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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tory hypocrisy on House of Lords goes into overdrive

It was only last week that the New Statesman published an article by George Eaton asserting that Tory MPs and the Daily Mail have no right to complain about the House of Lords.

Mr. Eaton started by stating the obvious: 'The House of Lords is a national embarrassment. Britain’s unelected second chamber - the largest in the world after China’s National People’s Congress - is stuffed with party placemen, dodgy donors and failed politicians. The 26 Church of England bishops make the UK the only state other than Iran to reserve seats for clerics in its legislature.'

He points out how, in 2012, the coalition government’s attempt to introduce an 80 per cent elected chamber was defeated by Conservative rebels and titles such as the Daily Mail. And yet, following the Government's 14 defeats in the Lords over Brexit legislation, demands for reform are emanating from the unlikely source of Tory MPs and the Daily Mail. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Bernard Jenkin were among those denouncing “these traitors in ermine”:

The great irony of Brexit is how its advocates have turned on British institutions one by one: the judiciary, the civil service, the free press, the BBC and, now, the House of Lords.

Jenkin said of the upper house: “They have become drunk with their own prejudices in defiance of how the people voted in the referendum and the last general election.” Rees-Mogg warned: “It is not a loved institution, it is a tolerated institution when it obeys the constitutional norms, if it ignores them it has very little support left. They are completely obsessed by the European Union. They are people who have devoted their whole life to it. Their whole aim is to stop Brexit.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Bernard Jenkin were among the 28 Brexiteer Tories who voted against Lords reform in 2012. Whilst in 2012, the Daily Mail branded Lords reform “irrelevant and dangerous”. As George Eaton points out during the Blair Government, the Mail frequently heralded the defeats endured by Labour on issues such as fox hunting and Section 28:

“The truth is this prime minister [Tony Blair] hates the robustly independent Lords which has proved a more effective check on an over-mighty executive than the Commons,” it declared in an editorial on 19 September 2003. 

Now the shoe is on the other foot. An independent, unelected Lords is not so convenient when it is spoiling the Brexiteer's own pet causes.

And how does Theresa May react? She adds to the problem by appointing nine new Tory peers and one DUP peer in the hope of reversing the tide of common sense washing over her hard Brexit solution. King Canute she is nor. At least he knew the limits of his own power.

Jeremy Corbyn, a live-long opponent of the unelected House of Lords joins in with three peers of his own. I don't blame him for that. Theresa May has the power to replace the Lords with a properly accountable, elected second chamber, Corbyn has to work with the institutions that are there. His choice of peers is another matter of course, but for now we will leave that controversy with the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

As ever in politics, it is what is convenient at the time that matters, not the overarching principle that should lead to proper, meaningful and lasting reform.
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