I don’t think I’ve ever voted with such enthusiasm as I did in last year’s Alternative Vote (AV) referendum. I voted NO, the most delightful negative ever. If there were a thousand such referenda I would vote no time and time again. It was supposedly about introducing ‘fairness’ into our electoral system. What rot! Part of the present Coalition deal, it was a way of allowing the Liberal Democrats to be kingmakers for ever and a day. It was about the strange revival of Liberal England. How glad I was to put the beast back in its coffin!
Not content with that, Nick Clegg and his gang went forward with another piece of constitutional vandalism; they went ahead with proposals for ‘reform’ of the House of Lords. The aim here is to turn our venerable and unelected upper chamber into a kind of senate, selected on the basis of – guess what – proportional voting.
Just imagine the political chaos that would ensue. The House of Commons could no longer claim unsullied primacy. An upper house elected on the basis of AV or any proportional system would give the Liberal Democrats disproportional influence. In any deadlock with the Commons their Senate could claim greater electoral legitimacy. Clegg’s placemen, moreover, would have fifteen year tenures, a greater opportunity for abuse and the insolence of office I find impossible to imagine, a modern form of the old Whig supremacy. It all comes down to one thing: this shabby and debased party would have its grubby hands forever on the wheels of power.
It’s obvious that David Cameron has no stomach to this fight, but he dare not depart. Nick Clegg, huffing and puffing like the petulant schoolboy he is, is threatening to derail the necessary changes to the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies if he does not get his way on the House of Lords. But - thank goodness – there is still enough backbone in the Conservative Party. A sufficient number of Tory MPs have rejected his childish attempts at blackmail. The bill, like a ball, has been kicked into touch!
Clegg, with Cameron in tow, had intended to hammer ‘reform’ through Parliament with a minimum of debate, an absolute disgrace considering the constitutional importance of the proposed change, one of the most important in our history. But, in the face of rebellion within the Tory ranks, coupled with the Labour Party’s opposition to a foreclosure on debate, the government was forced to drop a timetable motion.
On Tuesday the bill passed its second reading, with close on a hundred Tories voting against. It passed alright, but it’s now going to be a narrative as long as the tale of the Ancient Mariner. Threatening to derail the rest of the government’s legislative programme, it is likely also to be a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing
Cameron, Mister Whichever Way the Wind Blows, now says he will try to “proceed with consensus”. To echo the words of Iain Martin in the Telegraph, good luck with that. Saying consensus, consensus, when there is no consensus; there will never be consensus on this ill-conceived, badly thought-out and wholly unnecessary legislation. Change of this magnitude should be approached with great caution, not on the whim of the Liberal Democrats, the permanent political also rans.
The real shocker here, though, is not Clegg, acting on his own debased principles, but Cameron, who, for the sake of office, was prepared to push through a measure that neither he nor a goodly part of his own party believe in. What kind of man is this, what kind of Conservative and, most important of all, what kind of Prime Minister? There he was, waving the reform flag albeit in a limp-handed manner. There he was, prepared to destabilise the constitution and our system of government. There he was, offering support to a bill no matter the damage or the consequences. All this for what exactly? All this for Clegg.
In the Telegraph Martin described Clegg as a “third rate Tony Blair: an unhistorical and restless progressive seeking relentlessly to apply his abstract agenda, with pious, cliché-ridden petulance, to whichever institution he does not like the look of.” He later retracted, saying that calling him a third rate Blair was overgenerous. Yes, well, we are all permitted a slip twixt cup and lip.
I hope the Conservative rebels continue their principled opposition to this unprincipled and opportunist bill. I hope it really is, as one said, a ‘dead duck. AV is dead; House of Lords ‘reform’ is dying. Now let’s have a creeping barrage directed at gay marriage.