Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Rhodesia, Wilson, Clegg and reform of the Second Chamber
Way back in the 1960s when Ian Smith declared UDI for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) British prime minister Harold Wilson tied both hands behind his back by declaring that he would not use force to bring the rebels into line. Nick Clegg seems to have made the same error by his statement, as reported in yesterday's Independent that he will not "go to war" with the Tories over the question of replacing the anachronistic House of Lords with a largely democratically elected Second Chamber. Surely it can never be good tactics in any negotiations to reveal the limits of your determination. Nick should study how his tough predecessor, Lloyd George, took on the entire establishment and the scorn he poured over them, especially "the Dukes", in circumstances much tougher than today, to achieve the first steps of democratic reform. House of Lords abolition has been on the agenda, indeed on the statute book, for the 100 years since then. It is shameful that the Blair/Brown Labour governments, with substantial Commons majorities for 13 years, did not finish the job. Now they cloud the issue by demanding a referendum (there were no referendums for previous reforms, some carried out by Labour). Embarrassingly former Liberal leader David Steel spouts the feeble excuse that "now is not the time" because there is so much for parliament to do the cope with the economic crisis. It is true that those with a vested interest in keeping the Lords as it is (ie those already in it and existing MPs looking for a comfortable and well-paid afterlife when they lose or retire from their Commons seats) will clog up the parliamentary time-table with spurious objections and alternatives. But it is is a commonplace that parliament already spends far too much time legislating (from knee-jerk reactions to dangerous dogs to the recent complex legislation on the NHS, when those involved pointed out that all changes necessary to improve the NHS could be achieved without legislation). I earnestly hope that Nick Clegg, our ministers and MPs will stiffen their sinews, summon up their blood, pull no punches etc.etc. and finish the job begun by Liberals over 100 years ago.