Premature Lords ‘reform’ and the Commons gerrymander both torpedoed: a good day for democracy

Nick Clegg has announced this afternoon that the prime minister has decided to abandon the LibDems’ House of Lords Reform Bill, and that in retaliation (not Mr Clegg’s word, but that’s what it amounts to) the LibDems will vote against the Tories’ plan to reduce the size of the house of commons and have the constituency boundaries re-drawn to the advantage of the Conservative Party by a speeded-up process in time for the election scheduled for 2015.  This is very bad news for the Coalition, marking a stinging humiliation of its junior partner by the Tory right-wing Neanderthal tendency, but very good news indeed for the country.  With luck it will allow time for a fundamental re-think about the place of the second chamber at Westminster in the context of devolution, the Scottish independence/devo max referendum in 2014, and the constitutional future of the UK as a whole.  And with a bit more luck it should spell the end of a shameless attempt by the Tories to gerrymander the House of Commons to their own advantage in time for the next election — something the LibDems were prepared to go along with, to their everlasting shame, in exchange for Tory support for their ideas about reform of the House of Lords (the kind of cynical horse-trading that makes the wheels of coalition government in a hung parliament go round).  So:  a good day for democracy, for once!

If Labour has its wits about it, now is the time for an offer of collaboration with the LibDems on a completely new approach to reform of the second chamber in the context of the whole constitutional future of the United Kingdom.  Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan have a golden opportunity to seize the initiative by offering a national constitutional convention to be set up immediately after the next general election to consider the next steps on constitutional reform, including the replacement of the House of Lords by a wholly elected second chamber, on the basis of proposals to be drawn up jointly by the Labour and LibDem parties between now and the next election.

The full text of Nick Clegg’s statement on all this is at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19146853.

[Note: A version of this has also been posted as an up-date to my blog post at http://www.barder.com/3620, arguing that House of Lords reform could not be meaningfully decided or implemented in advance of the Scottish referendum on ‘independence versus devo max’, to take place in late 2014: and that it was essential to place much-needed reform of the second chamber squarely in the context of the completion of the devolution project, a solution to the West Lothian Question, Scotland’s future relationship with the rest of the UK, and the growing demand for internal self-government for England.

Please also see my submission to the Commission on the West Lothian Question, here (PDF), which is extremely relevant.]

Brian

1 Response

  1. Diarmid Weir says:

    <blockquote>Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan have a golden opportunity to seize the initiative by offering a national constitutional convention to be set up immediately after the next general election to consider the next steps on constitutional reform, including the replacement of the House of Lords by a wholly elected second chamber…</blockquote>

    Hi Brian. But we have been here before! Considerations of the quasi-federal nature of the UK were taken on board by the 2000 report of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords – and what happened to that? Well worth a look at their conclusions and recommendations at http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm45/4534/summary.pdf
    although I would be surprised if you are not familiar with them. Scepticism of the value of such a process would also be encouraged by the fate of the Jenkins Report on voting reform.

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this. I shall certainly look again at the document which you mention. But the failure of a good idea to gain traction in the past doesn’t necessarily mean that a similar idea stands no chance of being taken up a decade and more later. Quite a lot has happened since 2000, with the three smaller UK nations all now pressing for much greater degrees of internal self-government, and the threat of the UK disintegrating if the Scots vote for full independence in 2014. There is also much more pressure for English internal self-government than there was in 2000. There has also recently been unprecedented unity in the house of commons in favour of a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, a degree of inter-party consensus (in principle, anyway) that I think was not available in 2000.

    I thought at the time, and continue to think now, that the Jenkins report on voting ‘reform’ was a deeply misguided document and that the electoral system which it recommended would have done great harm to our politics and constitution. For a much fuller account of my and many other commentators’ criticisms of Lord [Roy] Jenkins’s unlamented report, please see http://www.barder.com/politics/uk-politics/jenkins.
     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *