Leading Article: This is what you get when a Tory Lord is put in charge

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The Independent Culture
THE LEAKED draft report from the Prime Minister's tame Royal Commission on reform of the Upper House of Parliament is just as bad as might have been feared. What do you expect if you put the forces of conservatism on a committee and appoint a Tory fixer to chair it? Lord Wakeham's colleagues include a bishop, Richard Harries; a Conservative former foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd; and a former cabinet secretary, Robin Butler; and they have all demonstrated their independence by holding out for the democratic principle.

They would like up to a quarter of the upper house to be elected - up to a quarter! They want to keep the bishops, although they want some representatives of other denominations and faiths, too. Funny how the great and the good always see greatness and goodness in their own image. The strange thing is that they want to keep the Law Lords too, even though there are none on the Royal Commission.

This is an appalling outcome for what is, as the Tory leader in the Lords, Thomas Galbraith (aka Lord Strathclyde), disingenuously puts it, a once- in-a-generation opportunity to get it right. For all Tony Blair's skill in persuading the hereditary peers to go quietly with his divide-and-rule plan for an interim House, he now seems poised to pass up the historic chance at the end of this century to finish the business that was started at its beginning, that of creating a truly democratic Parliament out of the feudal relic inherited from our unrevolutionary past.

This is a real test of Mr Blair's claims to be a radical, a moderniser, and the humble servant of the people. Paradoxically, it was another Conservative, James Mackay (the former lord chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern) who offered Labour the best blueprint for a reformed second chamber - directly elected senators serving 15-year non-renewable terms of office.

If the interim arrangement ends up as a stepping-stone to an Upper House that is mostly appointed through the discredited and discreditable, secret and self-selecting processes of the British Establishment, Mr Blair will be exposed as an unprincipled opportunist. If it is the precursor to a fully democratic Upper House under a different electoral system from that of the Commons, he will deserve to go down in history as a truly great constitutional reformer.

The moment of truth approaches.