Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Abolish the Lords!

Image result for labour clears the way + images

I've long been in favour of abolishing the House of Lords because, as the Scottish Parliament and other legislatures around the world have shown, we have no need for a second 'revising' chamber.

So while their lordships have thrown a spanner in the works of various governments down the years, there's no getting away from the fact that this unelected second chamber is an insult to democracy, made worse by the fact that most peers are retired politicians put out to pasture on gold-plated pensions and generous expenses, having lived well on the public purse for many years.

The problem with reforming House of Lords is that, as a second revising chamber, our unelected peers have to vote for their own demise, in the same way as turkeys welcoming an early Christmas, and that the 'establishment' parties at Westminster can't resist the temptation to use their lordships as a blocking device when they find themselves in opposition.

Which is why this bloated second chamber has risen to a record 821 members, more than the 650 elected MPs in the House of Commons, in a period after the great economic crash when all political parties were agreed on the need to cut the cost of politics. 

At this rate the House of Lords will never be reformed or abolished, evidenced by the fact that nothing was done during 13 long years when the last Labour Government enjoyed an overall majority of MPs in the House of Commons between 1997 to 2010. 

Maybe the only way to reform the House of Lords is for Scotland to become an independent country because that would blow the whole rotten system apart.

Since the Westminster Parliament seems unable to face up to the hypocrisy of a life-long critic of this unelected second chamber, such as Labour's former deputy leader, John Prescott (77), leaving office after years as an MP, only to reinvent himself as a 'noble' peer of the realm.   


Democracy Direct (6 October 2013)

Now here's an exercise in direct democracy I would love to see repeated in the UK - a popular vote on whether to abolish or keep the House of Lords.

In Ireland the second or 'revising' chamber chamber is the Senate and for some reason Irish voters decided to retain their Seanad - whereas I would be confident that UK voters would dump the overblown, bloated beast also known as the House of Lords.

Most people know by now that the House of Lords is stuffed full of retired MPs and establishment worthies - many of whom have retired on generous public pensions - yet still they have their noses in the trough and are allowed to claim £300 per day in a tax free attendance allowance. 

Why this £300 a day should be tax free is anyone's guess, but the people claiming the dosh are lawmakers for goodness sake - so how can 'noble' lords expect ordinary people to live by one set of rules when they make up their own rules to suit themselves.

More ridiculous still is the fact there are more lawmakers in the House of Lords (760) than there are in the House of Commons (650) - and if voters in the UK ever get the chance they will no doubt dump this retirement home for 'over the hill' politicians and Church of England bishops - while saving the country £20 billion a year into the bargain.    

Seanad vote: Public vote to keep Irish senate

The Seanad Éireann (Irish senate) is the upper house of the Irish Parliament

Voters in the Republic of Ireland have rejected a government proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (upper house of the Irish parliament).

The Fine Gael Labour coalition government proposal was supported by Sinn Féin and was lost by a narrow margin, with 48.3% voting in favour of abolition, with 51.7% against.

Total turnout in the election was higher than expected at nearly 40%.

The Seanad has existed for more than 90 years.

The current Irish government had argued it cost too much to run and that its abolition could have saved Irish taxpayers as much as 20m euros (£16.92m) a year.

Opponents wanted it retained and reformed, saying it played an essential role in holding governments to account.

More than three million people were eligible to vote on whether or not to abolish the Seanad.

Shane Harrison - BBC Dublin correspondent

“While those defeated will be disappointed and temporarily politically diminished they will, probably rightly, suspect that damage won't be long-standing because voters are much more concerned about recession-related issues than the fate of the upper house.”

Voters were also able to decide on whether or not to establish a Court of Appeal and implement other changes to the courts system.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had claimed the abolition of the Seanad would create a leaner, more effective and more accountable system of government.

Opponents, led by the largest opposition party Fianna Fáil, said the Seanad wass necessary to serve as a government watchdog and to hold cabinet ministers to account.

BBC Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison said the result would be a disappointment for Edna Kenny.

"Abolition was very much the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny's idea and he has been criticised by Sinn Féin - his temporary ally during the campaign - for his failure to debate the issue with opponents on radio and television," he said.

"Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and his colleagues will not be happy that voters in party strongholds in Dublin, rejected their recommendation.

"The vote was much better news for Fianna Fáil, the only major party to oppose abolition and suggest the Seanad should be reformed."

Independent senator Katherine Zappone said it was important that senators now held a meeting with the prime minister to come up with a way of ensuring that the upper house was reformed.

Birkies and Lords (10 June 2013)

The BBC Panorama programme which exposed the disgraceful behaviour of Tory MP Patrick Mercer is being shown tonight - and I for one will be watching.

The likely outcome is that under such intense scrutiny and in response to public anger - the House of Commons will be forced to bring in a 'power of recall' so that the voters can get rid of MPs who behave badly - without having to wait until the next election comes along.

Yet that will still leave the House of Lords and all of its 'noble' peers untouched - all 831 of them even more than the 736 which existed under the last parliament.

Apparently the House of Lords costs the country around £10 billion a year to run - and that's as close to a pain-free cut in public spending as you'll ever get - so I'd start chopping straight away.  

For anyone unfamiliar with A Man's A Man - 'birkie' means a foolish posturer and 'cuif' is an old Scots word for a feckless person. 

Abolish the Gravy Train (4 June 2011)

Martin Kettle - writing in the Guardian the other day - made a strong case for abandoning plans to reform the House of Lords - and for just abolishing the second chamber altogether. Here's a summary of what Martin had to say:

"The democratic case for reform is that laws should always be passed by elected representatives and by no one else. It's an impeccable democratic position. It's the way things work done in most other democracies.

Low public esteem for all politicians, whether elected or not, means the (reform) proposal to send another 300 identikit politicians to Westminster is also a hard sell, even though it also means eventually chucking out most of the absurdly large current number of 831 mainly appointed peers.

These plans will fail. A survey by the Times this week showed that four out of five peers – and nearly half of the Lib Dems in the Lords – are opposed to Clegg's reforms. Most peers also think the Lords works perfectly well the way it is – not surprising, given that most peers are political traditionalists and placepeople who can earn a daily £300 tax free merely by crossing the threshold of the chamber.

Ministers still insist that the government will go the final mile to whip the bill through both houses and will use the Parliament Act to drive it on to the statute book. But it won't happen.

Increasingly, the real political choice on the House of Lords is between keeping it the way it is, albeit with lower numbers, and abolishing the second chamber altogether. They seem to manage with just one chamber in places as diverse as Sweden, New Zealand and the state of Nebraska. The state of Maine may be about to follow suit after a vote this week. Why not Britain? What would be so wrong with a single-chamber parliament?"

The answer to the question is - nothing, of course - because that's what we have already in the Scottish Parliament - which has no need of a second 'revising chamber'.

We should get rid of the 'gravy train' that is the House of Lords - and the 831 peers who can claim a daily £300 tax free allowance - just simply for turning up.

Don't believe the old dinosaurs like former Labour Deputy Prime Minister - John Prescott - who has gone to the Lords on a final salary, Deputy Prime Minister, pension.

Sweep these chancers all away - and the public purse will save a small fortune.

"Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord" (7 June 2013)

Robert Burns hit the nail on the head in his famous poem - 'A Man's A Man'.

"Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord

What struts, and stares, an a' that

Though hundreds worship at his word

He's but a cuif for a' that"

The House of Lords is still packed to the rafters with knaves and fools - 736 of them as of April 2010 - 89 more than the 647 strong House of Commons - with more to come as the new government brings in plans to 'reform' the system.

The last Labour government had plans too - but after 13 years in power the second chamber was and remains largely unreconstructed - dominated by retired, unaccountable, second-rate politicians.

Insult is about to be added to injury as the likes of John Prescott and Michael Howard are invited to don their ermine robes.

John Prescott, former union rep, class warrior and deputy prime minister - will continue to have his nose in the public trough - along with Michael Howard, former Tory leader and Home Secretary - once famously described as 'having something of the night about him'

At a time when the public finances are in such a dreadful state - the best thing to do with the House of Lords would be to abolish it altogether.

Who needs a second chamber anyway?