TALKING to Andrew Marr yesterday the hapless Sir Keir Starmer reneged on yet another of his leadership pledges. This time it was his commitment to abolish the House of Lords, having previously ditched his promises to increase income tax on the top 5% and bring rail, mail, energy and water back into public ownership. Indeed, Evolve Politics reported in November last year that Sir Keir had broken or rowed back on commitments from every single one of his 10 pledges.
When questioned by Andrew Marr on his pledge to abolish the House of Lords, an unconvincing Starmer waffled on about establishing a commission under previous failed Labour leader Gordon Brown. When pressed he said:
I’ve said we need to change the House of Lords. I stand by that.Marr On Sunday
Of course, if all he had promised was to ‘change’ the House of Lords, that pledge would be entirely worth ‘standing by’. But, Starmer’s promise to the thousands of Labour activists who voted for him was to abolish it. Of course abolishing would be a change, but it is clearly not the change that Labour under Starmer is considering. This is yet another blow to any credibility Labour under Starmer had left.
Earlier in the show Tory MP George Eustice had suggested that it was a “coincidence” that 16 of the most recent Conservative Party Treasurers who had given more than £3 million to the party in donations had subsequently been given peerages. Just to be clear, a coincidence would be if it happened twice. When it happens 16 times that is a pattern. In this case a pattern of corruption.
There really is little point in Starmer and other Labour figures railing against Tory corruption if they are unprepared to do anything about it. Labour support under Starmer’s insipid leadership has struggled to get above 35% even as the Tories have presided over a disastrous exit from the European Union and a Covid strategy to which the appellation ‘chaotic’ is something of an understatement.
It is a matter of record that Starmer won Labour’s leadership on the basis that, unlike his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, he was electable. Yet during 2017, some 12 months after his unexpected leadership election victory, Corbyn was polling in the range 41-43%. Corbyn’s approach to constitutional reform was uncompromising. In May 2018 writing in PoliticsHome, Kevin Schofield reported that a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn stated:
Jeremy has made clear we want to see the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber and that is well past overdue. It’s a basic democratic reform, it must take place. It’s absurd that we still have this undemocratic anachronism in the 21st century and when Labour is elected we will carry through that pledge.Politics Home, 23 May 2018
After the 1997 General Election Labour had a majority of 179, the largest Parliamentary majority held by any government in the UK since 1935. Labour was in a good position to do anything it wanted including flooding the House of Lords with new peers in order to do one thing: abolish it. Instead they brought in a reform that did little more than replace one built-in Tory majority with another.
Blair’s Labour government brought in the Reform of the House of Lords Act 1999 which abolished hereditary peers and replaced them with appointed peers. Conservatives speaking on the change said that it could lead to political cronyism. At the time people assumed this was a critique of the new system. In hindsight it was simply the Tories thinking out loud about their plans for the future.
The result of their reform has been to allow the Tories to use the House of Lords as a retirement present for former MPs such as Nicki Morgan. There are currently 177 former MPs sitting in the House of Lords, though to be fair they are by no means all Tories.
The House of Lords is entirely unelected. There are currently 784 members of the House of Lords, compared to 650 members of the House of Commons. It consists of political appointees and very often lately of failed politicians. Recent appointees include Tory party donor Michael Spicer, former party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin and Mr Johnson’s own senior adviser, Eddie Lister. It has an inbuilt Tory advantage. Despite being a pain in the backside to the Government during Brexit it regularly supports Government policy and seems to do little to defend the rights of ordinary people. It also includes as a matter of constitutional right 26 Bishops.
Some argue that it is an expensive waste, with peers often asleep during debates if they turn up at all. The average peer claims over £25,800 in expenses and allowances per year. One recent investigation also revealed that 15 peers had claimed an average of £11,090 each, despite not speaking in the main chamber during the 2016–17 session. It is the epitome of privileged elitism and the fact that Labour in power did very little to undermine this pernicious and anti-democratic institution tells us much about Labour’s view of the World.
For those facing poverty, Covid 19 and environmental degradation, whether or not a future Labour Government would abolish the House of Lords might, rightly, seem to be a bit of a distraction. But, Starmer’s appearance on Marr and his refusal to say that he would abolish the House of Lords goes to the heart of what a Labour Government under Starmer would be like.
It will not have passed by the owners of the press and media that Starmer has lied consistently to his own members in order to get their votes. It may be that come 2024 the Tories will be so out of favour that replacing one serial liar with another will suit the agendas of the elite who own and control the media. But what that means is that he will come to power with no discernible agenda of his own. He will promise nothing and that is precisely what he will deliver.
The more likely outcome is that come the General Election the elite tend to prefer their Tories in blue rosettes and Starmer’s prevarications will become headline news as one media outlet after another reminds us that Starmer couldn’t even be trusted to tell the truth to his own members, how could he possibly be trusted to tell the truth to the electorate?
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Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.