Lords reform is dead! Long live, erm, a bloated, ineffective, undemocratic Lords!

by Stephen Tall on November 24, 2012

The Guardian reports today that dozens of new life peers are to be appointed to the House of Lords:

Political parties are preparing to draw up lists for dozens of new appointments to the House of Lords in a move that will reignite controversy over creating peers just months after the collapse of legislation to dramatically reduce the second chamber. The move, which is expected to create at least 80 new life peers with allegiance to political parties – most of them Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour – is an embarrassment to all three party leaders, who had pledged in their manifestos to cut the number of peers.

Personally I’m not sure why Nick Clegg should be embarrassed. He attempted to steer through Lords reform, a promise made by all three parties at the 2010 general election. Unfortunately for the sake of reform, only the Lib Dems stuck to that promise.

We are now where we are. And just as we will contest the next election under the first-past-the-vote system I see no reason why we would refuse to participate in the Lords simply because neither Labour nor Conservatives are keen on ending patronage. That will simply allow their small-c conservative stranglehold on democracy to become ever more dominant.

I’m a bit baffled then by Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott’s comments in the same Guardian article:

Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, a former member of the joint committee of both houses on Lords reform, said: “Stuffing the Lords up to 900 now would be a disgrace to democracy, utterly against our principles, and make a mockery of our campaign to clean up and reform British politics. How can we possibly excoriate personal patronage and a bloated house of Lords, then cynically U-turn and do just what we’ve been condemning just a few weeks earlier? Trust in politicians is already hanging by a thread – this would sicken Liberal Democrats and reformers in all parties and none.”

Yes, he’s right that ‘stuffing the Lords’ is a ‘disgrace to democracy’. But what’s his alternative? Letting the Lib Dem presence in the Lords become ever more diluted as Labour and Tories merrily add to their numbers on the red benches? I’m at a loss to understand how that will in any way advance the cause of democratic reform.

I want a strong Lib Dem presence in the Lords — one that reflects, as promised in the Coalition Agreement, ‘the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election’ — precisely so that there will be parliamentarians making that case.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.