by Peter Watt
I have been building up to write this for days now. Because I have been getting angrier and angrier the more I thought about it – House of Lords reform.
What is it that politicians don’t understand here? Voters hardly hold their political masters in the highest regard. Not to put too fine a point on it, they don’t like politicians and certainly do not value them. It may or may not be unfair but they think that politicians are self-serving and live in their own rarefied world.
What voters certainly do not see is a political system that provides a solution to the problems that they experience in their day-to-day lives. In fact many voters are angry and probably blame politicians for many of the world’s ills. To be fair, from the voters point of view there is much to feel angry about. The expenses scandal; an economic crisis that the political class seems immune from; tax cuts for their mates, tax rises for everyone else and ever increasing prices.
And the response of our politicians? That we need even more politicians!
Apparently we need to expend huge amounts of political energy and effort passing legislation that will create 450 new professional politicians. Presumably all of whom will need paying, will need staff, offices and expenses. Who will need to be elected and who will all need to spend their time justifying their existence.
Even better we will also need to have this genius proposal agreed by those fans of politicians, the voters, in a referendum! At a time when we are busy cutting services for the most needy as budgets are squeezed we should spend even more money on even more politicians? At a time when across the country, families’ budgets are under pressure, do we really need even more elections to choose even more career politicians? Unemployment is rising but our politicians think that creating even more politicians is the answer!
You couldn’t make it up.
And to be clear, the facts here do not matter. It is the impression that does. So the fact that the number of elected members would be less than the number of current Lords is irrelevant.
The rational case for greater democratic accountability is somewhat lost in the ocean of contempt for politicians. The ending of privilege and patronage will come a long way second to the fact that there will be even more jobs for the career political boys and girls. The voters might not like the ermine clad hordes in the other chamber but they will absolutely hate the alternative.
There may well be a strong case for House of Lords reform but now it is the last thing that should be being considered. Our politicians should be spending, and be seen to be spending, all of their time focused on trying to sort out the problems facing families in this country.
The economy is in recession again and jobs are being shed. Food and utility bills are rising and families are suffering. Now, with trust so low, the political class needs to knuckle down and show people that they can actually do something useful, can actually benefit people other than people like themselves.
But I fear that we will not see any of that. Instead we will see the government ripping itself apart over the issue and Labour agreeing with the need for reform.
There will be briefings and counter briefings, threats of rebellion and hints of the premature collapse of the government. There will be tactical decisions over whether or not to hold a referendum, what system should be used for the election and what powers the second chamber should have.
It is the stuff of fantasy for political obsessives. It has overtones of class struggle; eminent political professors will wax lyrical over the merits of one system over another.
There will be articles and posts on the dangers of an overly powerful reforming chamber and the dangers of legislative deadlock. Those seeking election will sniff out an opportunity and begin trying to second guess the selection procedures. And polls will be watched to see who will benefit from the rows.
And because this will all entertain and engage the Westminster elites, the Westminster elites will just assume that everyone else is just as fascinated.
But that won’t be the case. Millions of voters will have their worst prejudices about politics confirmed. A debate supposedly about strengthening the institutions of our democracy will instead weaken them by increasing cynicism. What is it that politicians don’t get? It’s not complicated; voters generally hold politicians in contempt and when politicians spend time and energy endlessly discussing the creation of even more politicians then surprise, surprise, voters will not be impressed.
Rant over. I feel better now!
Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party