Lording it

David Cameron wants a ‘rapid review‘ of the House of Lords. This is his knee-jerk response to having his Chancellor thoroughly admonished and his intention to cut Tax Credits, rightly criticised for their cruel irrationality.

I followed the Lords’ debate. I read the articles of experts and heard the opinions of vested interests. The constitutional argument cut both ways. The arguments for the four motions put against the government’s tax credits statutory instrument were more convincing. The House of Lords decided that serving the interests of the working poor was justified and more important than serving the arrogance and ineptitude of this government or the conventional expectations of an uncodified constitution. They spent a lot of time considering their remit and the loophole that Osborne’s game playing had afforded them. It was a thorough and earnest attempt by them, to interpret and be convinced of their jurisdiction, responsibility and capacity. It was somewhat akin to the persuasive measures found in a courtroom. Majority consensus was reached. The government was called out on its duplicity and shortsightedness and, in the end, was skewered by its own incompetence on a technicality.

There were outcries of ‘constitutional crisis‘; that the House of Lords had crossed a line; exceeded its privilege and undermined the primacy of the House of Commons. Whether it had or not is still being questioned in some quarters, particularly by those for whom Osbornomics is still acceptable. Hence the ‘rapid review’.

I have sympathy for those who fear jurisdictional ambiguity and power imbalances. I see it; feel it every day and the irony of the who that are suddenly demanding this review is not lost on me. As with Law, we shouldn’t get to pick and choose what applies without consequence. Like state sanctioned execution, we don’t get to say it’s ok just because we don’t like the target. Rules are rules. Principles are principles. But they have to either be consensual and properly codified or be reliant on precedent and convincing argument. In the forever absence of the former, the Lords took advantage of the latter.

I care little for the tribal straitjacket that assumes you can’t be left-leaning and still support aspects of Establishment, Monarchy and tradition. I rather love the rituals, the symbolism, the pomp and circumstance and I don’t feel threatened or diminished by ‘it’ or its people, insomuch as it does not have power to undermine Democracy. We can pare it down, certainly but I don’t think that just getting rid of it or them will strengthen the demos because that’s not where our problems, myriad, though they be, really lay.

The House of Lords is a scrutiny and revising chamber. It scrutinised George Osborne’s intentions, found them wanting and suggested that he revise his plans. Sometimes I agree with its decisions and sometimes I don’t. I only ask that its inquiries and considerations are honest, sincere and thorough.

I like the Lords. I more than accept, though, that it badly needs some reform. The thing is: I really don’t want the second chamber to become yet another House of elected people who fail to represent us. I don’t trust our current generation of politicians enough to see their number increased and I have little faith in the democratic vehicles and platforms, currently already at our disposal. Pun intended. I dislike the idea of having the tedium of what would amount to another General Election and can see logistical chaos and greater risk of political imbalance in it being held at the same time and a completely ridiculous expense if held on a different year. Neither do I fancy the inevitable poison of ego-driven stalemate, a gamesmanship that I see between the two Houses in the United States.

Perhaps I can be persuaded to change my mind, one day and, maybe, I can even be convinced that a second chamber is actually not necessary, at all but both possibilities, particularly as isolated measures, are moot to my present mind and I don’t believe either would hold any more guarantee of democratic progress than the ad hoc promises of devolution will automatically increase people power. We’d need to be a darned sight more grown up and a lot better informed.

Personally, I would like it if we first tried changing the terms and conditions of the appointees. I’d like to reduce, significantly, the total number of peers and curb their ostentatious allowances. I’d set an upper age limit and cancel life peerages and any remaining hereditary privileges by fixing their terms of office to something like between eight and sixteen years. I’d want to ensure continuum and overlap of old hands and fresh blood but also to minimise the effects of nepotism and self-interested expediency that are, currently, all too achievable.

I’d keep the number of Bishops about the same, rename them collectively as Lords Spiritual and try to ensure that they more reflectively represent the diverse make-up of the population’s faiths. Including humanists. After all, it takes a certain faith to not believe, too.

As for MPs: well, there are far, far too many. I would suggest that no Parliamentary Party, even of Government and Opposition, be allowed to appoint more than, say, ten or fifteen Party peers within any Parliamentary term. And even that number seems a bit generous but that’s probably because, at the moment, once they’re in, they take root. I would welcome a concerted cull.

I feel, strongly, that cross-benchers/non-affiliates should at least equal the sum total of politically affiliated members and Lords Spiritual. The House of Lords Appointments Commission – which could also do with shaking up – has the remit for vetting all nominees but also and especially for appointing ‘independents’ but there are relatively few appointed each year since the Parliamentary Parties hog most of the space. The areas of interest, experience and expertise are filled with too many aloof, corporate-scale professionals and too few from vocational careers and familiar lifestyles. As being over twenty-one – which seems absurdly young – ‘expertise’ and ‘a willingness to commit’ are the gateway requirements, we could try elevating to this high office, retired union reps, policemen/women, journalists; retired or on-sabbatical teachers, tradesmen, professors, comedians, medics, actors, hairdressers, care workers, etc, etc, etc. Real people, who look like us and have come from doing the same kinds of work as us and the people we know. Perhaps some kind of scouting and invitation process could be considered and a campaign to promote awareness of the nomination mechanism.

I know I don’t have all the answers or maybe even any, really and maybe the second half of this post is my intellect submitting to intuition. I’m just thinking aloud. But I’m not in charge and I don’t have a plethora of experts on tap to alert me to the consequences and palatable, viable alternatives. And, unlike some, I’m in no rush to create another constitutional fiasco to salve a self-inflicted hissy fit.

Me old China

For nights
He dreamed of China
On a golden-plated plate.
He saw great Industry,
Industrious,
Deferring and obedient
Unto a fearsome, fiat State.

And Chancellor Illustrious,
Expedient and sly,
Espied the merits of economy
Without the messiness of seeking
Common votes to buy.

I’d like to get me some of that!
He cried out in his rosy sleep
And, counting favours widely scat
(Derivatives to reap)
He smiled at all the puppet strings
He did control at Ivory Keep.

We crony few must stick together
Shore up power for the clans.

Win-win! he grinned and, rising,
Set about his cunning plan
For leasing out the democratic bit
And touting it to Despot Dan.

“Come ‘ere, you golden era!
Claim your royal status badge
And see your subjects elevate you
By acceptance from her Maj.

“Ignore the protests
And the quizzing
Coming from the Common bores
And we’ll pretend that we condemn
The way you operate with yours.

“I’ll get you:
Old Mould
Footholds
Strongholds
Pre-solds
New gold
New souls
For your taking

As I told you,
I’m not faking

Come on over
Be my guest
And let me be your BFF.”

Toodle-pip

Be strident
With your Trident!
Just create a hellish if
Whip it up a bit –
Let rip (you know you want to
And you’re MAD enough)
Push the button
Quick!
Get it over with.

World,
Toodle-pip.

~*~

It’s you, Conservative government. Please stop.

Please, Conservative Government, stop putting Britain’s people down. It is fatuous, unpatriotic and downright rude. You are our government; our leaders and representatives. You are privileged to hold the highest offices of public service. Why do you disrespect us so easily? Don’t you like us? Are we embarrassing you? Why do you keep speaking at us and about us as though we were the ones who are letting you down?

Stop selectively comparing us to other countries and other people to bully us and mask your inadequacies. This inferiority complex is yours. It is insulting and becoming tiresome to hear you carping on with your political envy. If their peoples work longer, earn less and have fewer rights, then that is not a competition I wish to enter. In fact, I would prefer that you openly disapproved of such economies. But stop, too, this flippantly pitting of our regions, counties and cities against each other. Stop expediently pointing generalised and judgemental fingers at people. And, please, stop expecting us to be grateful for your mean-spirited crumbs. It is our bread that you are eating.

And stop peddling paranoia to the xenophobes and stop perpetuating scarcity myths over resources that you are squandering. We do not lack the means but that you lack the political will. We do not lack compassion but you lack integrity. We do not lack aspiration; we do not lack gumption and we do not lack self-respect but that you would strip us of dignity and decent opportunity. We do not lack social cohesion but that you keep fostering fear, division and discontent.

Who is in charge of our country’s finances? Who is formulating our country’s policies? Who is devising our country’s laws? YOU. Who has been in charge for the last five years? YOU. Who, in that time, didn’t build enough housing; didn’t train sufficient doctors, nurses, teachers…? Who has denigrated and undermined public service? YOU. Who has introduced welfare reforms without first creating an economy in which this is justifiable? YOU. Who perpetuates a socio-economic system that requires the exploitation of your own citizens? YOU. Who makes blanket policies based on simplistic and insulting stereotypes? YOU. Who is blithely building on and recreating the same conditions that got us into such a fix in the first place? YOU. Who has bent over backwards to accommodate the hyperbole of bigots and Chicken Littles? YOU. Who governs by dubious moral whim? YOU. Who gambols greedily around on the world stage like an oversized and untrained puppy, begging to join in, no matter the recklessness and disingenuousness of the cause? YOU.

Who is ignorantly and wickedly cutting away at the very heart and soul of Britain? YOU.

Who is the biggest threat to the security of our isles, our economy and our families? YOU.

YOU. YOU. YOU.

You are the Government. You are responsible for the tone, content and quality of your narrative and you are responsible for the consequences of your governance. What we really lack is the practical wisdom, maturity and the competent service of an honourable leadership. Change your attitude and behaviour. Stop. Turn around or get out of our way.

Disbelief

Are we so stunned by the grotesque
That all we do is dumbly watch
Our needy leaders crest and botch?

Though pigs might fly

For, though pigs might fly,
Don’t throw
Pearls before swine.
Heads up, Dave:
When you’re dining
With peers at Piers’ trough,
In a pig’s eye or pig’s ear
Initiate stuff,
Then expect the subject
To spawn endless renditions
Of pork-laden jokes
At your porn star audition.
Think on as your Cons
Try to not dignify
With more oral unzipping
For, real or a lie,
This sensational note,
Is bespoke of a libertine,
Feudal condition,
Well-fitting
The leadership specs you invoke
As a pig in a poke
Of a Prime Politician.

[Prime Ministerial material? – No, because you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.]

To Iain Duncan Smith

Mr Iain Duncan Smith,

About this “shake-up“. Could you please find me a job that is tailored to my abilities whilst maximising my potential; one that pays me enough that I could live, not just independently but well; sufficiently that I would require no top-up credits. Of course, I’d still need to retain the gateway awards that I was once told were indefinite and unconditional (such as my DLA and Blue Badge); that recognise how my disabilities are not going anywhere, no matter how cross and determined you are that they will. I apologise for the way my life has unfolded so unhelpfully for everybody – including me – however, I don’t know what real and beneficial work I can do that will be meaningful to Society, will end any State dependence, won’t compromise my health and will satisfy your self-righteous values and relentless need for me to justify my monetary worth within your stupid socio-economic model.

You know that bit where you say “claimants should be made to take up any work they can, even if it is just a few hours”? Well I need a job that I can do as and when I have the physical and mental resources which fluctuate, daily, according to exhaustion, pain level, concentration, the day’s commitments, your downward pressure and my subsequent social anxieties and, consequently, mood, capacity, vulnerability and efficiency. I tend to have problems – even on good days – with travelling, sitting at a desk, walking and standing and my body is deteriorating, generally and specifically – my hands, most recently, to my great distress – from years of coping with my limits and, naturally, I’m not going to get any younger, either.

I’m probably not worth the time and money of an employer who wants me at a shop till or at a desk at a call centre or inputting data, say. And my days of being a cleaner, care-worker, etc are way behind me, now. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not ‘above’ such work – I’ve done many different jobs – but the idea that I’m suitable or capable now is silly. And the notion that it’s worth the financial cost to try to enable me to do such work for an hour or two, here and there, is laughable. I’d really love an actual career but I reckon I may be a bit long in the tooth, now and that the training, itself, would likely be physically inhibitive. Besides, there are plenty of young people who need the start far more than Society should need me to compromise my health further and inevitably cost everyone more as I prostrate myself to prove my sorry lack of market value.

You know that bit where you talk about “a system focused on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need and not just what they can’t”? Well, my best skills are now reduced to the erratic ability to communicate what is in my mind with a certain amount of eloquence. So, if you mean it about the personalised help and support then perhaps you could fix it for me to be paid for the reading, observing, thinking and writing with which I have primarily learned to content myself? I’m sure you know many who are paid handsomely for doing far less. My best times are indeterminate and unpredictable points within a given 24-hour period, according to the spoons I have, minus those I need just to get through an uneventful day. Take them away from me and I will be a husk.

I’m not saying that there’s nothing I can do, at all or that I think I’m not a worthy human being. I’m saying I can’t jump your petty false-economy hoops and that I’m worth more than that. We all are. And I’m not saying that I’m more special than anyone else, either. I’m saying it has taken me a long time to create a productive life that I can bear, with the resources I have and that my well-being is more important than your shameful social experiments. I’m telling you that I think I would rather die than live the empty life you would prescribe for me. I will not be a scapegoat for your ignorance.

For the Love of It

God is pressure;
Life is movement;
Will, attunement,
Conscience measured.

Light, its friction,
Shadow sifting,
Soul uplifting,
Love, its treasure.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta
Spirit heart by human art
So worldly sublimated
Sainted neo-mythic Rock of Ages
Faint though fêted where didst start.

Victorian this; Victorian that

With missionary zeal
Strides hubris armed
Self-righteous alms and platitudes
Top hats and hoops and whale-bone traps
Brings back
The straps of custom-costumed attitude
Strait laced
Straight-faced
Stiff upper
Done up like a kipper
Know your place
And wish
Deserving rests within the gift
Of father’s laundered godliness.