THE HOUSE OF BULLIES; It Was Once a Chamber for Civilised Debate. but This Week, in Shameless Self-Interest, Labour Peers Reduced the House of Lords to a Brawling Wild West Saloon

Daily Mail (London), January 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

THE HOUSE OF BULLIES; It Was Once a Chamber for Civilised Debate. but This Week, in Shameless Self-Interest, Labour Peers Reduced the House of Lords to a Brawling Wild West Saloon


Byline: by Quentin Letts

THEY were still a bit creaky in the House of Lords yesterday, elderly joints not having recovered from Monday night's exertions.

A marathon debate there lasted for 20 hours and, as you may have seen from the photographs, their lordships had difficulty staying awake.

Grey heads drooped. Jaws sagged. Chins clunked on to elderly chests and then did that terrible jolting awake thing you sometimes see on suburban trains late in the evening, when the commuters are exhausted.

Had it been a Disney cartoon, the air in Westminster would have been filled with lots of zzzzzzzzzzs rising slowly to the gilded rafters.

The chamber's all-night sitting has received plenty of genial coverage.

We have heard how the bars stayed open past dawn; Tory peers Sebastian Coe and Julian Fellowes gave celebrity lectures to maintain morale; orderlies handed out aspirins like toffees to keep the ancients going; and beds were erected in nearby meeting rooms to create temporary dormitories.

One new peer told me that he slept on the floor of an office on a couple of cushions. Another said that the whips were dispensing toothbrushes and pillows. Thank you, matron.

Nastiness

The whole scene resembled Scutari hospital in the Crimean War, soon after the arrival of Florence Nightingale. What a hoot! British eccentricity at its greatest!

The trouble with all this jollity is that it has overshadowed something more sinister, namely the intention of the Labour Party that night in the Lords.

Not just the intention of Labour peers, either. Their conduct, or lack of it, left much to be desired.

They brought a tribal nastiness to Parliament's revising chamber, a place where enmities have previously been left at the door.

The House of Lords, once known for its courteous if fogeyish ways, was subjected to the novelty of snide remarks, partisan fury, raw sarcasm and debating silliness.

In short, the old place was starting to sound just like the House of Commons.

This is not progress. The House was kept up because Opposition peers were objecting to something called the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.

Already, at the mention of its technical title, I sense your own eyelids starting to droop. You are going the way of those snoozy peers.

But bear with me. This thing is jazzier than it sounds. The way it is being assailed in Parliament really does matter to our body politic. Be concerned.

The Bill proposes dumping 50 MPs from the Commons. That will mean redrawing constituency boundaries a little -- making them slightly bigger so most seats in the House contain the same number of voters. Good idea? Many would say so.

It would mean fewer expenses-claiming MPs needing to be fed, watered and staffed at Westminster.

It would mean a marginal reduction in a political class, which in the past couple of years has been widely disgraced.

We would have fewer little porkers squeaking at the trough. This would save us taxpayers [pounds sterling]12 million a year, or [pounds sterling]60 million over the course of a full parliament. Good, say the Tories and Lib Dems.

Anything that saves money is worth a look and here is a cut that the public would broadly welcome.

Along the way, it might also send out a signal to our political masters that they are not the most important people in the land. They are as prey to cutbacks as other public-sector employees. It's called sharing the pain.

Bad, says Labour, unashamedly the party of the professional politician. Bad, bad, bad -- it reduces our grip on power.

Labour knows it has been given grossly preferential treatment by the current electoral system.

Labour constituencies tend to be urban and, on average, have far fewer inhabitants than Tory ones. …

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