To listen is not to learn

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In 1997 Tony Blair was elected on the promise of a "more democratic and representative" House of Lords. In 2005, one of his first acts on re-election was to appoint 17 Labour life peers. Sixteen are retiring MPs, no longer required by the voters. The other is Andrew Adonis, one of the Prime Minister's advisers, who has never been endorsed by the voters.

In 1997 Tony Blair was elected on the promise of a "more democratic and representative" House of Lords. In 2005, one of his first acts on re-election was to appoint 17 Labour life peers. Sixteen are retiring MPs, no longer required by the voters. The other is Andrew Adonis, one of the Prime Minister's advisers, who has never been endorsed by the voters.

The only "representative" gain in eight years has been the expulsion of most of the hereditary peers, and the ending of the in-built Conservative majority. But it is a miserable advance that simply tilts the basis of membership of the House of Lords from inheritance to cronyism.

Last week Mr Blair played dumb on House of Lords reform. "I am kind of a bit undecided on some aspects of it myself," he told his Downing Street news conference. Had that been candour, it would have been admirable and refreshing. We know better now. The last time he pretended to be open-minded, he flew back from France to ensure all options for reform were defeated on "free" votes of the House of Commons in February 2003. With Labour's reduced majority, the momentum behind a revising and delaying chamber that is mostly elected is surely irresistible.

Mr Blair may be listening, but he is not learning. Think how much of his stained reputation he could recover if he went straight on this issue. Let him accept that most of the second chamber should be elected, and open an honest debate about how. And let that debate be conducted side by side with the question of how to reform the electoral system for the House of Commons. Mr Blair, who will not face the electorate as prime minister again, has an opportunity to leave behind him a "more democratic and representative" parliament of two chambers. However belatedly, he should seize it.

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