The push-me-pull-you antics of the Labour Party yesterday on Lords' reform showed British politics at its worst. It is not surprising that 91 Tories voted against the motion for reform. After all, the preservation of privilege and clinging to things past are core Conservative traits. Nor do I feel that Mr Cameron's failure to haul them into line is a sign of his weakness and a betrayal of the coalition cause. In general I believe spirited independence among MPs rather than slavish obedience to the Whips is to be welcomed and hope we shall see more of it on other issues
What is disgraceful is that the Labour Party, allegedly progressive, should vote for the reform but be whipped against the timetable motion that would make reform possible: to will the end but not the means. Their published reason was that the programme motion provided for only (sic) fourteen days of debate. Just how much do they want on an issue which has been on the agenda for over 100 years, and intensively discussed in the past few months?
Clearly their motive (apart from perhaps a few who fancied being Lords themselves, with a £300 a day attendance allowance, a political after-life and a fancy title for the rest of their days) is to embarrass the coalition and take a swipe at Nick Clegg. We rightly deplore short-termism in financial affairs: it is equally deplorable in politics.
In choosing Ed Miliband as their leader Labour appeared to be putting the compromised New Labour years behind them and setting out on a fresh and radical path. This tatty tactical "victory", in reality a defeat for their principles, will be recorded as a shameful episode in their history.
In the wider field, the whole episode does further damage to the health of our democracy. It would be foolish to suppose that many more than we political anoraks have been following these events with much concern, but what confidence can the electorate in general have in a political process in which all three parties promise House of Lords reform in their manifestos, but then the process is abused so that the promised outcome is frustrated. This adds further fuel for the cynicism which is rapidly becoming the dominant political creed.
The one person coming out of the debacle smelling of roses is Nick Clegg. Regular readers will know that I am not prone to shower him with excessive praise, but he has stuck to his beliefs and principles whilst his fellow leaders, Cameron slightly and Miliband considerably, are tarnished. This shameful episode could yet well rebound to his credit. As Wimbledon showed, and the Olympics are likely to show, Britain warms to an plucky underdog who fights to the finish.