Archive for September, 2015
Farron’s announcement, that he will use Liberal Democrat peers to vote down legislation has been branded hypocritical. I would describe it as calculating. From Lloyd George to Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leaders have tried and failed to abolish the House of Lords. Farron does not support the Lords (as far as I can tell the last major party leader to support the House of Lords was John Major).
There is a convention that peers do not vote against manifesto pledges (the Sailsbury Convention). If the Liberal Democrats choose to ignore this convention, there will be no ramifications whatsoever. The convention is nothing other than a pact. Farron could set a precedent of the Lords becoming a large blockade, in the path of the Prime Minister.
Throughout history, Prime Ministers dealt with opposition in the Lords by either reform or attempted abolition. Lloyd George himself stripped the Lords of the right to veto legislation, in order to prevent them from voting down laws that would introduce higher rates of tax. Wilson tried to remove the hereditary peers who consistently blocked his bills.
Cameron himself favours abolition of the House of Lords. He voted for a 80% elected chamber in 2007 and the Conservative Party manifesto states: “While we still see a strong case for introducing an elected element into our second chamber, this is not a priority in the next Parliament.”
The reason Cameron does not consider it a priority, is he knows it will be a fight he is unlikely to win, nor can he face a lengthy showdown with his backbenches. Nevertheless Farron may force his hand.
Cameron is the first Conservative Prime Minister who cannot rely on the support of the House of Lords. Since 1999, only 10% of the hereditary peers have been allowed to sit on the Red Benches. The break up of the coalition, means the Lords is now a hung legislature.
The current composition of the House of Lords is thus:
Liberal Democrats: 101
With just under 1/7th of the votes (assuming all peers turn up and vote in unison) it’s clear the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power – but only if they join forces with the Labour party or the crossbenchers (who never signed up to the Sailsbury convention either).
The four main leaders are united on Lords reform. Based on their voting records: Cameron favours 80% elected, Farron favours 80% or 100%, with Corbyn and Robertson supporting 100% elected. It seems plausible that the leaders could reach a compromise of 80%.
The Liberal Democrats consistently oppose the Lords. The SNP boycott the House of Lords; there are no currently no life peers with the SNP whip (and I am unaware of any previous SNP peers). However there are more divisions in the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Some Labour MPs favour outright abolition IE the House of Parliament rather than the Houses of Parliament. Fifty Labour MPs signed an early day motion supporting this, in 2007. Cameron himself faced considerably rebellion in 2012; reportedly he shouted at Jesse Norman MP who spearheaded the rebellion that scuppered the Coalition’s attempt to reform the Lords.
With a divided Labour Party and internal opposition, the prospect of Lords reform cannot enthrall Cameron. Nevertheless it seems hard to imagine it will remain off the table, if Farron uses his position in the Lords to scupper legislation.
Corbyn’s unexpected election as Labour Leader, could be the greatest blow for the union, in decades. The SNP’s historical landslide, has been attributed, not to nationalism but to the fact the SNP offers an ideological alternative to the Conservative Party. New Labour spent 13 years in government abandoning any left-wing policies – it’s surreal to think the Party of Atlee and Macdonald, introduced ESA, Atos assessments and £3000 tuition fees. People who disagreed with the Labour/Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition struggled to find a clear alternative in England and Wales (with some five million people opting Green or UKIP). There was however a clear choice in Scotland. The SNP had never claimed that the financial crisis was the fault of students, the homeless, single mothers or disabled.
The person who best explains this is none other than the Baby of the House, Mhairi Black:
“Like so many SNP Members, come from a traditional socialist Labour family, and I have never been quiet in my assertion that I feel it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way about. The SNP did not triumph on a wave on nationalism; in fact, nationalism has nothing to do with what has happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope—hope that there was something different from and better than the Thatcherite, neo-liberal policies that are produced from this Chamber, and hope that these representatives could genuinely give a voice to those who do not have one.”
Ed Milliband was the man who drafted the first contract with Atos. Ed Balls was Brown’s prodigee. Rachel Reeves promised to ‘outtory the Tories’. Corbyn, McDonnell and Smith could not be accused of such pseudo-Thatcherism.
The real test will be the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2016. Prior to Corbyn’s election the polls predicted a landslide victory for the SNP. It’s unlikely Labour can win the election – they have less than nine months to regain their lost votes. Nevertheless if Corbyn can reverse their declining fortunes, it will save the Labour Party and the United Kingdom.
Update: The first poll, conducted since Corbyn’s leadership, suggest his promotion has made no difference at all.
The SDP. The Liberal Democrats. New Labour. Three attempts to form centre-left parties. The SDP was killed off by the voting system. The Liberal Democrats (which emerged from the wreckage of the SDP) abanonded any attempts to be centre-left in 2010, and consequently lost all but 8 of their 57 constituencies. It’s difficult to tell when New Labour died. I would argue, given the that Blair Government kicked things off with the ‘benefit integrity project’ which resulted in disabled people committing suicide, New Labour was never a centre-left government.
The demise of the Liberal Democrats, has led Vince Cable to suggest the formation of the fourth centre-left party since the 1980s. Cable himself has been a member of four parties, so I suppose creating a fifth one, seems like a natural step to him. Given Cable drafted the bill that introduced £9,000 tuition fees, it’s difficult to imagine he would have any credibility as a member of a centre-left grouping
The SDP never formed a government, so it’s impossible to access their record. Both New Labour and the Liberal Democrats were centre-left in opposition, but decidedly centre-right in government.
I personally do not like the whole ‘centre-left’, ‘centre-right’, ‘right-wing’, etc, spectrum. Describing Labour MPs as ‘Red Tories’ is a term that has been used so much, it has lost all meaning. Politics should be about issues. UKIP, CISTA and NHA are all criticised as ‘single issues’ – as if to suggest that EU membership, rolling back the nanny state or universal health care were in some ways trifles.
Charles Kennedy made the excellent suggestion of a Scottish Unionist party – given Independence has been a key issue in Scotland for some time (and will continue to dominate for years if not decades) this would provide a voice for the Unionists (being Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat does not disqualify you from being a Nationalist).
What issues does the Liberal Democrats have a monopoly on? Both Cameron and Corbyn support abolition of the House of Lords, EU membership and saving the Union. The environment has been a cross-party issue since the 1980s. Net immigration increases, regardless of who is in power. UKIP and the Greens both want electoral reform (neither of them want the ‘miserable little compromise’ of AV).
There does not seem to be a gap in the market for a new centre-left party. What issues are there, which no party represents? Apart from the conspiracy nonsense the market seems to be sewn up.
One issue which does need support is electoral reform. This however needs to be brought about by electoral pacts and either the Labour or Conservative Party to adopt it as a policy. Creating another party, which splits the vote even more, is not going to achieve this.
Why is Dennis Skinner’s decision not to serve under Corbyn even being commented on? Yes the age of Ministers is rising (rightfully given they expect everyone else to work longer) but have their been any octogenarians in government, since the days of Gladstone? Even Ian Paisley retired as First Minister at the age of 78. Yes Skinner is in politics and is very much old labour, but then so is Denis Healey, yet no-one seems to be asking the 98 year old to return to government. Is this the BBC trying to imply divisions amongst even the MPs who supported Corbyn?