a democracy, however using your unique overrepresentation in a chamber without any democrat mandate is not.
    I would suggest the LibDem will not garner support from this action, but will be ruthlessly and rightly exposed by the media should the Lords’s damage Brexit. It will stand alongside tuition fees, and the numerous past promises and support for an IN/OUT referendum on the EU, as confirmation the party cannot be trusted.

  • nvelope2003 1st Feb '18 - 11:49am

    Alex Macfie: You may be right but that is not how it will be portrayed and seen by the public. The view of Barnaby is more likely to prevail especially the last paragraph.
    Why are so many Liberal Demcrats unable to see this despite the massive evidence from the coalition years and the last two elections. Those who the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Feb '18 - 4:12pm

    Barnaby, nvelope2003: This has absolutely nothing to do with tuition fees or other holes the party may have dug itself during the Coalition era. Tuition fees were a major issue in the public mind. On the other hand, sorting out the House of Lords is, and always has been, a long way down the public’s list of priorities. Moreover, the Lib Dems have never pledged to boycott the House of Lords, or anything similar. The party has always been quite upfront about how it intends to use its influence there. For instance, after the 2015 election, our HoL members said that they would not consider themselves bound by the Salisbury convention (where Lords don’t vote down governing party manifesto commitments) because the government had a small majority and was elected by a such a small share of the vote.

    As for pledges to hold an EU referendum, Labour had a similar manifesto commitment and reneged on it in government. The Blair government was even taken to court over it, and the court ruled that no, manifesto pledges have no legal force. Yet it doesn’t seem to have affected the government’s or Labour’s standing at the time. The reason is quite simple. Until the referendum was actually held, there was little public clamour for it. And the Tories don’t seem to have benefitted electorally from their pledge to hold one, as they lost their majority in the election the followed it.

    The outcome of the advisory referendum is not the last word on Brexit. Nothing is ever the last word in a democracy. A lot has happened between then and now, and if public opinion were to decisively shift against Brexit (something that I suspect is beginning to happen), then the matter of the referendum would be largely forgotten in the minds of the electorate. It would not make sense for the government to continue to pursue this “will of the people” if it is no longer their will. And in such a case, the voters would be supportive of attempts to stop Brexit, wherever they came from. “A democracy that can’t change its mind is no longer a democracy.”

  • Peter Martin 4th Feb '18 - 8:14am

    The European commission is highly undemocratic too. If anyone is on favour of that via their support of the EU they shouldn’t have much of a problem finding some intellectual justification for using the HOL in the way suggested. The ends justify the means?

  • Nigel Hardy 6th Feb '18 - 11:10pm

    Alex Macfie: Public opinion is highly likely to shift further away from the Tories Brexit dream in the not too distant future. It may well happen later this year when the government shows how spectacularly it can screw up and the economy continues to slide into the murky depths. Remember that the troublemaker in-chief for nearly two decades, Farage, has now proclaimed himself to be favourable towards another referendum. You can bet that Boris – if you don’t like my principles I have others – Johnson will fly with the wind too. The tide is turning and the older pro Brexit demographic is being replaced by a younger pro-European one. Labour may well adopt the idea of another referendum too if they see a political advantage in doing so. Either way Brexit will die a death, and come the end of any transitional phase with the EU, it will be long forgotten, but the divisions in society caused by the Tory fantasy will last for decades, something which another referendum will not heal. For that reason we have to hope that parliament recognises a democracy changing its mind and the whole ideology gets pushed over the cliff before the country does.

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