At the time of writing, it has been five and a half months since the nation woke up to a Tory majority in the House of Commons. Since then there have been riots, protests, name calling, egg throwing and Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been a busy summer, but we’ve finally come to rest in our allotted positions: the establishment on the right, the opposition on the left, with clowns and jokers left to fall where they may. It was all becoming so simple, so expected. Corbyn asks his questions, Cameron struggles to make himself heard over the laughter of his baying hyenas, and England finds itself merrily knocked out of another sporting competition. How completely and utterly dull. Until the House of Lords of all things started rearing its antediluvian head and forcing its way onto the front pages by defying the Tory government it is normally in such loyal service to.
For those of us who routinely forget the House of Lords exists, the tax credits vote was a surprising and confusing moment to process. An ancient, traditionally rightward-leaning body, a stalwart desert oasis of the mirage that is British democracy, doing something…good?
There can be no doubt that anything which puts the brakes on Osborne’s plan to skim £4.4 billion off his fabled deficit by stripping some of the country’s poorest working families of their tax credits is a good thing. Not only is his proposition cruel, underhanded and ethically bereft, it makes a mockery of everything the Conservatives claimed to stand for at the general election. Supporting hard workers; getting people back into jobs; the party of working Britain; the Tories who painted themselves as the nation’s security system are now breaking into our homes and robbing us blind while we’re out at the jobs they so badly wanted us in. Thankfully, the scheming has been waylaid for the time being, but as per usual it’s come at a price.
Lefties and liberals have spent recent days championing a House of Lords that has found the courage and fortitude to stand up in defiance of an act they see as wrong. And as fun as it is to watch the newly dispatched Lord Strathclyde – who resembles the world’s angriest teletubby – stomp about threatening barons, viscounts, bishops and the bloke who owns Next, none of what is happening is truly grazing the problem we face: the House of Lords should not exist.
Does anyone remember voting for Andrew Lloyd Webber? Anybody recall ticking the box for a lady who sells underwear, or two dozen peddlers of a religion that now represents less than half the nation? Me neither. Because we never voted for them. The decision taken last week, although it was a decent one and motivated (for once) by some semblance of humanity, was un-democratic and wrong. At no point should it ever become acceptable for millionaires and aristocrats to decide whether or not parents up and down Great Britain have enough money to feed and clothe their children. In fact, at no point should these people ever have any political say over how we as a people are governed. That is not how democracy can or will ever work.
Fortunately for those of us who think this way, the Tory party is currently demonstrating exactly what it looks like when the stroppy toddler you’ve just put in charge of your country throws its toys out the pram. The Conservative promise to reform the Lords should come as welcome news, but instead it’s simply a bypass in service of more flights of dubious democratic thinking. The Tories (nor any party doomed to rule over this backward little land we call England) will never rid our shores of the House of Lords; instead they’ll simply whittle away powers until eventually all we’re left with are hundreds of leftover rich, old men who can claim expenses for spare mansions or beachside villas outside fracking operations in Sudan (or whatever it is rich people buy nowadays).
Truth is the Lords would never have been able to touch George’s tax credits cuts if the boys in blue hadn’t lied about it in their election manifesto. But rather than deal with this frightening double standard, we’re forced to watch as the Tories step over the people they claim to serve and square up to the decrepit land owners we once cowered before. It’s a bit like Game of Thrones, except scarier, because it’s real.
Unfortunately, politicians lying and cheating their way into power will probably never be something that goes away, but what we can rectify is a system which still gifts decision-making powers to the rich and the privileged. A system in which hereditary peers and high street millionaires are somehow responsible for decisions which don’t concern them. You can say things have changed, you can say the modern House of Lords is a benign force with no real power, you can even say it’s an institution with no ability to make choices anymore. But last Monday they made a choice, one that – to those of us outside the 819 lucky enough to still call themselves ‘Lords’ and ‘Ladies’ – mattered a great deal. A choice they had no right to make. We should all remember that.
Featured Image: UK Parliament (via Flickr)