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.


Ding Dong Bell

Ding dong bell
Osborne’s in the well.
Who put him in?
He jumped in himself!
How will he get out?
Accommodative rout.
What a gidiot is this
To do such stupid shit?
Oh, it’s no surprise from him,
Who of habit is remiss –
Quick! Fill the hole in!

[“Ding Dong Bell” – origin and alternative versions]

“Shame on you!”

We get the government we deserve. On a long enough timeline, in a Democracy, we are, collectively, all responsible for where we are. But, for a variety of reasons, under the umbrellas of, say, Time and Inclination, this deservedness is not so straightforward.

Still, if your information, choices and references come from a repetitive half-hour news cycle, carefully crafted and selected soundbites, utopianists and the newspaper headlines of an agenda-driven press, whether by choice or accessibility, you really cannot claim to understand or even properly know what is going on in this country or the wider world. You are living in a bubble of gloss.

And this bubble is about to burst for a great many voters who crossed the Conservative Party box in the last General Election and now feel naive or betrayed, as exemplified by the much-highlighted cry of audience member, Michelle Dorrell, in the recent BBC Question Time programme. (Dover, you were magnificent, by the way.) I must admit, dear Reader, to a wry flash of a smile. At last! I thought. To myself.

Many, who consider themselves left of the status quo are seeing this event as an opportunity to reach out, enlighten and invite solidarity and co-operation. Theirs is a sense of relief and optimism that a very dark and oppressive veil is finally being lifted. They perceive the quickening of a shift in mainstream consciousness and potential for momentum in emergent narratives. After all, such Tory voters as Michelle Dorrell must, surely, now ask: if I was tricked over the tax credits (work penalty), then where else and over what else, have I been duped or deceived myself?

But the Public’s response to her new victimhood has been rather mixed, as reading Twitter the next day showed. I know: social media, right? But social media is just the human condition, reflected in all its glory, expressed online. It’s still representative, or at least indicative, if you step out of confirmation bias timelines. Anyway, no matter: it was the negative reactions of so many people (and not restricted to social media) by which I have been most struck.

They appear to see Michelle’s recent voting preference as a wholly unforgivable act. Her plight, now, they say, is simply her just reward and she must take responsibility for it. Like she doesn’t know, already! They express their own and very real victimhood as though it were all delivered by her betraying hand, not just of them but of the whole country. She is being projected as the Face for an entire demographic of electoral traitors.

Anyone who sees the myriad dangers that this Neo-Conservative government presents is justified in their anger at the motivations of, particularly, Tory voters and/or confusion as to there actually being sufficient of them to vote the Tories back in but, even so, it is wiser, kinder, more appropriate and strategically much more astute to cast the blame at the Government of the Day than at individual, private, fellow-citizens.

Calling out elected and/or appointed politicos, public moralisers, stenographic and perfidious journalism is the consequence of critical thinking and a vital ingredient of Democracy. It’s the purpose of satire and a righteous good use of free speech. As is questioning and criticism about how a Society behaves and its sections, thereof. But, singling out private, power-of-one individuals that you don’t even know, just to cathartically project public condemnation and vitriol, is another matter, entirely. It says more about you. It says that you are mean-spirited, intransigent, tribal before Reason and that you risk becoming the bigger hindrance to progress and the longer-lasting problem to Society.

We’re all trying to navigate a dirty, choppy sea of poll-pushing obsessives, propagandising MPs and opportunist journalicians. They’re our real problem. If you keep beating up on and slagging off private citizens then you are mostly helping The Powers That Be to maintain Divide and Rule. We are all infuriating fools to someone and making admittedly gullible voters the enemy – our fellow citizens; our neighbours – is scapegoating and the beginning of a road to civil war.

Our real socio-economic foes are those with the political power over Law, policy and public information; those who distort facts and invent or omit others; those who deliberately manipulate our emotions and toy with our heads in order to control outcomes. To control us.

Know your enemy. It is a spinning entity; a fable machine. That’s what needs calling out and bringing down. Not we, each other.