I was intrigued by an article on Lib Dem Voice penned by William Wallace entitled “How do we renew our battered democracy“. Wallace is a member of the House of Lords and I have said previously that the House of Lords is an affront to democracy. Liberal Democrats should not be legitimising it by nominating or accepting peerages. It’s just wrong.
I am, therefore, always wary of articles by “Lords”, especially if the title of the article refers to democracy. I was pleased to see a brief endorsement for an elected Upper Chamber. I also noted a strong case for wider constitutional change. However, reference to Parliament taking back control when Parliament includes appointed legislators, many of them failed candidates and retired MPs in need of a pension top-up, and many others, all male, still there by virtue of nothing more than accident of birth, doesn’t convince me. I was also disappointed not to see advocacy for a proper written Constitution that would have negated the need to the Supreme Court to rule on Prime Ministerial abuse of prerogative.
Don’t get me wrong, there are have been some highly respected and politically successful peers that I would happily have voted for as Senators. Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown amongst them. I don’t think either needed to use their titles to signal their significance to British politics, but even so I don’t think they should have accepted the peerages. Notably, in this respect, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May have all got an entitlement to a peerage but to date remain commoners. The SNP doesn’t have any peers as they have a long-term opposition to the Lords – it is a principled position and I congratulate them.
If the Liberal Democrats want to make a meaningful statement in respect of constitutional change they can start by renouncing all peerages and refusing more. We can then challenge Labour to do likewise. Force the debate – the House of Lords could not survive if boycotted by all parties except the Tories. Until that happens, I will still find pronouncements on democracy by “Lords”, to have more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy and not in keeping with the Democrats element of our party name. You cannot effectively oppose gravy train politics when you are an active and willing passenger on that train.
In conclusion, to answer Mr Wallace’s question, we can start by occupying a moral high ground in relation to our claim to be defenders of Parliamentary democracy. Stop participating in activities that undermine democracy and hand in your coronet. I don’t think you can renew battered democracy when you are still holding part of the battering ram.