Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lords Reform’

Sue Garden on Constitutional Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st August, 2012

The mainstream media in Britain like to poke fun at the Liberal Democrats, saying they are obsessive about constitutional reform. This is meant to be an insult, but should be regarded as a compliment; the other two main parties are happy to live with the corrupt old system we have at present in England as well as in the UK Parliament, because each of them will normally come out a winner every few years almost by Buggins’ turn. The Liberal Democrats — and Liberals before them — have indeed been dogged in trying to drag our political system into the 20th, let alone the 21st, century; for over 100 years they have been trying to reform the House of Lords. Tory backwoodsmen killed that off recently (though Labour didn’t exactly rally round strongly to say they would work hard to get it through in a tripartite agreement between LibDems, Labour and progressive Tories). And of course the AV referendum was a catastrophe. Nonetheless, it is a tribute to the LibDems’ genuine attachment to the issue that the Camden local party was able to attract an impressive turnout on a balmy summer’s evening like this evening for a discussion on constitutional reform led by their local life peer, Baroness (Sue) Garden of Frognal. Sue is now a government whip, but nonetheless recognises that the current situation with the Lords is a total anomaly. Alas, it is unlikely that any significant change in that Chamber will come for some considerable time. However, I, along with some others, stressed how the LibDems really ought to be pressing for fairer votes at the local level — something already enjoyed by the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, notably. It is grotesque that we have such a warped first-the-post voting system that we can end up with local authorities that are one party states, like North Korea. There are two in East London where I live: Newham and Barking & Dagenham; both 100% Labour. No wonder few people in those boroughs bother to vote. This is something the Party should consider pressing as part of its next election manifesto. And unlike AV for Westminster, which was a real dogs’ dinner anyway, STV for local elections is something everyone can understand. And it would mean that everyone should get at least one local representative who is not beholden to the ruling group’s line.

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Stand Firm on Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th June, 2012

At the 2010 General Election all three main British political parties argued for reform of the House of Lords. And that is still on the Coalition Government’s agenda. It is indefensible that in the 21st Century the Upper House of the UK’s Parliament should be comprised of appointees and a sizeable residue of hereditary peers and Anglican bishops. As someone who has done a lot of work overseas on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in promoting democratic practices around the world, I am always embarrassed by the anachronism. Yet as the issue of reform looms, a sizeable body of Conservative MPs — maybe as many as 100 — are threatening to rebel when it comes to a vote. David Cameron, to his credit, has so far stood firm in favour of change, and he must continue to  do so. Some of those recalcitrant Tory backbenchers are basically aiming to give a black eye to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in charge of such constitutional matters. That is extraordinarily petty and short-sighted. Moreover, up till now most Labour MPs have not come out as strongly as they should in favour of the Government’s proposals. Labour effectively scuppered the AV referendum campaign by being lukewarm, at best, on the issue. They must not allow a similar thing to happen with the House of Commons vote on Lords Reform. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in, declaring that ‘Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.’ Johnson is of course thereby also undermining David Cameron, doubtless with the aspiration of becoming a future Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Mayor denies that this is his ambition, but it is crystal clear. And of course, were he ever to become Prime Minister, he could then retire at a moment of his own choosing and claim a seat in the House of Lords, as has often been the tradition, without having the bother of going through anything as vulgar as another election (as would be the case with a reformed House of Lords or Senate). So, the message is clear: LibDems must not waver (including those LibDem Peers who have discovered an unsuspected love for the House of Lords as it is since they joined it); David Cameron must whip his troops in; and Ed Miliband must push aside the prospect of party political point-scoring and come out with all guns metaphorically blazing in favour of Lords Reform. Otherwise, a once in a lifetime opportunity will be lost.

 

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