What is the true motive for Nick Clegg’s House of Lords reforms?
After the AV debacle the idea of another constitutional reform seemed comical, but it reappeared in the days following David Cameron’s apparent veto at the EU summit in December. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this was the payoff that Clegg wrenched from Cameron, in those tense days when the coalition wobbled. The thing that is interesting is that we’ve been here before.
In the formation of the coalition agreement, following the 2010 election, Clegg swept aside his party’s polices on tuition fees and the NHS, for the sake of an AV referendum. Apparently his passion for a fairer voting system outweighed his desire to protect health or stick up for students. His true motive was that AV would be beneficial to his party’s electoral prospects. He sacrificed principle for power, or at least the chance of it.
So is the advocacy of Lords reform the same old spots on the same old leopard? Did he remain quiet on Europe for a chance to change the second chamber?
His proposal is that they be elected by Proportional Representation. As we know, PR would be very beneficial to the Liberal Democrats. Although Clegg speaks of his desire for more democracy, he expects to considerably increase the number of Lib Dem peers by this reform. However, since this is only the second chamber, why would this make a big difference to the power of the Nick Clegg?
The answer is that with an increased vote in the House of Lords, his party would have the ability to join forces with the opposition and act as a block to legislation. The elected government would then be forced to offer government jobs to Clegg and his colleagues in return for their cooperation in the second chamber.
The closer we look at these proposals, the more they look like another attempt, by this political party, to gear our democracy towards permanent coalition government. The likelihood of Nick Clegg as a perpetual Deputy Prime Minister beckons. This is his chance to redeem himself, following his failure to deliver AV. His determination is un-faltered.
He claims to be motivated by democracy, but this profound constitutional change will have no referendum, because he knows full well that if the details were scrutinised by the public they would reject his power grabbing scheme, again.
But should we be fearful of this? Perhaps perpetual coalition government is to be desired? Maybe the Lib Dems have done a good job at dulling the extreme aspects of Tory rule? Personally I think they’ve achieved precious little. The NHS reforms should never have been countenanced when the Prime Minister himself didn’t even understand them, and wouldn’t have been able to explain them to Clegg at the time the policy was agreed. The Tuition Fees increase may have been inevitable, but not to £9k. That was an insult to their promise. The only concessions that the Lib Dems truly desire is voting reform that works in their favour. They won’t change. And for this reason, they are a distraction to the workings of any proper government.
I’m not saying that there are no attractions to the idea of an elected House of Lords. There are lots of other arguments that need to be thought through. All I’m saying is that in the wider consideration of these things, it is wise to question the true motives of the chief advocate.