Baroness Jay of Paddington Airs Her Views Again
The Daily Telegraph of 14th October 1998 published another attempt by Lady Jay to justify the Government's determination to eliminate the protection provided to the Constitution by the House of Lords, the second chamber of the British Parliament.
The noble lady, Lord Callaghan's daughter, leads the work of the Government in the Upper House and will lead the Government's efforts to neutralise its independence. (We examined her wish to have life peers "stripped of their aristocratic titles", and her professed keenness "to remove the elitism of the names used in the Upper Chamber", in the August issue of Baronage, and there paid especial attention to her meretricious imputation that the life peers have merit while the hereditary peers have none.) Here we shall look at her new gospel, sloganised as "Hereditary Peers are Illegitimate", and comment on it paragraph by paragraph. (Three unimportant sentences have been omitted without altering the sense of the text.) Then we shall review its fundamental flaws as they were identified in the correspondence columns of The Daily Telegraph.
|There is no evidence to show that a "large majority of people in Britain" favours "reforming the anachronism of hereditary peers". It is true that reform of the House of Lords appeared in the last Labour Party manifesto, but as less than half the electorate voted for the Labour Party this cannot be claimed as a "large majority".|
|An anachronism is a feature that is inconsistent with chronology. (If the noble lady takes up knitting to reinforce her Jacobin chic, that is an anachronism.) That the hereditary peers assist the House of Lords to work so effectively as a second chamber well illustrates that the hereditary peerage is not an anachronism.|
|Revived? The House of Lords is very much alive and, in its accomplishment, as "modern" as it need be.|
|"Many of the speeches in the Lords are erudite and acute." Those who listen to the proceedings in both Houses, or who read speeches from both Houses in Hansard, may form opinions consistently unfavourable to the House of Commons and then question why the noble lady and the Government she represents should be so enthusiastic about "reforming" the House of Lords.|
|Here, either the noble lady really does not understand what she is saying, or, regrettably, she is posturing, as a politician on the hustings, careless of meaning. Of course the House of Lords is legitimate. It has been legitimate for centuries. Hereditary peers know this. Life peers such as Lady Jay should perhaps attend an appropriate course on English history before being handed their coronets.|
|This charge of illegitimacy cannot be proven true merely by repeating it.|
|If hereditary peers assist the work of Parliament at the wish of the People, how can it be wrong in principle? (It is the People's Parliament, you know, Lady Jay, not the Government's and not yours. We suggest you read our brief explanation of how the People exercise sovereignty.)|
|In practice this is quite untrue. The Conservative Party may claim today to be the largest party in the House of Lords, but there is no majority over the remainder of the House. Moreover, if such a majority did exist it would be neither automatic nor necessarily permanent.|
|Are the Lords "blocking the democratically expressed will of the people of Britain"? We had not noticed. We thought they were doing a good job ~ pointing out the silly bits in badly-drafted bills, indicating where the Government was acting against the obvious wishes of the People, setting standards of quality in behaviour and speech, etc.|
|And now the noble lady is posturing.|
|Yes, it is something! The House of Lords sought to ask the Government to think again ~ because what the Government sought to do was either against the will of the people (as in the reduction of the age of homosexual consent), or the Government was arrogantly determined to be silly (as with the fourth-year fees at Scottish universities). And asking Governments occasionally to think again is not something Governments like.|
|The Labour Party's manifesto did not make clear its intentions for the House of Lords. It left them murky, as they are still, and as they appear likely to remain for a substantial time to come.|
"This radical reform" ~ how brave this sounds!!! And how novel!!! Yet it is only a repeat of what Cromwell tried to do (to "modernise") and failed to do.
The standing of the House of Lords tends to be rather higher, in the view of the electorate, than that of the House of Commons, and its legitimacy is unquestioned by the larger majority of the electorate.
As for "the renewal of the fabric of Britain's democracy for the new Millennium" ~ we cannot comment because we do not know what it means.
There are Conservatives with differing views on what modifications might improve the operation of the House of Lords as a second chamber. These differences reflect the views of the electorate, as the members of the House of Lords so often do (and more faithfully so than the members of the House of Commons). But those who hold the differing views cannot be described as "veering wildly" (well, anyway, not by any seaman's daughter who knows what veering is).
"... a constitutional outrage ..."??? (This is a bit thick, my lady. If you should force your revolutionary views through in defiance of the majority of the British people, then that would be "a constitutional outrage"! )
Something over 40% of the British people voted for the Labour Party at the last election. A majority voted against it. The "people of Britain" did not vote for any constitutional change that would enhance the already too substantial powers of the Prime Minister and those who surround him ~ as Lady Jay's plans are intended to do. And in a recent poll, only 11% voted for a straight abolition of the hereditary peers' rights.
So there is something beyond abolition of the rights of hereditary peers, is there? But it was said earlier that the election manifesto made the intentions clear, and they cannot have been clear, not really, if they are still secret, in Cabinet sub-committee. Or have we misunderstood?
Did Lord Richard, Lady Jay's colleague and immediate predecessor as Leader of the House of Lords and the minister responsible for its reform, also misunderstand? Just before he was replaced by Lady Jay he confessed, on the subject of the reform, "I have no idea what the Prime Minister's views are." Did the Prime Minister have any practical ideas then? Does he have any now?
"Lords reform is serious," says Lady Jay, "and we will not approach it in a manner that is not thought through." On the evidence presented here, the Government is approaching reform in exactly this manner ~ flippant, ill-prepared, emotional and dogmatic.
|So this is the plan ~ legitimise, modernise, revive ~ the three thoughtless stooges, three faudulent catchwords for a fraudulent programme. But the House of Lords is lawful, effective and alive. There may indeed be a case for amending its procedures and enhancing its powers, but this farrago of nonsense is not it.|
We have an electoral system which for many decades has offered only two major parties for our choice, plus a minor one that usually collects a significant share of the vote but an insignificant share of the seats in the House of Commons.
Let us now imagine an election in which one of these major parties (the Pinks) publishes a manifesto that promises lower taxes, higher welfare spending, an end to all war, a totally clean environment, a twenty-hour working week with hourly payrates doubled, and the modernisation of the BBC. The manifesto of the other major party (the Violets) promises blood, toil, tears and sweat, pay restraint, increased defence spending, and the continued independence of the BBC. The minor party (the Primroses) promises a bit of this and a bit of that and better education.
The Pinks collect 45% of the vote, the Violets 40%, and the Primroses 15%. This produces a working majority of 150 seats for the Pinks in the House of Commons. "This magnificent result, this landslide victory," announces the Pinks' leader, "is the verdict of the British people." The next day he says, "The Mandate of the British people has given us this huge power to do what we promised we would do. We shall sell the BBC to Murdoch."
"Oh, no!" is the collective gasp of the British people. "We didn't vote for that. We voted for lower taxes, higher welfare spending, no more war, nuclear-free zones, shorter working hours and more pay. The only practical alternative was blood, toil, tears and sweat ~ and we'd had enough of that."
"Aha," says the new leader, "but the Murdoch deal was in the manifesto. The vast majority of the British people voted for it. So stop moaning about the voting figures. Look at the number of our seats. This is modern democracy."
And that is what we hear for the next four years. The minority of the electorate who voted for the Government are described always as the majority, the Government's power is "the verdict of the majority" ~ and whatever the Government wishes to do is "the will of the vast majority of the British people".
Such blatant dishonesty, such brazen arrogance, such brutal perversion of a fairly simple truth, have together combined to diminish the public esteem of elected politicians to a level far below their fantasies. Hence, in part, their envy of and hatred for those who play a role in Parliament and yet do not lie to justify their legislative privileges, are modestly reticent in their rare media appearances, and are candid about their qualifications for Parliament ~ the hereditary peers. And hence, in part, the intuitive fear among the electorate that if the hereditary peers disappear, there will be no one left to represent the ordinary people.
Some of this came across well in letters to the Editor of The Daily Telegraph.
Anthony Walker noted that the peers ~
Paul Hardman commented ~
Adrian Weale wrote ~
Some correspondents thought very little of the intellectual quality of Lady Jay's arguments. Richard Graves thanked The Daily Telegraph for giving her a platform and made a strong point ~
Wynn Weldon offered a similar view ~
....... and signed off with an admonition ~
Campbell Gordon considered Lady Jay's confidence in overseas systems misplaced ~
This perspective on one of the institutions Lady Jay suggests she would like to copy was complemented by an observation and some difficult questions from Mrs John Buckland ~
But, obviously, Mrs Buckland may have missed Lady Jay's point. The incompetence of the House of Lords is not feared. It is the highly professional competence of the House of Lords that is the thorn in the Government's side. That alone is sufficient to damn it, but now, with the turn of the century almost upon us, Lady Jay is able to add that the House of Lords is insufficiently modern to be the fabric of democratic Britain's new Millenium Dome (or something like that).
Much of the criticism of Lady Jay's case came from correspondents who emphasised that they were not politically active, and made this obvious with very straight comment. Susan Bridge described herself as "a 44-year-old housewife and mother" and wrote ~
Why not? Answers sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org will be published.
Several commentators in columns, letters and e-mail noted (unfairly???) that Lady Jay is in the House of Lords because she is the daughter of a prime minister and the ex-wife of an ambassador who owed his diplomatic career to his wife's relationship with her father. She should thus, it was suggested by many, be accounted an hereditary peer or at least a peer by heredity. James Young commented ~
Linda Purse, also, was less than impressed ~
Harold Taylor feared for the future, taking the theme of Lady Jay as an omen ~
And Beryl Goldsmith summed it up neatly ~
Lady Jay on the abolition of the titles of life peers
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