Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cameron renages on his Lords proportionality promise to spite UKIP

I don't like Nigel Farage. I don't like his attitude or his approach to things. I don't care for many of his party's policies especially the twin planks of leaving the EU come what may and blaming everything on immigration.

However I am also a democrat. It is shocking that at the recent general election UKIP got 13% of the vote and 0.15% of the seats in the Commons. Absolutely shocking. That is the sort of disparity that the First Past the Post system can throw up as we all know.

But not to fear. We knew that Cameron would at least try to redress the balance in parliament somewhat through Lords appointments wouldn't he? Because during the last parliament he told us that until the Lords was properly reformed to be largely or wholly elected appointments would be made to create a chamber reflective of the votes cast at the most recent general election. Look, it was in his first programme for government in 2010:

In the interim, lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

So presumably Cameron will have appointed some UKIP peers today in his latest honours? For proper proportionality there would need to be about 100 of them but to be fair we couldn't have expected him to do it that quickly. He's appointed 45 today. So how many of them are UKIP? 15? 10? 5? Surely 3 or 4 of them?

None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

This is a flagrant renaging on a political promise. And it was an important promise. Because everyone knows the Commons is not proportional. But Cameron assured us he would redress this in the second chamber. And he has gone back on his word.

It seems pretty obvious to me why he has done this. He hates Nigel Farage. And he hates UKIP. He is worried what they would do with a decent tranche of peers. So out of malice, spite and political cowardice he is not going to appoint any of them to the upper chamber.

With a slick turn of phrase Cameron recently made a statement on this subject that sounds very similar to his promise in 2010:

It is important the House of Lords in some way reflects the situation in the House of Commons. At the moment it is well away from that. I’m not proposing to get there in one go. [But] it is important to make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons. That’s been the position with prime ministers for a very, very long time and for very good and fair reason.

He has subtly changed his wording to say the Lords should now reflect the "situation" in the Commons rather than the "votes" for the Commons. That almost seems like a semantic distinction at first glance but it makes all the difference in the world. Because the "situation" in the Commons is a result of the FPTP system which as we know gave UKIP 1 seat when they should have had 82 of them. And Cameron is now trying to use this as justification to give UKIP no extra peers. They already have 3 Lords, all of whom used to be Tories and defected.

It is also worth pointing out that Cameron is making up the rules on the fly here whilst trying to sound like he is just fitting in with what previous PMs have done. It's not true. There has never been a rule that the Lords should be reflective of the situation in the Commons as Meg Russell points out in this recent Constitution Unit post.

No it is quite clear what Cameron is doing. He is using the brute force power of patronage his position gives him to prevent UKIP from getting any more representation in the Lords. There is no justification for this so he's making up one based on a non-existent precedent.

Remember this next time he claims to be a democrat or that he is a fair man.

He is clearly neither.

Monday, 24 August 2015

House of Comments - Episode 129 - The Corgasm

The latest House of Comments podcast is now out.

This week the podcast is back for a(nother) one off special during the current podcast hiatus. I am joined by Editor of Ian Dunt to discuss the remarkable surge of Jeremy Corbyn and its current and likely future effects.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboom for hosting the podcast. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Labour doesn't have any values - so how can new members be required to support them?

I was amused this morning to see that Mark Steel, one of the most outspoken left-wing activists in the media has been banned from joining the Labour Party because he doesn't "support their values":

Now in Mr Steel's case there seems to be some question mark over whether he is still a member of the SWP which could be another reason why he has not been allowed to join and vote in the current leadership contest. But it is worth looking a little bit more closely at the given reason for his rejection, the charge that he does not support their values. Because Labour currently doesn't really have any values.

I don't mean this glibly. I mean it literally.

Labour have just (badly) lost an election that they and many of the rest of us thought they would win, or at least they would form the next government in the aftermath of it. That hasn't happened and they seem to be going through some sort of collective nervous breakdown as a result.

It certainly wasn't clear what the party stood for in the previous parliament. Indeed that is one of the reasons they lost. They spent the first 3 or 4 years of it opposing every single cut the coalition government made and then in the last year or so suddenly tried to turn on a sixpence and claim they were the party of fiscal responsibility (whilst still opposing many of the cuts and claiming they were ideological). They also campaigned hard on the NHS claiming that the coalition was "privatising it" despite having themselves extended private provision whilst in office (at one point under Andy Burnham). There are various other examples of where they either said or did one thing in office and another when in early opposition and then yet another in the run-up to the election. No wonder people were confused.

I saw a journalist remark the other day that when they approached the Labour Party to ask what its values were in order to clarify they were directed to read "Clause 4" of the Labour Party constitution. Here it is as modifed in 1995 under Blair's early leadership:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect

That's fair enough as far as it goes but it's difficult to pin down how this would relate to specific policy positions. For example (apart from the special case of the banks in 2008 when there was a huge crisis and any government would have had to act) how many nationalisations did Labour undertake whilst in office? Because reading that clause you might presume they'd have taken the opportunity to renationalise all sorts of stuff to fit in with their "value" of power, wealth and opportunity remaining in the hands of the many, not the few. Of course they barely nationalised anything and social mobility went into reverse between 1997 and 2010. Or how about their values of "tolerance and respect" and living "freely". I'm not sure how that could be reconciled with their attempts in office to push through 90 days detention without trial or their steadfast backing of the hopelessly illiberal and broken drugs laws to pick two of many egregious examples.

So it is far from clear how the Labour Party of the last 20 years and its actions in office could be reconciled with its own Clause 4 that the party machine directs people to read to check they are not to be an unperson.

But it's worse than that. Because Labour are in the middle of a leadership campaign. A leadership campaign that could very well hugely change the party's stance and approach to all sorts of things. Which would surely mean its values had changed?

As an example, imagine a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour Party led by Liz Kendall. They would be so different from each other as to be almost unrecognisable as the same party, certainly after the leader had got their hands on the party levers and had had some time to reshape it in their own image. The idea that there is a specific set of values that irrespective of who wins the leadership the party will stick to come what may is laughable. Corbyn has already explicitly stated he'd like to change Clause 4 if he wins.

So it is a nonsense for Labour to cast people out for not sharing their values when they are at best highly flexible and more realistically something akin to Will-o'-the-wisp.