Sunday, September 21, 2003
Placemen, Puppets and Toadies

The reform of the House of Lords is a constitutional change and would appear to sit uneasily on a weblog about foreign policy. However, the announcement that the 92 remaining hereditary peers would be removed without consulting the other political parties or consideration of the wider role of the House of Lords in our unwritten constitution, bore parallels with the government's attitude towards the European Constitution.

Although the nomination of new peers would be placed with an appointments commission, the power of the second chamber to defeat the executive would be removed as the governing majority, New Labour, would seek a near-majority to reflect the Commons. Would these Lords resign en masse if another party were to win a general election or would a non-Labour government face a House of Lords dominated by New Labour.

There has been a seachange in this government's approach to reform. In the first years of power, New Labour was cautious and unwilling to court unpopularity, although critics noted its authoritarian and antidemocratic style. With the Iraq war, the dam seems to have burst. Blair has found that he can use the power of his governing majority to attempt to skew the constitutional system in Labour's favour and adopt the European Constitution, by stripping away any remaining checks and balances on the executive, clothed in the agenda of the constitutional reformists of 1988.

There are some who would argue that Blair was willing to countenance radical change without respect for the constitution from the beginning of his administration. However, the battles over devolution and the bloody noses that he received from the Scottish and Welsh national Labour parties may have stunted his enthusiasm. The greatest brake on reform was his own unwillingness to court unpopularity and jeopardise re-election.

The Iraqi war and the Hutton inquiry has proved important as a political gauntlet for Blair. Despite his willingness to drag party, cabinet and country with him, the Prime Minister discovered that the Tory opposition was not invigorated and that Labour's standing in the polls remained steady.

Will Blairism rely upon spin any longer? The manipulation of the media will remain a hallmark of this government but Blair will prove more arrogant and more radical now in his willingness to promote the European Constitution and a gerrymandered legislature, brushing aside criticism or calls for public accountability.

His Jacob(in)ite march through the institutions will tread the BBC down next and, despite my misgivings about the Corporation, I would prefer the status quo to any reforms that this government proposed. Would one wish to see the BBC placed in the hands of New Labour with a new charter that allowed the government a greater role in Corporation policy?

(September 21st, 15.40)


Post a Comment

Blog Archive