Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Oliver Seamus Eric Thompson

Our beautiful baby boy passed away yesterday morning.

Sleep well Ollypops.

You're my baby forever.

All my love.


Monday, 9 July 2012

I have reservations about this bill but we need Lords reform

There is a tendency in politics that once your side has come forth with its proposals, bill or other form of announcement, for activists and certainly parliamentarians to row in behind them. There is also a less edifying tendency to then try and shoot down any opposition to them rather than actually listen to and engage with opponents.

As such, I find myself in a slight quandary as regards the Lords reform bill that is making its way through parliament at the moment.

We desperately need democratic reform of the Lords. For over 100 years parties of all hues have promised it will happen but almost always when it has come to the crunch, vested interests have closed ranks and prevented it. The only exception to this was the abolition of the hereditary peers by Labour which was an improvement but was supposed to be the first stage of a process that then petered out.

It is always easier to argue for the status quo than it is to argue for change. The existing system is there by default. If we are going to go to the trouble of changing it we have to convince a lot of people, all of whom will have different ideas about what a second chamber should be.

So I'll come right out and say it. I do not personally think the Lords bill as it is currently constituted is the best way we could reform the second chamber. I have two issues. Firstly, I think the idea of 15 year terms with members unable to run more than once will reduce democratic accountability. It is the fact that MPs (mostly) know they will be back before the electorate in at most a few years time that keeps them responsive to their views. This will undoubtedly be weaker under the proposed system than it is for the Commons. Secondly I think we should not have dropped our plans to use STV as the system in England, Scotland and Wales.

But I also understand that if my concerns were addressed it would throw up other issues that may weaken the case for reform or otherwise render it more politically difficult to pass. For example if instead of 15 year terms they were 5 year terms then complaints about making it a rival to the Commons would intensify. And if we used STV then there would be a risk that it could shine a very unflattering light on First Past the Post (which although I think would be a good thing, many others would not). Also, with the size of constituencies for the reformed chamber being so large STV could be unworkable. But if we reduced the size too much to make it more workable lots of MPs would get very nervous about more elected representatives with only slightly diluted legitimacy on their patch. Etc. etc. etc.

This is what would happen with any proposed change. That is why we have never had substantial reform in over a century. And why despite these reservations I still very strongly feel that this bill needs to pass. Pretty much any move to a wholly or largely elected second chamber is worthwhile in my view precisely because if we don't bite the bullet now we'll still be arguing about it in 20 years time.

I appreciate that some in my party may not appreciate my candour on this, especially if it comes to a referendum and opponents will happily use arguments I have set out here against change. But I have to call it as I see it. I am uncomfortable with some of the changes here but you can't always get what you want in life.

In the end, we should not make the best the enemy of the "much better than what we currently have".

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Tory MP admits Lords commitment was a fudge

I was listening to the podcast of last week's Radio 4's Week in Westminster the other day and I was somewhat taken aback by the candour of Conservative backbencher Andrew Turner when he was questioned by Fraser Nelson about Lords reform:

Fraser Nelson: Andrew, as far as you're concerned the House of Lords thing was intended as a fudge. To bring forward proposals and then to drop them. So it was intended as a fig leaf to the Lib Dems but not to do any more and that is as far as your understanding what David Cameron intended all along?
Andrew Turner: I'm sure it isn't what David Cameron intended but I would certainly read it that way and I can understand why many others can read it that way.

This is pretty shameless stuff. He is saying that he and a substantial proportion of his colleagues viewed their manifesto commitment on Lords reform as a sop to Lib Dems in case of a hung parliment but that they never actually intended to do anything about it. What is the point of manifestos if they are simply going to be used as a political tool like this?*

It was also very telling that at the start of the interview, Turner also said that he didn't consider himself and his colleagues who are planning to vote against the reform bill rebels. When pressed on this in the end he did concede the point but he clearly thinks that he is representing the "true view" of the Tories on this.

I have to ask, if Andrew Turner feels so strongly about this, why did he stand as a Conservative candidate at the last election at all? There was nothing stopping him joining another party or even standing as an independent "Tories for unelected privilege" candidate.

*I am well aware that there will be some thinking it's a bit rich for me to be talking about sticking to manifesto commitments when the Lib Dems have gone back on a number of theirs but they had to compromise to form a coalition. Lords reform was in both manifestos. No compromise on this was needed!