Labour and Tory MPs have a new twist on an old game. Block democratic reform. Then criticise lack of democratic reform

by Stephen Tall on June 5, 2013

clegg on levesonLabour and Tory MPs have a new favourite hobby. It’s one they’ve been practising for decades, but they’ve really refined their art in the last three years.

Basically it works like this…

A political scandal happens. Abuse of expenses by MPs or cash-for-questions/honours/favours, that sort of thing. Everyone demands reform. This must never happen again, they say. Cross-party talks are immediately convened. Then re-convened a few months later once the pressure’s off a bit. And finally they’re abandoned once they’re sure people have got bored with it all and the news agenda has moved on. Everything can go back to normal. Hurray!

So far, so usual. We’ve grown used to this deliberate Labservative inertia. What’s changed since 2010 is that the government minister now trying to break this log-jam of vested interests is the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. And if there’s one thing that unites Labour and Tory MPs — besides keeping the current system just as it is because it suits them — it’s an intense dislike of the Lib Dems and of Nick Clegg. And so the decades-old hobby has a new and delicious twist.

Basically it works like this…

Nick Clegg proposes a reform. An elected Lords, fairer party funding, a register for lobbyists, that sort of thing. Labour and Tory MPs block the reform. Each and every one, in turn. And then they pop along to the House of Commons to throw bricks at Nick Clegg for not making more progress.

Such sport!

And then everything goes back to normal.

Here’s Labour MP Kevin Brennan at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, for example, criticising the current (woefully unambitious) Lords reform proposals:

When did the scale of his ambition as the greatest constitutional reformer since 1832 reduce to the level of housekeeping?

Nick Clegg tartly pointed out the contradiction:

It was when the hon. Gentleman’s party abandoned its historical commitment to giving the people a say. It used to be the people’s party and now it is the party of privilege all over again.

And to another Labour MP who later joined in the game:

That is pretty rich, coming from a Front Bencher of a party which, despite its own long-standing manifesto commitment in favour of democracy in the House of Lords, could not even bring itself to support a timetable motion to make that a reality.

Labour and the Tories are quite content to see calls for democratic reform go round and round in circles: it disorientates and exhausts while keeping everything rooted in the same place. It’s a game they’ve mastered, devising the rules, thwarting any attempts to update them, while mocking those who try.

What japes!

* 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.