The House of Lords should not exist. No self-respecting democracy should have a second chamber made up mostly of has-beens who wear silly archaic outfits when they join it for life and then get to fatten their already bulging bank balances with the aid of allowances they can claim simply by turning up for a bottle of subsidised claret over lunch.
I’ve been a proponent of Lords reform ever since I was a teenager. I signed up to Charter 88, the pressure group that started advocating for constitutional reform in the 1980s, partly because the existence of the place seemed utterly absurd to me.
But here’s the thing: every time attempts have been made to reform it, they have floundered in no small part due to the intransigence of the Conservative Party.
Bear that in mind given the situation we find ourselves in now, with the second chamber having inflicted a series of defeats on the government over Brexit.
It is deeply discomforting for a progressive to say this, but in so doing that unelected chamber is actually serving as both a guardian of democracy and of the parliamentary sovereignty the Brexiteers made such a big deal about fighting for. The Tories are jettisoning their principles now they have become inconvenient.
This is richly ironic, but the ironies have piled up in Britain to such an extent that they’re strangling themselves – and us with them.
Perhaps the most important Lords amendment is the one that prevents ministers from yanking us out of the EU with no deal, which is something I suspect many Brexiteer Tories secretly want.
The House of Lords is strengthening the hands of the sovereign parliament against a government that has treated the referendum result as an enabling act, like the one infamously signed in Germany in 1933, as the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Roberts rightly pointed out.
“Disgraceful, irresponsible rhetoric,” snarled Brexit minister Steve Baker outside the Commons after his lordship had made the comments. They do say the truth hurts, don’t they.
The prime minister and her colleagues have sought to ram through a vision of Brexit designed more in the interests of keeping the Conservative Party more or less intact than in the interests of the country they govern.
It bears repeating that the referendum narrowly found in favour of leaving the European Union. It did not specify what that should look like. It is risible for Liam Fox – a man who was found to have broken the ministerial code during his last spell in the cabinet – and other Brexiteers to pretend their way represents the “will of the people”, all the more so given that what we are being presented with is nothing like what they said would happen when they were campaigning to leave.
Small wonder that the ranks of the Remainer Now community (I’ve had interactions with them on Twitter) seem to be slowly but steadily growing in number.
They think they were sold a pup – because they were.
Not even the most fire breathing of Brexiteer evangelists pretended during the campaign that we would also crash out of the single market and the customs union before sailing off into the Atlantic to bump uglies with Iceland.
It’ll be easy, said the Fox. Striking a deal will be a breeze. His aides must have to fill fire extinguishers daily to deal with his burning pants when people remind him of that one.
Even Nigel Farage was heard arguing for a Norway-style relationship.
The reality is that the government has repeatedly indulged in disgraceful, irresponsible rhetoric with its attempt to strangle debate and club its opponents with that “will of the people line”, backed by the baying of right-wing newspaper editors.
Unelected newspaper editors.
Fighting back on behalf of the people is, erm, the House of Lords, which has recognised that.
In so doing, it is exerting the powers granted to it under our unwritten and dated constitution.
Unlike the Brexiteer mob, I’m not going to indulge in any hypocrisy. I find this to be a troubling and unsatisfactory situation. But that is the place to which they are responsible for bringing us to. If they don’t like it they could always test the will of the people with a vote on the final deal that includes an option to remain.
But their commitment to democracy and the “will of the people” only goes so far.
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