I’ve always been an idealist. Or a “naive idealist” as tradition dictates my kind must be referred. I’ve always believed that there are ideals to be aimed for and nice thick lines which must never be crossed.
And yet in the cruel and all too human world of twenty first century politics we all too often succumb to political point scoring over principle. Everyone in politics is guilty of it. Getting one over on the opposition. The day to day struggle to hobble and embarrass your enemy.
Labour has been presented with an almighty opportunity to hobble the coalition this week. Today the cabinet met and agreed to push ahead with plans for Lords reform. Seemingly there were no speeches against. No dissent. There is surely cabinet disagreement over Lords reform, but not of them were brave enough, or principle enough, to stick their head above the parapet and argue in favour of unregulated and undemocratic scrutiny of our laws by an ermine-clad elite.
And yet a revolt still seems likely from the Tory backbenches. Tory MP Penny Morduant – in possession of a backbone, albeit one she uses to trash democracy with – has said today:
“These reforms are gong to lead to a constitutional crisis.”
No doubt the infamous 22 committee will make their views known in due course.
So Labour can vote with the rebels to embarrass the government. That would be a mistake. We must resist the temptation, stick with our democratic principles, and make the change that is right for Britain.
An unelected house made up of the appointed, the hereditary and the bishops is grotesque in a modern democracy. That Labour failed to complete the job of obliterating the last vestiges of priviledge and patronage from parliament when we had whopping huge majorities is an aspect of our time in government of which we should be completely ashamed.
An elected House of Lords is an ideal that is attainable, and helping in any way to stop it coming into being is a big thick line that should never, ever be crossed.
This time, tactics can’t trump principle.
Furthermore, defeating the government – especially to stop something the Labour Party agrees with – is not only perverse, but isn’t necessary to hobble the Prime Minister. If anything, winning a vote with Lib Dem and Labour support could hurt the Prime Minister even more than losing. Blair’s Iraq War “victory” – secured with Tory votes – was nonetheless a damaging (career shortening) revolt. The Tory right are so viscerally opposed to democratic reform that they will curse the name of their leader for the rest of the parliament if he sides with their opponents to drive through a change they despise.
What Ed Miliband proposes is that Labour will both vote yes and no. Labour MPs will vote for the Second Reading of the Bill but oppose the proposed timetabled – providing an opportunity for Tory rebels to back Labour and sink the bill. A whips trick. Too clever by half. Like on welfare reform Labour will try and have their cake and deny the cake’s existence.
We should relish this debate, because we’re in the right. Make the Tories argue in favour of priviledge, and against democracy. We will argue for democracy. For our principles. And for a reformist ideal that has been a part of what Labour has been about about since the earliest days of our party.
Ed Miliband says “democratic election is the best system for our country”. If so, then support it. No ifs. No buts. No tricks. No tactics.