Political Promise

There should be a referendum on the House of Lords

In Thomas Gibbs on May 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Sick of the Alternative Vote referendum? Glad it’s all over? What do you think about House of Lords reform? Thomas Gibbs thinks only the British people should decide on the future of the Second Chamber, not just Nick Clegg.

Nick Clegg has been understandably keen to move on from the disastrous AV referendum, which saw his party’s long cherished dreams of electoral reform killed off for a generation.  However, he may have unwittingly created a precedent for popular consent to constitutional reform that could derail his plans for, among other things, an elected House of Lords.  He was keen for a referendum on electoral reform, when he knew he would never win a vote on the issue in parliament.  This one he feels more comfortable on.  Mel Stride, Conservative member for Central Devon, broached the possibility of a plebiscite on Lords’ reform- particularly the proposed use of PR- to Mr Clegg at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions on May 24th.  The answer he received was far from convincing.

Clegg stated that this was a ‘manifesto commitment of all three main parties’.  While this is true, it certainly doesn’t justify not holding a referendum.  People did not vote at the general election last year (or ever) solely on the basis of where the parties stood on reforming the House of Lords- it is too much of a minority issue for that.  There was no choice amongst the major parties, but rather a casual, un-thought out consensus.  The Conservatives promised simply to ‘work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords’, and Cameron admitted that Lords’ reform was a third term issue.  Labour, apart from removing the hereditary peers (a move perhaps more related to that party’s passion for class politics than any real belief in constitutional change) had little time for reform during their thirteen years in office: why their manifesto pledge should be treated with any seriousness at all is curious.  This hardly legitimises such major constitutional engineering.

He went on to say it is ‘something we as a country have been discussing for around a hundred years or so’.  He might want to check that with the country, because outside the educated liberal elite Mr Clegg belongs to, no-one had any time for this issue, at least after the 1911 compromise.  It was arrogantly thinking they were supported by a majority of people that undid the Yes to AV campaign.  And if I’m wrong, and the country has been talking about it, surely they should have the final say on the matter?

He then concluded by saying that a number of electoral systems in the UK had been changed without referenda in the past, as if regional assemblies matched in status the oldest second chamber in the world, part of the United Kingdom parliament that they were created by.

One of the weaknesses of Britain’s uncodified constitution is that we have no procedure for changing it.  This is fine when dealing with small changes, or evolutionary improvements.  What Mr Clegg proposes is revolution.  If every government was able to inflict serious upheaval to the system, we would be in constant flux.  Mr Clegg has long claimed he stood for a new politics, and urged Parliament to become more accountable.  How hypocritical it would be for him to deny the British people a voice on the issue.

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  1. […] There should be a referendum on the House of Lords (politicalpromise.co.uk) […]

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