Reflections on the debate in the House of Lords about the abolition of the voting rights of hereditary peers
THE SPECIAL pleading of earls and viscounts now heard from the rich leather benches of the House of Lords is unlikely to find much resonance beyond the grouse moor. Even the stoutest defenders of hereditary peers tend to argue from a position of better-the-devil-you-know. If accident of birth were a useful qualification for membership of Parliament's second chamber, we would surely be extending the same principle to the judiciary and civil service.
Yet there remain two reasons for profound unease about the Government's real intentions. It rejected an alternative proposal for a committee of both Houses of Parliament, only after discovering it would have to cede some control over the eventual outcome. The suspicion must be that Mr Blair believes a Royal Commission would be easier to sideline.
More profoundly, the Prime Minister has thus far declined to face up to the essential consequence of adding political legitimacy to the Upper House. Its new authority could come only at the expense of MPs and the executive. We wait to hear if that is what Mr Blair intends.
THIS WAS a big week for Viscount Cranborne. As Conservative leader, he commanded their lordships two-day onslaught on the Government's plan to abolish the right of families such as his to sit by right of birth in the Upper House
The question that arises is whether quite such a toff should lead the Tories' opposition to the Government's reforms. The problem for the Tories is that a hereditary peer may not be believed when he insists, as Viscount Cranborne does, that his complaint against Lords reform has nothing to do with the expulsion of his own sort from the House.
The Daily Mail
SINCE OUR grandfathers knew Lloyd George - if not before - the House of Lords has been ripe for reform. The question is, who would take their place? More life peers, whose nomination is within the already overmighty patronage of the prime minister of the day? British-style senators, elected by a system of proportional representation that would make them poodles of the party machine?
You don't know. We don't know. Downing Street doesn't know. Until the mists clear to reveal the way ahead for a modernised Upper House, the Lords have good constitutional reason to resist Labour's order to leap into the dark.
The Daily Telegraph
THE NUANCES of the class war are astonishing. Yesterday, Lady Jay, the Leader of the Lords, argued in the debate on the future of her House that the hereditary peerage ought to be abolished because 45 per cent of their number went to Eton. It is already becoming clear that the Government will have to do better than this. A prejudice against public school boys - in itself as irrational and unpleasant as a prejudice against Jews or blacks or any other group - is a base motive for reform of the House of Lords. And yet, when it comes down to it, the Government has very little else to say.
IT HAS long been obvious that reform of the House of Lords is the de facto centrepiece of the Government's forthcoming legislative agenda. The Government's desire to remove the voting rights of hereditary peers, an objective with broad legitimacy and support, has been undermined by its reluctance to offer any route to a final settlement. The Government is in danger of repeating all the mistakes that have haunted previous attempts to reform the second chamber. It cannot wait five, or as some Labour Lords think, 15 years, before endorsing a final blueprint. The Prime Minister should not assume that he will be able to escape at least some of the blame for the fiasco that looms all too clearly ahead.
A deal made in Belgrade
THE AGREEMENT on Kosovo brings to memory the Dayton agreement on Bosnia three years ago, again negotiated by US envoy Richard Holbrooke. Like that one, this was a last-minute accord reached when everything seemed to be compromised. Unfortunately the similarity between Bosnia and Kosovo does not only regard the way the agreement has been reached. It also extends to substance.
In both cases the West was late: three years late in Bosnia, six months in Kosovo - enough to let Slobodan Milosevic kill thousand of Kosovans. This tardiness makes the accord very fragile: restoring autonomy in Kosovo after the ethnic habitat has been so deeply changed will be extremely difficult.
EVEN IF many of the 300,000 refugees no longer have any homes to return to, the approximately 50,000 of them who up until now have lived in the woods or mountains won't meet the approaching winter under the open sky.
Another encouraging signal is that leaders of the Balkan states, among them Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece and Turkey, in a joint communique called for direct negotiations with a view toward long-ranging autonomy for Kosovo but staying within Yugoslavia's current borders. The degradation process that was initiated when Milosevic, then the President of Serbia, in 1989 cancelled Kosovo's formal self-government may thus come to an end.
The Washington Post
NO ONE can fail to be relieved that a Nato bombing campaign, with all its political and humanitarian dangers, has been avoided in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia, at least for now. But there are unfortunate grounds for skepticism about the deal that was struck to avoid the bombing. It seems to fall short of Nato's original goals. Once again, the West has taken on Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic as its partner, and once again the West will be relying on him to keep his word, a risky proposition.
WITHOUT FIRING a missile, Richard Holbrooke has won a battle for Bill Clinton. Of course, this victory is very ambiguous, because fundamentally it leaves the wounds of Kosovo and the Balkan gangrene festering. But the use of force would have had a much higher cost, leading to unpredictable escalation and a wave of sympathy for the Serbs, who would have been on the receiving end. The United States has won this match in Europe - for a few months at least - by demonstrating yet again that only it can take in hand, if not resolve, a crisis which threatens the security of the old continent.
THE WORST scenario now seems to have been averted. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yielded to US special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
The prospect of a solution in the ethnic conflict over Kosovo in southern Yugoslavia has thus emerged. We hope this will result in a final solution.
We cannot approve "liberation" by force. Negotiations on the restoration of self-rule must be renewed, if only to prevent the use of force. Milosevic must recognise his responsibility to see to this. Serb nationalists argue that Kosovo is historically hallowed ground. If all the sacred places of hundreds of years ago were to be recognised as sacrosanct, there could be no national boundaries drawn in Europe.
Nationalism is an anachronism. Persisting in the practice brings joy to neither protagonists nor opponents. Unless reasonable Serbs recognise this, there can be no solution to the problem.If President Milosevic breaks his word, the problem will be back where it started.
THE NEILL REPORT ON PARTY FUNDING
Verdicts on the Neill Committee's recommendations for reforming the funding of political parties
WE ARE now to have a vast new raft of controls, including a limit of pounds 20m on the amount any national party can spend in a general election, administered by another new quango. Yet the Neill committee's view that cheaper elections will necessarily be an improvement is, to say the least of it, entirely unproved.
Intrusive, detailed controls of the sort now in prospect will only bring nearer the day when parties have to rely on the state for their funding. Lord Neill and his committee should beware. That way really does lie the corruption they fear.
ANYBODY WHO believes that Lord Neill's report on the funding of political parties will bring about a new era of pure disinterested politics is mistaken. Nothing will stop a Rupert Murdoch from threatening governments, implicitly or explicitly, that they will lose his papers' support if he doesn't get his way. Nothing will stop a big company or a rich individual from launching an expensive advertising campaign to advocate policies that happen to coincide with those of one or other political party. Nothing will stop a Michael Ashcroft making such a huge contribution to the Conservatives that people talk of him owning the party.
LORD NEILL'S proposals for wholesale change in the funding of British politics have received a deservedly warm welcome. Above all, his insistence that political donations be transparent seems right. If we can see who has given what to whom, then we can make our own judgement if we see their names on the next Honours List. Both major parties have shown themselves shameless in rewarding donors to their coffers, and Lord McAlpine's activities on behalf of the Tories in Lady Thatcher's days would have commanded respect in Twenties Chicago. It is time and more for change
WITHOUT PARTIES there can be no settled democratic process. Without cash gathered in, there can be no parties. But cash, in the gathering soils and infects the very process it makes possible. The conundrum thus created is as old as politics itself: how do you keep an intrinsically murky system clean? No country in the world and no reforming government has the perfect answer. There is no perfect answer. But Lord Neill and his toiling committee on Standards in Public Life have come up with a brilliant array of pretty good ones.
Reaction to the summit in Maryland between Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu
The Jordan Times
THE CHANCES of a real breakthrough remain distant. More serious is the wide gap that separates the two sides on many issues. In order for the Washington summit to succeed, the parties need long-promised actions from the Israeli side. If Sharon's role is to stop Netanyahu from going ahead with his acceptance of another 13 per cent withdrawal, then the summit is doomed before it even starts. If, on the other hand, he is meant to protect the political flank of Netanyahu from hardliners in his cabinet, then there could be a positive surprise in the offing.
EVEN IF President Bill Clinton and Netanyahu manage to persuade Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to honour his obligations, let there be no illusions as to how long Palestinian compliance will continue.
International Herald Tribune
THE SUMMIT offers a unique opportunity for a breakthrough in the paralyzed Middle East peace process, but only if its primary focus is on a new declaration of principles, and not solely on further redeployment by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The fact that neither party is required to yield its claim on this 39 percent at this point is what makes such a declaration of principles politically possible during the coming negotiations. But agreement on a 13 percent redeployment which leaves unresolved the fundamental issue of the goal of the peace process would leave the parties exactly where they were before these negotiations began.
PAUL GASCOIGNE AND ALCOHOLISM
Thoughts about the reasons which have led the footballer
Paul Gascoigne to seek treatment for addiction to alcohol
PAUL GASCOIGNE is a sick man who needs help and deserves sympathy. Alcoholism is an illness, not a weakness in a man's character. And if Gazza is to get better he needs the closeness and understanding of his friends. Men like Jimmy "Five-Bellies" Gardner, who has stuck with Gazza through thick and thin, will play a great part in his recovery. We'll never see Gazza's wonderful soccer talents the way they were. But it'll be enough to see him sober and with a smile on his face.
Gazzetta dello Sport
GETTING COMPLETELY sozzled, night after night, is in the culture. Paul Gascoigne is a victim of that "drink culture". In Italy, drunkenness has for centuries been the only socially reprehensible vice. It's not good to be seen staggering about in public. You lose face. But in England and other northern European countries, for different "cultural" reasons, the habit of raising your right arm too often is not seen as something so unseemly.
HE STARTED out as daft as a brush and ended up being swept away, except the Paul Gascoigne story is not over yet. There is little point in speculating on the precise nature of Gascoigne's problems. Only the player and, one hopes, his doctors, can identify them. But it does seem worth asking how and why so many talented footballers succumb to alcohol-related problems.
It is becoming clear that attitudes to alcohol among footballers and their coaches in this country are finally beginning to change, after decades of what amounted to institutional approval for binge drinking.
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Comment in the Italian press on the Pope's twentieth anniversary
Corriere della Sera
HE HAS been a magnificent Pope, a magnificent reactionary Pope. He represents the last great challenge to modernity in all its contradictions and injustice, but also in all its freedom. The real enemy of Wojtyla is disenchantment, man's pretence to be autonomous, the legacy of the Enlightenment. Not surprisingly after fighting Communism, he has fought consumer capitalism because he considers it, wrongly, to be the fruit of the Enlightenment. In Wojtyla there is an element of fundamentalism when he lambasts with the same vehemence the inextinguishable horror of the Holocaust and the painful right of women to abortion (or even to sexual freedom). (Paolo Flores D'Arcais)
IT'S AN important pontificate distinguished by an active presence in religious political and social life. Having said that, this pontificate seems to have exacerbated rather than resolved many of the contradictions between religion and society. One of his key themes is personal conversions; having given up its old missionary zeal in favour of ecumenism the Church turns in on itself, towards a conversion of Christians towards a more intense faith. This leads to policies that at a moral level become almost fundamentalist and distance the Catholic church from the trends of the non Catholic world. (Anna Foa)
KAROL WOJTYLA will be remembered above all as the TV Pope. Television has given him a planetary pulpit and a degree of personal visibility that are unprecedented. In Wojtyla on TV, the force of faith and the acting talent of his youth come together. John Paul II understood that to spread the message of the church you didn't need to change the church or the message, just the messenger.
Stories from around the world
The East African
AVERAGE life expectancy in Uganda is 42 years. Only three countries in the world have lower life expectancies: Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Guinea- Bissau. Now, any man who has ever sent his beloved flowers will tell you that is the low-intensity, guerrilla route to winning her heart.
You need to make many, many flower-deliveries to have any appreciable impact. Any sensible Ugandan man would be concerned about that, because by the time his lady comes round to accepting his courtship, he might already be dead, given our low life expectancy.
There is another factor. Ugandan men are said to be lousy lovers. If that is true, giving flowers to a woman could easily give rise to misleading expectations. Rather than raise the lady's hopes about your being romantic by filling her apartment with flowers - and then failing to live up to the promise - Ugandan men quite sensibly want to minimise that risk by staying away from roses.
WE ARE pleased to note that the latest liberalisation of drinking laws in Victoria, which will see alcoholic drinks available from a broad range of retail outlets. This marks the maturation of a community that once boasted restrictions that encouraged something little short of drunken barbarism. Victoria was wedded to arcane licensing laws that owed more to the legacy of sly-grogging on the goldfields than to civilised society. The restrictions of six o'clock closing encouraged some to engage in illicit and unregulated consumption. This latest chapter in liquor licensing is one of the best.
Times of India
IN CITIES like Delhi, plastic bags pose a grave danger to cows and other animals which wander about the city's streets. When ingested, the bag clogs the intestines and the animal dies a slow and painful death. Despite the obvious pitfalls of plastic, there has been no move to create awareness of the perils of its proliferation. Shopkeepers should be encouraged to charge extra for plastic bags, if not phase them out altogether.Reuse content