Starmer Brings Back Labour Plan to Abolish House of Lords

Last week it was revealed that Keir Starmer intends to abolish the House of Lords. Before I go any further, I should say that I have no idea what he wants to replace it with. I caught a few seconds of a video put up by GB News or one of the other god-awful right-wing YouTube channels of a Starmer being laid into on this issue by Peter Hitchens. From the few seconds I saw, Hitchens was accusing him of wishing to make all the members of the upper house appointed by the Prime Minister. Hitchens stated that this would be undemocratic, which is absolutely right, if true. But the debate is also more than a little familiar. Back in 1986 or 87 the papers carried reports that the Labour party then wanted to abolish the House of Lords. I think they also plans to reform the House of Commons to make it more democratic, which would have involved giving more power to the speaker. Then there were Tony Blair’s reforms in the late ’90s and early part of this century.

Blair took on the objection to the House of Lords that it was an unelected, undemocratic anachronism. It is. It is, or was, a remnant of feudalism, the old medieval grand council in which the king or the prince was advised by the kingdom’s great lords. It goes all the way back to the witangemot, the council of wise men, in Anglo-Saxon England and similar feudal assemblies in the Carolingian Empire and other states on the continent. Such an assembly is outdated and against the basic principles of democratic representation. On the other hand, it had the advantage of being cheap. Or so I heard it said at the time these reforms were being mooted. The other argument, put forward by really reactionary Tories, was that the hereditary peers deserved the place because they were better fitted to it through centuries of breeding and education. Which is the old Tory argument that all the great civilisations had an aristocracy that cost them an election in the early part of the past century. I don’t think it’s a vote winner, but I’ve no doubt that Jacob Rees-Mogg probably believed in it. He started his career as an aspiring MP campaigning for the seat of a Scots fishing town. He proudly announced that he was standing on a platform of trying to convince the local people that an unelected, hereditary upper house was actually a great institution. Obviously he didn’t succeed, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the SNP vote didn’t increase in that constituency as a result.. Blair reformed the House partly by appointing some of its members, and subsequent Prime Ministers have done the same, so that the number of peers is now 800-odd, far more than the House of Commons and even the governing political assembly of the Chinese Communist party. The peers get an allowance for turning up, and so there have been scandals and accusations that many of them just stick their head through the door long enough to claim their cheque before zooming off to business elsewhere. And the opposition objected at the time that Blair’s reform was hardly democratic. He was denounced as a new Cromwell, who was packing parliament with his supporters, just as England’s Lord \Protector and the butcher of Ireland had done during the Interregnum.

The suggested alternative was to transform the upper house into a senate like America’s. It would still have the duty of checking and amending legislation, but would be elected. According to Private Eye, there was no real enthusiasm behind this idea. People didn’t want to have to go through another round of elections, and the lack of popular support for such a chamber would mean that only mediocrities would serve in it. This must have been the view of the powers that be, or something similar, because the plan seems to have vanished soon after.

.I believe that the current House of Lords needs to be cut down, and no, I don’t want membership of the House to be by prime ministerial appointment. But I also don’t see any point in reforming it radically. The precise nature of the House of Lords doesn’t actually bother me to anywhere near the extent that this country needs a return to the social democratic consensus pre-Maggie. Privatisation has failed, and the Tory welfare reforms are leaving people cold and starving. We need to renationalise the utilities and the railways, as well as the NHS, which should be properly funded. We needed to reverse the destruction of the welfare state so people aren’t left dependent on food banks and private charity to feed themselves if they’re unemployed or disabled. And we need to make sure working people are paid a proper wage for exactly the same reason, not to mention nationalising the energy companies so that people pay less for the fuel and electricity bills and aren’t faced with the decision whether to heat their homes, pay the rent or eat. All this is far more pressing and important than tinkering with the constitution.

But I think the mooted reform of the House of Lords is another example of Starmer wishing to emulate Blair. And Blair wanted to make Britain more like America. But our political system is different. It’s parliamentary, not presidential, and that does apparently affect the results of Blair’s reforms, including his changes to the judiciary. There’s a very interesting video of David Starkey explaining this, put up by the New Culture Forum. Starkey is, of course, a terrible old reactionary while the New Culture Forum are the cultural wing of the Institute for Economic Affairs, a right-wing Buxton Street think tank that wants to privatise everything Thatcher, Major and Blair haven’t already sold off, including the NHS. But Starkey makes a very good case for the incompatibility of British and American constitutional systems.

But most of all I’m afraid that this constitutional tinkering is in lieu of practical policies, that will make a real difference to Britain’s poor and working people. Such as the return to proper, socialist, or at least social democratic politics. Blair changed the constitution, but didn’t change Tory government policies. He just carried on with them once he was in power. In fact, he ramped them up and went much further in the privatisation of the NHS than the Tories had dared.

And I’m afraid Starmer will do likewise.

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12 Responses to “Starmer Brings Back Labour Plan to Abolish House of Lords”

  1. trev Says:

    There’s a lot more inequality and injustices in this country than the House of Lords. Sort out the dysfunctional and punitive Social Security system for a start, abolish Benefit Sanctions, scrap Privately run back-to-work scams.. erm.. Schemes, and certainly follow the Irish example of exemption from mandatory participation (in such schemes) by over 62 years old claimants but perhaps lower the age limit to 55 or 60, and let those types of courses be run by local authorities once more. Or replace Universal Credit with Unconditional Basic Income and close down the already obsolete and unnecessary Jobcentres. Create a 3 day working week.
    Build more Council Houses. Adequately fund the NHS and keep companies like Reed out of it. Pay people to do environmental conservation work instead of it being left to volunteers of charity groups. Stop pumping untreated sewage into the rivers and seas. ReNationalize Utilities and transport. Some ideas for Starmer just for starters.

  2. Mark Pattie Says:

    I do support the idea of abolishing, or at least slimming down the HoL. Didn’t Nigel Farage also propose it for Ukip in 2015? Other policy suggestions for Starmer: Renationalise NHS, energy, public transport, possibly even housing…, protect civil liberties/freedom of speech, stop polluting the fecking beaches. One more- proportional representation.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I can’t remember whether Farage was going to reform the House of Lords or not. It’s possible, though I wonder what his reactionary ultra-Tory base would have thought of it. And totally agree with you about the policies we need.

      • Mark Pattie Says:

        Farage was trying to appeal to the Northern, 40-64-year-old voter base with that one. Not the Simon Webb types (English nationalist, High Tory, 75-to-84, likely widowed) who would likely prefer Philip Davies for PM.

      • beastrabban Says:

        That explains it. Thanks for that.

  3. Mark Pattie Says:

    The reason I mention Philip Davies is because he is a very right-wing, anti-lockdown Tory and possibly former English Democrat. Right up Simon Webb’s spreadsheet tick list!

    • trev Says:

      I remember Davies, MP for Shipley, he’s a tw@t. Odd how Shipley shifted from predominantly Green at one time to Tory.

  4. Brian Burden Says:

    I agree with the final paragraph, but surely it shd be obvious that talk of the abolition of the Lords at a time like this is a diversion from real politics. I’m reminded of Labour right-winger Roy Hattersley’s trademark gimmick, which was calling for the abolition of public schools and demanding that the legislation involved shd be framed to prevent them being set up “in exile” on the continent. It was a convenient way of avoiding coming to grips with the more pressing realities of the day. If Starmer were talking about the restoration of the welfare state and the public services stolen from us by the tories under the banner of “austerity”, if he were even appearing on picket lines like Corbyn, I might take him more seriously. As it is, it’s just more chatter-fodder, more pie in the sky from a cynical career politician who, like the eunuch in the joke, has no scruples!

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