The House of Lords is more than just the upper house of Parliament. It’s the watershed separating the intelligent and knowledgeable from the stupid and ignorant.
Mary Riddell’s article in today’s Telegraph firmly places her into one of those categories, and it isn’t the first. Yet she’s reassured by the exalted company she keeps in the second group: ‘The House of Lords must change. On that, all three party leaders are agreed.’
I’m sure she’s right about that. ‘All three party leaders’ will agree to anything that will perpetuate the spivocracy of which they are both spawns and pawns. If they were told that the slaughter of every first-born male child would ensure their lasting power, they’d come out in favour. However, that wouldn’t make such an act any less monstrous. Nor does their accord on the Lords reform make it any less destructive.
Before even contemplating any constitutional reform, our three stooges and their champion Mary should try to understand the constitution. Specifically, if such an exertion wouldn’t overtax their restless minds, they ought to ponder what the House of Lords is, and what it’s for.
From the time words like ‘state’ and ‘government’ first crossed people’s lips, the best minds have tried to figure out ways of delivering strength without tyranny, liberty without anarchy and justice without oppression. Step by step, said minds realised that the best, probably only, way of achieving such ends is to have a balance of power wherein diverse interests are held in equilibrium, and no one political arrangement dominates.
No political system can exist in its pure form without degenerating into something unsavoury. Following Aristotle, Machiavelli argued in his Discourses that, when their purity is intransigently maintained, a principality turns into a tyranny, an aristocracy into an oligarchy and a democracy into anarchy. For a political arrangement to last, and for liberty to thrive, a state must combine the elements of all three known forms of government. A division of power, in which none of the estates feels the need to usurp it all, is a precondition of justice and liberty.
In modern times, it has been the English constitution that has best reflected the thinking of the greatest constitutional minds, from Plato to Aristotle, from Machiavelli to Montesquieu, from Burke to de Maistre. The hereditary upper house was there to balance the unelected power of the king with the elected power of the Commons, making sure the former didn’t degenerate into despotism and the latter into what Tocqueville called ‘the tyranny of the majority’.
The assumption was that hereditary peers would not by definition be beholden to political pressures – owing no favours to any politicians, they would act on their conscience, honed by England’s entire history of which they were an essential part. This assumption has been vindicated: our finely balanced constitution has produced perhaps the most effective, lasting and just government in modernity. And this is the constitution that the precursors of Riddell and her esteemed ‘three party leaders’ have destroyed by either championing or effecting the dictatorship of the Commons.
In the process they’ve shown that Tocqueville got it wrong: it’s not the majority that has dictatorial powers in an unchecked democracy, but the bureaucratic elite that rules in its name. It’s not the demos that governs, but manipulative self-servers who know how to trick votes out of the demos.
This situation suits Riddell just fine: ‘A nation that aspires to exemplify democratic standards cannot justify having hundreds of lawmakers selected by ministers or ordained by birthright.’ One begins to feel that IQ testing ought to be mandatory for anyone with access to a public forum.
A nation should aspire not to ‘exemplifying democratic standards’ but to justice, security from internal or external enemies, and equitable representation of people’s interests. ‘Exemplifying democratic standards’ at the expense of such desiderata results not in democracy but in spivocracy, but then of course Riddell can’t understand even something as obvious as this. To prove her intellectual failings she lumps together ‘lawmakers selected by ministers or ordained by birthright’.
To be selected by ministers, lawmakers have to curry their favour. Since our ministers are spivocrats, only other spivocrats can be appointed by them – that’s basic. ‘Birthright’, on the other hand, isn’t owed to anyone’s fickle affections – those put by virtue of their birth in a position to judge laws can do so freely and without careerist fears.
However, the hereditary House of Lords has already been destroyed, and with it the constitution that made it essential. It doesn’t matter one iota whether the Lords is an elected or appointed house: in either case, it falls victim to constitutional sabotage. Perhaps an argument can be made that an appointment for life, or a fixed long term, may enable a member to disengage himself gradually from his original patrons. One suspects this unproven argument reflects the thinking of the 100-odd Tory MPs set to vote against the current bill – the right vote for the wrong reasons, in my view.
Still, Mary Riddell must be complimented on her enviable consistency. Having floated from the leftwing Observer to the supposedly conservative Telegraph, she hasn’t changed her views one bit. In all fairness, she hasn’t had to: her boundless commitment to ‘democracy’ is the cross-party flavour of the century. I think next she ought to give serious thought to the desirability of extending voting rights to babes-in-arms and also possibly to members of other species. That’ll keep her busy.
Meanwhile, strain your memory to remember the last time you were oppressed by aristocrats. Then recall the latest act of oppression perpetrated by our ‘democratic’ government, so beloved of Mary Riddell. Then write to TheTelegraph suggesting that she be kicked back where she comes from: The Observer and TheGuardian. Species should thrive in their natural habitat.