You’ll never get politics out of the Lords, and nor should you. The problem isn’t including politics — it’s excluding voters

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The House of Lords: not all that much more democratic than it looks. UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0.

Lords appointments have been something of a (slow-burning and highly secondary) theme over the past few months. A number of Boris Johnson’s appointments have raised eyebrows. Notably, the Lords will now include Claire Fox — a former supporter of the IRA’s terror campaign who remains unrepentant, and whose inclusion remains unexplained and suspect. A number of Jeremy Corbyn’s final nominations were rejected. And today, Keir Starmer’s choice of peers has also attracted controversy.

The appointment of Claire Fox is unusually egregious. Consistent commitment to our democratic process seems a pretty minimal requirement for life membership of our Parliament. (Even a show of repentance would be something.) But there’s nothing new about prime ministers appointing legislators-for-life for unedifying reasons. 58% of Margaret Thatcher’s appointments to the Lords were Conservatives, even in a chamber still hereditary-dominated and Tory-skewed. Controversy periodically dogged Blair’s Lords appointments. …


Sometimes you can say that once you’ve built a settled consensus. Otherwise, you’ll lose the debate you tried to spurn

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© Can Stock Photo / vlatko2002.

I only discovered Tom Robinson Band’s ‘Glad to be Gay’ a few years ago. I didn’t know the song was from 1978. With the blitheness of a gay man born in 1986, I assumed it was a high-camp affirmation and not my aesthetic at all. It’s actually a sharp, caustic protest, skewering the homophobia of 1970s Britain.

So sit back and watch as they close all our clubs
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs
Make sure your boyfriend’s at least 21
So only your friends and your brothers get done
Lie to your workmates, lie to your folks
Put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes
Gay Lib’s ridiculous, join their laughter
‘The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?’ …


Defending the Union is not the same as owning the Nats. Tory disdain for devolution post-Brexit endangers it even further

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Constructing a UK internal market needs time and attention too

Some nationalists claim the United Kingdom has no such thing as an internal market. Granted, it has no formal project branded ‘UK single market’. But its four parts have sent MPs to Westminster longer than modern regulatory states have existed. Britain built an integrated domestic market long before it joined the then EC. Until 1999, EU law played no specific role in preventing divergence. And the UK has an unusual lack of internal barriers for a large state.

When devolution arrived, a mix of reservations to the UK Parliament and EU law served to keep it together. That EU framework ceases to bind the UK from 1 January 2021, leaving our internal market vulnerable to erosion. …


The Cummings farrago exposes a government which doesn't grasp its own role

Wars give us enemies with faces. Coronavirus does not. Social media delights in both putting war metaphors up and shooting them down, but I suspect the lack of a clear enemy makes national cohesion harder. And as we start to talk about exit strategies, whose interests come first and when may well divide us further.

Dominic Cummings has, if nothing else, given many people’s fury a face. And many have written already about how offensive his conduct — and his disdain for explaining himself — has been. …


I used to be a convinced republican. I’ve concluded it’s more trouble than it’s worth

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The Crown of Scotland on display as the Queen opens Holyrood. Scottish Parliament, CC BY 2.0.

I’ve had republican instincts for a long time. A hereditary monarchy is inherently questionable if you’re on the left. The symbolism of choosing a head of state by inheritance challenges egalitarian values. As a constitutional reformer, the Crown seemed to be the apex of a system in need of reform from root to branch.

As I got older, I became an ever-lazier republican. And without quite noticing when it happened, I’ve accepted I’ve become a pragmatic monarchist. I’ll never be an enthusiastic royalist. …


Progressives should defend public service broadcasting. Flirting with the anti-BBC lobby has helped imperil it

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Hatgate: one of the more ludicrous pieces of anti-BBC hysteria.

For a certain sort of Brit, the NHS and the BBC have long been at or near the top of their list of things to be proud of about their country. They’re both big public institutions which everyone in the UK knows. Their existence speaks to some of the core values of the left. They show that not everything should be left to the market, shared institutions matter and public provision can be popular.

The BBC produces a huge amount of high-quality content of all kinds — news, drama and TV. It makes lots of stuff I’d never want to hear or watch, and quite right too: it’s not supposed to just appeal to me or people like me. But because it’s not driven by market imperatives, it produces things I doubt I’d ever get to see or hear without it. It provides common coverage across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — a pan-UK public arena. It supports local journalists around the country. It’s an enormous soft power asset for the country and a news source people in dictatorships have listened to in secret. …


The SNP should debate whether a separate Scotland should join the EU post-Brexit. But all their options are bad

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We often forget the SNP campaigned against the Common Market in 1975. But ‘Independence in Europe’ has been an SNP rallying cry for quite some time now. The European Union creates an unusually benign home for small states. To the SNP, the EU also promised continued economic integration with the United Kingdom after secession. The SNP claim that Scotland could carry on in the EU automatically was almost certainly spurious, but that didn’t stop them.

Brexit changes that. It makes the SNP’s political case more appealing, but its practical case harder. It creates sharper dilemmas for a separate Scotland. So it makes sense that some in SNP ranks are raising the question of Scotland’s future EU relationship. Most still back EU membership, including Nicola Sturgeon herself. Some look to the European Economic Area — the so-called Norway model. …


I knew Remain might very well lose the EU referendum. Truth to tell, for most of June I thought we would. I forced myself to believe we wouldn’t in the final week, a feat of denial I’m not usually much good at. I was coordinating Stronger In and Labour In activities in addition to a full-time job: I doubt I’d have had it in me to go through the last week of the campaign if I hadn’t.

I was, if I’m honest, more surprised by the campaign for a second referendum than by losing the first. It never occurred to me people wouldn’t regard it as final. Naively, in retrospect: equally Scottish and English myself, I should have looked north of the Border. Nonetheless, I never expected a second referendum to be held. I never thought it would be won if held. …


We’ve had three and a half years to make our peace with Brexit. Let’s make better use of the next three and a half

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In the last parliament, MPs who opposed a hard Brexit were in the majority and had real power. Sadly they squandered it, and now they have little or none.

There turned out to be no concrete option they could agree on. Theresa May’s Brexit was too hard for almost all Labour MPs and too soft for many Tory MPs. As a result, an admittedly Leave-tilted Brexit compromise fell, as did the prime minister who negotiated it. She was, predictably, replaced by a far more hardline successor.

Boris Johnson pivoted from No Deal in all but name to a Deal — abandoning regulatory alignment and dropping May’s promises on the Union. Then Tory MPs had to choose between Northern Ireland’s unionists and a hard Brexit for Great Britain. Meanwhile, referendum-sceptic Labour MPs were confronted with the price of their inconsistencies. As a result, a narrow majority emerged for a much harder Brexit. And thanks to last year’s election, that majority is now beyond doubt. …


Don’t disdain the voters if they focus on character and credibility more than any single policy. They’ve got a point

They say the first step to recovery is recognising you have a problem. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, just before Christmas, that much of Labour hasn’t got there yet. More strikingly, much of Labour has decided that it’s other people who have a problem instead. For some it’s the media; for others it’s Brexit; for still others, increasingly, it’s the voters themselves.

But actually, even if we ignore the truism that the voters are never wrong, they deserve more credit than many are willing to give them. And looking at the early indicators of why they demurred, the reasons seem thoroughly fair. …

About

Douglas Dowell

Liberal-minded social democrat seeks readers.

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