9 June 2009

Why it suited Brown and Blair to take House of Lords reform no further

Regular followers of this blog will know that I don’t often forsake non-partisan comment on speech and communication to air my own political views. They will also know that one of the exceptions is my thorough disapproval of the unfinished business of reforming the House of Lords. 

In the early days of this Labour government, it looked as though they might actually come up with something more sensible (i.e. more democratic) than the continuingly absurd system of allocating seats in the House of Lords. 

But, in the light of the recent cabinet reshuffle, I’m beginning to see why the two most senior architects of New Labour avoided doing any such thing. 

Had they done so, Gordon Brown would not have been able to sneak the unelected Peter Mandelson back into the cabinet, let alone promote him to deputy prime minister. Nor, given the recent departure of so many of his senior ministers (and/or refusal of others to fill their places), would he have been able to replace them with whichever unelected recruit he took a fancy to, whether it be Sir Alan Sugar or Lord Adonis, who is now in the cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport.

Luckily for Brown, Tony Blair had already made such dubious practices easy for him by giving Adonis a seat in the House of Lords back in 2005 – in spite of our new transport supremo’s distaste for standing in elections. 

Apart from serving as an elected Liberal Democrat councilor on Oxford City Council (1987-91), Andrew Adonis, as he then was, had withdrawn from being the Lib Dem PPC for Westbury in 1995 and then, three years later, withdrew from being a Labour candidate for Islington Council.

In principle, of course, Adonis has always been in favour of elections and has even advocated them for the House of Lords: 

"Lords reform is not just about democratic equality. The present Second Chamber, lacking democratic legitimacy, is incapable of performing the essential functions of a revising assembly…” (for fuller story, see HERE). 

But in practice, why complain about the appointment of cronies if you’d rather rise without trace than go to all the trouble of fighting an election? 

And why complain if you’re a prime minister who’s running out of elected MPs willing to serve in your cabinet? 

If  Brown and Blair had taken the reform of the House of Lords any further when they had the chance, there would have been no such handy escape route. 

Nor, without a system that allows the unelected to be promoted above the elected, would former critics of the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of the House of Lords, like Adonis, have been able to ignore their past position on the matter and float so effortlessly to the top. 

Yet further proof, if proof were needed, that the 'reformed' way of allocating seats in the House of Lords, as devised by this government is not only an embarrassing sham, but is postitively damaging and detrimental to the democratic process.

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