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Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform?


7:40 pm - June 24th 2012

by Mark Thompson    


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Imagine that you work for a medium sized organisation. It gives you status and respect and that there was a real battle for you to get the position in the first place. Now imagine that there is another sister organisation just over the road from your one.

The pay isn’t as good but it provides similar status and respect within society. And even better you don’t actually need to go through a grueling selection process to get in there. Now, finally imagine that you and all your colleagues are given the chance to change the way the sister organisation works.

You can vote for the selection process to be thrown open to everyone and for it to be as grueling to get in there are it was to get into your current organisation. That is pretty much exactly the dilemma faced by most MPs as they consider the Lords reform bill which is being published this week.

There are noises off from Labour and Tory MPs that they are going to give this bill a rough ride. Indeed it is not at all clear that a Commons majority can be mustered to pass it despite a commitment for reform being present in all three of the main parties manifestos.

I’m sure that there are some MPs who have genuine concerns about the proposed reforms and really do fear the loss of a scrutinising chamber with expertise. I’m also sure that some of the arguments used against reform such as risk of constitutional deadlock are well meant. But the problem is you cannot separate these out from the massive conflict of interest faced by a huge swathe of MPs. If they vote for the bill they are kissing goodbye to a cushy semi-retirement.

For those of us observing politics there is a useful precedent here. MPs used to be in charge of deciding their own expenses regime. They came up with all sorts of arguments as to why this should be the case (primacy of parliament etc.) and many of them fought tooth and nail to prevent publication of the details for years. They wanted to remain in charge of one of the main conditions of their employment.

Of course when The Telegraph finally published the details of the expenses it precipitated the biggest political scandal in decades. It wasn’t just a few MPs, but hundreds of them who had abused the privileges of their office at the expense of the tax payer. It became abundantly clear that MPs could not be trusted to decide their own expenses regime. It is now administered by an external body.

But in the end, MPs are only human. A sort of group think appears to have emerged whereby they collectively thought what they were doing was acceptable. Yes, we expect MPs to be held to a higher standard but I would however suggest that any group of people left in charge of their own conditions like this will consciously or subconsciously gravitate towards a solution that suits them.

We are in the same sort of situation again with Lords reform. I am far from convinced that we can trust MPs to come to an impartial decision about something that so directly affects the future political careers of so many of their number. Whatever arguments they use, there will always be the suspicion that self interest lies at the heart of their opposition whether that is conscious or otherwise.

There is no easy answer to this. The Commons is supreme and ultimately if MPs will not allow the reform it will not go ahead.

But they should tread very carefully. They have already seen the political explosion that can result when blatant self-interest against the public good takes hold within their institution.

If I was an MP I would want to avoid any risk of appearing to put my own personal desires above what we would expect from a fully functioning and accountable democracy.

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About the author
Mark Thompson is an occasional Liberal Conspiracy contributor. He is a Lib Dem member and activist and blogs about UK politics here
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Reader comments


Ditto with reform of the voting system. Are we supposed to believe that all those MPs in safe seats would welcome having to actually work to get elected?!
I detect more than a whiff of self interest there as well!

2. Dick the Prick

The Robin Cook vote was one of the funniest votes I can remember – was it 8 options, place yer bets! Ah, err…no takers? Grandfather clauses are being added to smooth transition because Labour have packed it up to 1300 of the buggers or something. I’m not sure if I care how people get there but if each of them take 2 staff and they’re tossing it off then some poor civil servant is getting the equivalent of drunken text messages from a gimp with an office; cut the number of bullshit questions and cut the number of bean counters not counting beans. I’d be looking at 800 maximum – anything more seems like a piss take – separate official title of ‘Lord’ to distinguish on paper entry into the House of Lords and just ceremonial honour – it happens with Mayor all the time. Elections are method rather than improvement. Hmm, Italy have just won. Bugger.

“But in the end, MPs are only human. A sort of group think appears to have emerged whereby they collectively thought what they were doing was acceptable. Yes, we expect MPs to be held to a higher standard but I would however suggest that any group of people left in charge of their own conditions like this will consciously or subconsciously gravitate towards a solution that suits them.”

I love this! Substitute “MPs” for, say, “bosses” and it still works.

Whatever happens with HoL reform, I for one do not want to see it stuffed with politicos elected from a party list. I do not want retired activists, MPs etc to be given any more power than they already have. I am strongly in favour of having something like jury service. These would be representative of all the people, not just the self selecting ones.

5. Margin4error

Thing is – there is a real issue with how political reform is conducted in the UK.

Look at voting reform

lib dems convince themselves that the best system for the country is the one that’s best for them as a party – The tories convince themselves that the best system for them is the best one for the country – and Labour appear least hurt or benefited by a change in system and coincidentally have no strong view one way or another.

It is impossible for any party to claim it wants what is best for the country without everyone noting that it is simaltaneously what is best for that party. Hardly surprising of course, that one joins a party that one thinks is best for the country and thus somewhat equates the two things.

With Lords reform it there is a different issue at stake.

People have to vote yes or no! That’s the rules of Parliament. So lots of people have very different views on how the Lords should be changed. And they quite reasonably think their position is what is best for the country. Of course party politics in the commons doesn’t allow for that – it allows an option to be put to a vote on pure yes/no basis – and there is no negotiation of what that option should be because neither the tories or lib dems are willing to let Labour (the enemy) have any say at all on anything. Labour when they did the equivelent vote tried to generate compromise through multiple votes – but it fell apart because the commons just doesn’t work like that.

Add in that the parties like using the Lords to get doddering old MPs or embarrasingly dodgy MPs out of the Commons – and using it as a fund raising mechanism (by giving donors a Lords seat) and the public have no trust in the process.

Maybe – just maybe – reform of the constitution should be more collaborative. A constitutional conference on such things would perhaps drive better decision making?

I know this kind of “constitutional reform” in the UK: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/uk-royal-succession-reform-2011/ Don’t expect too much.

7. margin4error

Andreas

Not sure it goes down too well to post lots of links to your own site.

@JC

The original proposal was to use the Single Transferable Vote for elections, as used in Northern Ireland (for local and assembly elections) and Scotland (for local elections), though the Joint Committee did suggest an “above the line” option whereby voters can either number candidates individually or select a party.

There’s a choice here – would you rather potentially have ex-MPs (as 1 in 2 new Lords since 2010 are) appointed for life or elected for single 15 year terms? I bet a time-limited term won’t be as appealing to former MPs as at present, especially when you could make more money going into business, etc.

I think turning the Lords into a 400+ strong jury is a bit of a non-starter as you’re selecting people who may have no interest in being there and who of course may have their own political bias’. And being random does not make it representative, unless you build in filters and weighting to make it representative of the general population… eventually arriving back at what you’d get with a proportionally elected chamber. Furthermore, a court jury is very focused on (usually) a single issue and is guided through the trial process by the judge and barristers, in some cases actually being instructed as to what verdict to come to. That isn’t something I’d want within a legislature.

Trust an MP?
I wouldn’t leave one alone with my wallet or grandchild.
Those few, not implicated in the expenses scandal, simply sat on their hands.
The Speaker, Michael Martin spent hundreds of thousands of pounds attempting to cover up the scandal. For his efforts, he was enobled.
Why would anybody in their right mind vote for these parasitic scum?

House of Lords Reform is an unwanted political smoke-screen, scandal and shambles which threatens to destroy parliament and allow a bunch of jumped-up mainly Liberal Democrat political “Senators” to damage successive governments manifestos through their being and powers, with equal or greater supremacy than the Commons.

Nick Clegg and the Liberals just do not get it, the people of this country do NOT want to change the Voting System at all, we made that clear at the AV Referendum and yet they still want to push for it and it is still in their manifesto for the Commons.

How is it democratic to impose a Three Line Whip on MPs? Apparently whatever Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes and Lords Tyler and Oakeshott say is Democratic and right but others isn’t?

Jumped up Nonsense and an absolute Monstrosity and Calamity of a Bill.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    Liberal Conspiracy – Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform? http://t.co/bcUP3rMa

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    “@libcon: Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform? http://t.co/Djj9St0B” << New post by me on Liberal Conspiracy

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    Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tzG6f62v via @libcon

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    Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/z6gO4eLM





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