Kyus Agu Lionel
Sub Editor of Naked Politics
“UNELECTED body of TOFFS blocks the PEOPLE’S GOVERNMENT from carrying out NECESSARY REFORM!!”
The headline is a newspaper’s godsend. But are the House of Lords’ moves to strike down or delay the Tories’ controversial tax rebate reforms a godsend for our democracy, or are the Lords hell-bent: morally and constitutionally disgraceful?
David Cameron has said that the Lords don’t have a mandate to question the elected government’s legislation. But is this true? Yes, it is correct that the Tories formed a government off of the votes of a confidence-inspiring(!) 25% of the overall electorate. But it is also correct that the Tories promised to not cut tax credits. So when the elected government breaks its promises to the people who voted for it – who else is there but the Lords? In addition to this, the members of the Lords were appointed by elected governments, so it’s not as if they simply emerged from the pits of hell to squeeze the life out of our Great British democracy.
It’s also significant that the Tories are facing substantial opposition from within their own party: MPs who haven’t bought the lie that struggling people who rely on tax credits will be better off overall. However the government is ignoring these warning voices and is hell bent on pressing ahead.
What’s the rush? As of the end of 2013, George Osborne had already created more debt in three years than Labour had in thirteen, and his spending hasn’t stopped rising since. What realistic difference is pausing to review the bill going to make to the deficit?
I am actually of the opinion that tax credits do need to go. It’s ridiculous that the taxpayer forks out for businesses to get away with paying s*** wages. Pressure needs to be put on businesses to raise the minimum wage faster, and more needs to be done to make the housing market more affordable so that wages go further.
But the Tories, as much as they protest otherwise, are a party run by and for big business, so looking for them to insist that businesses behave in an ethical manner is like expecting Bruce Forsyth to make a halfway decent joke – it’s just not going to happen.
So when Cameron says that the Lords don’t have a mandate to question the government, I would then ask him: what exactly do they have a mandate to do then? If their only purpose is to rubber stamp what the government puts in front of them, why are we paying almost 800 of them up to £300 a day? What then, is their point, and why not just abolish them?
I do not actually want the Lords to be abolished. With the government’s practise of awarding peerages to not just the nobly born, but to those who are leaders in respective areas or have contributed to the moral fibre of the U.K., it’s not as heavily weighted towards the rich any more. An example is Baroness Lawrence, who fought corruption and racism in the Met police and achieved criminal justice reform during the decade-long campaign to bring her son’s murderers to justice. I feel that this appointed body of people who are the best in their fields and who don’t have to dance to public opinion, is a vital check on the popularity contest that is the House of Commons.
I’m not disparaging the Commons, as it is of course necessary that it has supremacy, and that we as subjects/citizens should choose who runs our country. But the fact that so many stupid people in the U.K. have the franchise means that you have people like UKIP voted in, who have literally one policy, and also seem to think that gays cause floods. In addition to this, you have someone like Theresa May, who is so busy running headlong after the racist right-wing vote that she says whatever she thinks people want to hear. She is prepared to lie through her teeth and say that immigrants contribute nothing to this country (she’s obviously never picked up a history book, or even read the reports that her own officials produce, but hey (See my previous article Dark Water for more on my opinions on that).
I think that House of Lords needs reforming. There are far too many of them, and it does seem as if a lot of them do just turn up to claim expenses. But until that day of reform comes, they should continue to perform their role within the British political system. In this showdown over tax rebates, I take my hat off to them.