Friday, 27 May 2016

8 reasons why the Left should campaign to retain the Lords

Some people have expressed surprise at my decision to support retaining the House of Lords in the forthcoming referendum on its future. Scrapping this unelected chamber has, after all, long been the dominant position on the left, especially the radical left.

But such people, who remain dogmatically committed to what is now an obsolete position, are making a serious mistake by thinking politically when what we need is some sound tactical thinking. So here are my tactical reasons for urging a vote to keep the House of Lords:

1) The House of Lords provides some protection against the worst ravages of a Tory government. It opposed cuts to tax credits, for example. It opposed a number of elements of the Trade Union Bill. Do you really want the Tories to have free rein with nothing to moderate their worst excesses?

2) Better the devil you know. If David Cameron loses the referendum, he will surely be forced to resign. Boris Johnson is likely to take over and he is worse than Cameron. So let's hold our noses and vote the same way as Cameron and Osborne - to keep the House of Lords - and avoid tilting the balance of forces in British politics further to the right. And imagine how awful Johnson would be if there wasn't even the House of Lords to restrain him!

3) Some on the left say the House of Lords is undemocratic so we must scrap it. Well, of course it's undemocratic, but so are lots of other things. We have a weak democratic system generally - what's the point of getting rid of just one element of that while leaving everything else the same?

4) We should aim to reform the Lords, not abandon our whole parliamentary system to a Tory majority government. This reform project may be tough, but I believe Another Westminster is Possible. Obviously I'm going to remain extremely vague about how the House of Lords might be reformed - given its lack of democratic accountability - but where there's a will there's a way.

5) Whatever its faults, the House of Lords is one of the things that - through its stability, continuity and air of social harmony - has guaranteed that there has been no civil war on these islands since the 17th century (try not to think about Ireland here).

6) It is true that in the 1970s almost the entire Left opposed the House of Lords. But it's different now. We've had the triumph of Thatcherism and the unions are much, much weaker than 40 years ago. We can't rely on the unions to fight the Tories. The thin shelter of an elite, undemocratic institution is better than nothing.

7) Let's be honest: it's fairly harmless, isn't it? It's not like the House of Lords was responsible for skewing a transnational currency system to the benefit of the richer nations, imposing savage cuts on poorer nations, smashing an elected left-wing government or allowing thousands of refugees to drown in the Mediterranean. Now if people on the left argued for retaining an institution that had done all those things, it really would be daft!

8) Some left-wing critics say that the House of Lords demanding that workers in Scotland do a 6-day week until they drop dead is a reason to scrap it. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

In summary: let's not be tied to outdated shibboleths and instead think tactically. Vote to keep the House of Lords - Another Westminster is Possible, especially if we keep things exactly as they are.



  1. Satire is exactly what is needed to deal with the obscene spectacle of the McDonnell/Mason/Jones circus. Well done! The spirit of Swift, Pope and Stern is greater than the Troika.