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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Words are cheap

Rumours that Boris Johnson plans to appoint up to 50 new Conservatives to ram contentious legislation through have really set the cat amongst the pigeons.

Apparently, there is a confidential document prepared by CT Group, the influential lobbying firm run by Lynton Crosby which advises Boris Johnson, that proposes to add 39 to 50 new Tory peers and includes an extraordinary requirement that each new peer sign away their right to make their own judgment on legislation that comes before them. They have to give, the paper says, a written undertaking to attend and vote with the government.

Whether this is enforceable is another matter, but it has certainly got former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown's hackles up.

As the Guardian reports, Brown has urged Keir Starmer not to abandon a key leadership pledge of abolishing the House of Lords, warning that plans to “gerrymander” parliament’s upper chamber by flooding it with dozens of Tory peers proves the need for drastic reform.

He says that the plan for new peers to give a written undertaking to support the government in key votes on controversial legislation, likely to include the Northern Ireland protocol bill that would unilaterally override the Brexit deal, “legitimises straightforward bribery” by recommending those who vote loyally be rewarded with special envoy positions, honours and lunches at Chequers:

Although Starmer made it one of his 10 pledges during the 2020 leadership campaign, it is one of several he is accused of backtracking on. Asked about his commitment to “abolish the House of Lords” and “replace it with an elected chamber of regions and nations” last November, Starmer did not repeat it but committed to “change” instead.

Brown said the current appointments system “calls into question the unfettered patronage of the prime minister who alone can recommend appointments to the Queen”.

Both he and Tony Blair declined a resignation honours list, which Brown said had “undermined the reputation of a number of past prime ministers”.

“Johnson’s latest attempt to manipulate the Lords’ system is the culmination of years of constitutional vandalism,” Brown claimed, pointing out the “shameless” appointment of Conservative party donors and eight former party treasurers.

Although defeated in 2008 when he tried to press ahead with Lords reform, Brown said it was “time to flush out who really wants change and who does not”.

Brown may have tried to introduce reform in 2008, but that did not stop Tony Blair and him appointing people to the House of Lords, in some cases, peers who were significant donors to the Labour Party. It is also the case that the last serious attempt to reform the House of Lords, by Nick Clegg, was defeated by Labour intransigence.

Radical reform is desperately needed, but beware of politicians who talk the talk, and don't deliver.
It transpired during the discussions surrounding the 2010 Lords Reform Bill that Jacob Rees-Mogg was in favour of abolishing the Lords. If he is still of that view, then, since he is one of Truss's most prominent supporters, an interesting prospect looms. If Truss wins the leadership contest, as seems increasingly likely, than Lords abolition may figure in the next Queen's Speech. Would Starmer's Labour party back the measure?
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