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Lords reform - Abolish the House of privilege!
"The House of Lords is an unbelievably undemocratic institution" and an "appalling system of institutionalised corruption".
So says Tim Farron, president of the Lib Dems in a recent interview. The Socialist wouldn't disagree with this analysis and it indicates how serious is the crisis facing the coalition government over its bill to reform the House of Lords.
The Lib Dems see the reform as a chance to vindicate their decision to go into coalition with the Tories, to be seen as modern reformers and to bring in proportional representation into national elections.
In this way they hope to salvage something from the electoral oblivion that they are currently facing.
However a rebellion of up to 100 Tory MPs voted down the government's proposal to limit the time for the passage of the bill to ten days and has forced it to withdraw the motion for two months.
Lib Dem MPs had threatened to derail the Tories proposed legislation on boundary changes - and could still do so.
Cameron plans to re-draw constituency boundaries to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and it is predicted the Conservatives could gain an extra 20 seats, with Labour losing seats.
This could be critical to the Tories' fortunes at the next election as Cameron was unable to win the last general election outright, even after 12 years of New Labour, unprecedented economic crisis and the debacle that was the last days of the Brown government.
Cameron and Osborne are under pressure from rebels on both sides, the possibility of the coalition falling apart and a growing challenge from the Tory right which will continue to develop over their demands for a referendum on the European Union.
The Lords can sometimes be portrayed in the media and by opposition politicians as less partisan than the Commons; the last chance to stop unpopular legislation as with the recent Welfare Reform Bill which was still passed after a brief rebellion.
However, it was revealed at the time that one in four Tory peers and one in six Labour peers have financial interests in companies involved in private healthcare. For instance Lord Darzi (former surgeon and Labour health minister) who backed the bill that laid the basis for the privatisation of the NHS, said that he did so speaking "as a surgeon not as a politician" whereas he was in fact speaking as an adviser to medical technology firm GE Healthcare!
More than 120 lobbyists, just under one-third of all staff working for members of the House of Lords, have Parliamentary passes allowing them to move freely throughout the Houses of Parliament.
The House of Lords exists as a bastion of wealth and privilege. Its defenders say it acts as a democratic check on the Commons but in reality it is there ultimately to do the opposite - to ensure that no government harms the interests of big business and the rich.
At this time of seemingly unending economic crisis and austerity, with massive public sector cuts and growing unemployment, it can be seen to be increasingly a symbol of the growing divide in society.
While David Cameron attacks the unemployed and people on disability benefits as wanting a free ride the real freeloaders are in the House of Lords.
The expenses scandals in both Houses of Parliament have caused a political crisis which will continue to resonate among ordinary people who are struggling to pay bills, keep their houses and maintain their businesses, etc.
A recent opinion poll for the BBC showed that only 23% of respondents backed the status quo on Lords reform, with 72% calling for a referendum.
The Socialist Party calls for the abolition of these unelected scroungers and we would support a referendum containing that option.
But this reform would only be meaningful with measures to make Parliament more accountable, including a democratic form of proportional representation, the re-election of MPs every two years and that they be subject to recall.
This would enable socialist candidates to gain a foothold in Parliament, creating the realistic possibility of a government that represented the interests of the working class and not big business and the rich.
The House of Lords reform proposals:
- Reduce the number from 826 members to 450
- 80% would be elected, the rest appointed by an Appointments Commission.
- Elected peers would serve one 15 year term
- The number of bishops would be cut from 26 to 12
- Parliament would choose a new name for members