SHOULD THE HOUSE OF LORDS NOW GO?
One of the rallying calls of the Brexiteers was that Britain should take back control of, well, everything, from foreigners in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
The EU was, they reckoned, an undemocratic organisation and things were better when they were controlled by the “democratic” British parliament and the British Courts.
Of course, as arguments go, it was a bit, or rather a lot, dubious, but it went down well with people who wanted to believe that kind of thing. You know, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun reader types.
After all, if any nation in Europe should be wary of banging on about democracy or the lack thereof, it is the UK, with its hereditary head of state, unelected, partly-hereditary, partly-state-church-based, partly-appointed (by dubious methods) house of aristocrats. And that’s before we look at First-Past-The-Post and Privy Council Orders and the various and sundry other ways that the government can get around any scrutiny.
It took very little time after the Brexit vote for this to come to a head. The Tories wanted to bypass parliament to enable a ‘strong and stable’ Brexit. The declaration of Article 50 was to be made under royal prerogative and not a parliamentary vote. And it took the interventions of the English High Court and then the UK Supreme Court to squash that idea.
Needless to say, the newspapers that had called for decisions to be made in our own British parliament and our own British courts, screamed, echoing the language of 1930s’ Germany, about “Enemies of the People”.
Of course, they were roundly ridiculed for this at the time as people pointed out that the tabloids were protesting against the very thing that they had sold us as an advantage of Brexit.
But it seems that they learned nothing as they are back today, at least in the English editions of the papers. They even used the same background, which I assume stirs the blood of a certain kind of person.
Now, as a republican, I abhor the idea of a House of Lords. Dukes, Earls, Archbishops and greasy party donors have no place in a democracy, and given the opportunity, I would get rid of them tomorrow and replace them with a senate.
But the fact is that at present the House of Lords exists and has a job to do as a revising chamber. They did that job. They revised and they put forward suggestions for revision of the Bill to be considered by the Commons. That is what their job is, whether any of us like it or not and for whatever reason.
If they are not to do that, or if the Commons should automatically overturn, what exactly is their purpose? Another tourist attraction like the Saxe Coburgs?
I assume that the Express and Mail and their likes do not wish us to pay these people £300 a day for sitting sleeping and producing absolutely nothing? Or maybe they do!
So regardless of today’s debate, can we hope to see a full-blown campaign from the right of the Tories and of course the rightwing tabloids, to abolish the upper house. And can we hope that this will be done before the lavish and inordinately expensive refurbishment of their accommodations gets underway?
And last, but not least, will the London parliament today show any respect at all for Scotland and what its people voted for?
It’s not often I agree with either the Daily Mail or the Tories… In fact almost never.
But, it really is time that Britain did something about a house of parliament that allows aristocrats, placemen, donors and churchmen (from only one church) to make decisions on behalf of us “ordinary people”.
The SNP, which point blank refuses to appoint anyone to serve in that house, has been arguing this for years.
The strange thing is that the Tories only got all het up about its existence when it started thwarting their mad Brexit plans (if plans be the word?).
Not so long ago Mr Rees Mogg was arguing that “privilege of peerage” should allow members of the House of Lords to enjoy a better vintage of champagne than enjoyed by members of the Commons. Moreover, he advised against reforming the House in any way and insisted that the Lords should remain independent.
And then Douglas Carswell suggested that unless the Lords was not independent and voted the way that the Tories wanted them to, the government should create 800 new peers to outvote them.
Aye, why not, I say! Only 800 x £300 = £240,000 a day, plus expenses. Cheap at half the price. And when your debt is already £2 trillion, what’s a little extra expense on aristocrats?
Still, never mind the reason. There’s a chance of getting shot of the house of old duffers and vintage champagne drinkers that cost us a lot of money.
It’s an ill wind, as they say.
But let’s do it before we spend billions doing up their part of parliament in a suitably aristocratic way.
If they can take school dinners from kids. They can do without too. Petition: Abolish the subsidy on food and drink in the Palace of Westminster restaurants.
It seems to me that if we are so hard up that the government can’t afford to pay for free school meals for kids from extremely poor families, we must surely also be too poor to subsidise MPs’ and Lords’ restaurants and bars. (Maybe if we didn’t sell them cheap booze they wouldn’t be completely incompetent?)
This petition demands:
In 2016, the food subsidy in Parliament cost taxpayers around £3.7 million. This use of taxpayers’ money must stop and the funds diverted to public services where it is needed. MPs earn significant wages and citizens who themselves struggle to buy food should not be forced to help feed MPs as well.
It’s ironic that people earning £8,000 a year in England, will now not qualify for free school lunches for their kids. Of course, they won’t be paying income tax on that income, but they do pay VAT and duty. And so they are actually subsidising cheap food for MPs and Lords.
It’s almost unbelievable.
Let’s do our best to make them take some of the hardship they inflict on the rest of us. Let’s stop their subsidies.
Her Nobleness The Grand Duchess Gloriana of Mayfair, otherwise known to readers of this blog as Mrs Moan, has blocked me on Twitter, a fact which I share with some pride.
I only found out because she is having some spat with Stewart McDonald over her number of appearances in the House of Lords and their relative general statuses in the rigid English class system and I was originally unable to read what it was about.
However, Munguin has connections and it seems to have gone like this:
A lady called Rachel Kelsey tweeted that Baroness Massey was talking about children’s rights post Brexit in the immensely important European withdrawal bill in the House of Lords.
Baroness Massey speaking now in Lords on families and children and Brexit implications- been dipping in and out, but think this is the first speech that has addressed family law. Glad to hear it said in terms that Children’s rights will be prejudiced by Brexit
Stewart then pointed out that while this was going on Her Nobleness from Mayfair was selling jewellery on QVCTV (as shown below).
In contrast her fellow parliamentarian, Baroness Mone is right this moment selling jewellery on QVC. Thank goodness this EU Withdrawal Bill isn’t important
At which time the Aristocratic one let rip:
I had a wee look at the site They Work For You, and it seems that their compilers may have missed some of Her Importantness’s appearances, although it is fair to say that one can vote without having contributed to… indeed without having even attended, the debate. I have no way to find out how many times she has actually voted. If anyone does, I’d be happy to know.
I was impressed with Her Highness’s command of English. Maybe in the refined air of the House of Lords, or the equally classy QVC studios that’s the way one does things.
You can never tell with blue blood. They are a race apart from mere commoners for life such as we.
It’s always brought a smile to my face when British Prime Minister after British Prime Minister has trotted around the world in a self-important manner spouting off about democracy.
Surely, Britain is one of the least truly democratic countries in the West, I thought.
After all, we have an unelected head of state whom we were always told was ceremonial and had no powers at all. It turns out that in truth not only does she and her immediate family have immense influence, she and her eldest son, have real powers which they use to have laws changed.
They also have the use of the Privy Council, which can make declarations in the name of Her Majesty. These are the law with no scrutiny allowed.
Next, the government can use Statutory Instruments, also known as SIs, a form of legislation which allows the provisions of an Act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered without Parliament having to pass a new Act. They are also referred to as secondary, delegated or subordinate legislation.
Then there is the House of Lords, the second largest legislative chamber in the world (after the National People’s Congress of China… a country of 1.4 billion people). It comprises firstly of 90 hereditary peers, self-selected by the Earls, Viscounts, Marquesses, and Dukes (which we still have in this bastion of democracy). The rest of us are excluded from voting on who these people should be (and once elected by their peers they can remain there until death). Only other hereditary aristocrats have a vote.
A further two hereditaries sit as of right, because of positions they historically hold in the royal household. (It’s already beginning to sound like something dreamt up for an 18th-century comic opera, isn’t it?)
Next in this massive house, are archbishops and bishops of the established church of the state religion. Listen to that: state religion! Finally, there is a rag bag of who knows how many ex-ministers and failed politicians, rich people who have given money to one of the three main parties… and a few oddballs the reason for whose presence can only be wondered at.
Then there is the supposedly democratic part of governance. The Commons, elected by a ridiculous first past the post system which can give an absolute majority on a vote of around 35%, and in which two-thirds of the seats never change hands. And this all underpinned by a party whipping system designed to keep most MPs very firmly on message.
Under this prime minister, we have seen some rather odd and disturbing developments which further undermine the feeble democracy that we have.
Ironically they have come about in the wake of Brexit, which was supposed to return power to parliament from supposedly undemocratic EU institutions, like the council of ministers (comprising of elected ministers from the member states) or the European parliament, elected on a proportional representation system.
The first happened when our ridiculously inept prime minister called a general election to prove that she was strong and stable, expecting to win a thumping majority, and in fact lost the small majority she had inherited from David Cameron. Looking more than a little ridiculous she reached out to someone even more ridiculous: the ex-First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the DUP, currently under investigation for the mishandling of a large sum of public money, Arlene Foster.
The DUP agreed to use its 10 members to back the prime minister in certain matters (because of EVEL, Irish MPs cannot vote on any legislation that is England only) in return for £1.5 billion. Pretty much a bribe, using public money…our money!
Next, May decided to “fix” the committee system so that, despite not having a majority in parliament, the Tories would have a majority of members on every important committee in parliament. (Somewhat ridiculously they have more members than any other party on the Scottish Affairs Committee)
Finally, May has brought in and had passed in the Commons, a Bill that will give ministers the right to alter the law without any reference to parliament. The powers have been nick-named Henry VIII powers, after England’s most authoritarian monarch, but many commentators feel that they resemble much more closely The Enabling Act (1933), which allowed Hitler to bypass the Reichstag and rule by ministerial (his) power.
It is a dangerous road to take, and as I said, all the more ironic because, apart from xenophobia, it seems to me that the biggest cries from the popular press were that British laws should be made exclusively by British representatives in a British fashion in Britain, mindful of Great British values (whatever they are). And of course that we keep being told that we MUST respect the British people who voted for Brexit.
Ho hum, funny old world.