The dust seems to have settled on the discussion about the House of Lords. For now. Politicians have spent a century discussing how to reform it, and we all still seem none the wiser. All we know is that it needs reform. But what exactly?
The Coalition's proposals for the Lords were weak. We know that the current system needs improving, but if it's going to be done, it should be a proper reform. How any British politician can seriously suggest that a legislative chamber should include members elected for a (non-renewable) term of 15 years is beyond me. For all the talk of accountability in British politics, this would seek to seriously undermine it. While the current system sees appointed experts in the chamber, would a single 15 year term really be a better option?
I have yet to hear why members of an elected Lords should be chosen by proportional representation. I know it's what Liberal Democrats dream of, but it seems that there was little Conservative input into what is a major constitutional reform. It's almost as if the Government told the Commons, "we want PR for the Lords - take it or leave it."
There are merits to an elected house, of course. What would be better is if the Government took more time, formulated genuine proposals, and asked the country for its verdict. But I can't see the Liberal Democrats wanting that.
The last time a Lib Dem idea was taken to the country, it was rejected by a 2:1 margin. Although they never really wanted the Alternative Vote, it was the price they set the Conservatives for joining a government in the national interest.
The precise proposals for the Lords are the brainchild of the Lib Dems, and it is wrong when they say there's no need for a referendum. They were out of touch on AV, so who's to say they're not out of touch on Lords reform? It is easy, but wrong, for Lib Dems to now say that they'll only support the proposed boundary changes if Lords reform is passed. Lords reform is a separate issue. The Lib Dems have already had a referendum on AV for the Commons. Just because they didn't get the result they wanted, doesn't mean anything should change on Lords reform.
However, we all know the reality has changed, with the Lib Dems sounding more and more abrasive when it comes to Lords reform. It is important to remember what was said when the Coalition was formed, as well as what Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi recently told Dermot Murhaghan;
"The two parties came together and put party interest and self-interest aside to form this coalition and I think the nation supported that, now that we are in danger of behaving as if party politics and personal interest are guiding us, that is a very bad place to be and I would recommend that the coalition think long and hard about what the priorities are."
It has to be remembered that in a coalition, one party has a greater say than others. Just ask Birgitte Nyborg. Or David Cameron. The Prime Minister must remember that one Lib Dem justification for having proportional representation in the Commons (as well as the Lords) is that coalitions do produce stable government. But if the Lib Dems are willing to bring down the Coalition, then their reasoning for PR and coalitions will be dead to the British people. Especially if they choose to bring down the government over an issue of their self-interest, such as Lords reform.
Don't get me wrong, the Lords needs reform. I struggle to see the legitimacy of a wholly-appointed chamber, let alone the presence of Bishops and hereditary peers. It was rather concerning to read reports suggesting change could include mass-member organisations electing their own peers. How on earth could that work?
But what would be bad for the Lords, for politics, and most importantly, for the country, would be to allow politicians to continue their century-long conversation on Lords reform. If the upper house is to be elected, it should be after the country says so.
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