A spiteful personal attack to distract from the indefensible

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister's gerrymandering of the House of Lords is a disgrace, and it is a pity that a minister as intelligent as Charles Falconer should be put up to announce it.

The most extraordinary aspect is not the ending of the hereditary contingent - cut to 92 in Mr Blair's first term and now to be reduced to zero. It is right that the hereditary peers should go, but the deal was that they would disappear when the second stage of reform was agreed. That second stage has not been agreed. When it voted in February this year, the House of Commons rejected all the options put before it, after a deliberate wrecking operation by Downing Street.

One of those options, rejected by 323 votes to 245, was a wholly appointed chamber. Yet that is what the Government now proposes. The option that was most narrowly rejected, by just three votes, was that for an 80 per cent elected chamber.

The slide from the "more representative and democratic" chamber promised in Labour's 2001 manifesto to the "stable and sustainable" one outlined by Lord Falconer yesterday reveals all we need to know about Mr Blair's conservatism. The result may not be a House of Cronies - that would be bad public relations - but the most that an independent appointments commission offers is a Convocation of Worthies.

Yet the most outrageous aspect of yesterday's announcement was not this dismal retreat from democracy. It was the proposal to change the law in order to ostracise one person. In an attempt to distract from the indefensible, the Government is engaged in an act of petty spite against Jeffrey Archer, on the assumption that he is unpopular. Indeed, it may be many people's opinion that someone recently convicted of perjury is unsuitable to be a law-maker. If so, a democratic test of membership of the second chamber would suffice.

What the Government proposes breaks two of the fundamental principles of good law: that it should not be retrospective, and that it should not apply unfairly to an identifiable individual or group of people. Mr Blair is engaged in a populism more crass than any of Lord Archer's novels.