So Nick Clegg’s attempt to bring about the hundred year old demand to reform of the House of Lords is getting mixed reviews. While I agree Clegg is a man who looks increasingly desperate, badly needing to deliver a constitutional proposition, I deeply disagree with those who tell us reform of the outmoded way we govern ourselves in this country is not important and at the bottom of the political agenda.
The way a country runs its government is profoundly important in the way that government uses its power. The British system is deeply divided, not only encouraging, but positively demanding, tribal loyalty. This tribal loyalty, in turn, leads in turn to massive recriminations when governments cannot deliver what tribal loyalty demands.
It is this, I believe, which is to some extent responsible for Labour’s lacklustre performance at the present time in that Labour tribalism is seen to have failed. The recent local election results were not as good as they should have been, while Scotland, once Labour’s strongest heartland, was a total disaster.
What is more, tribalism suits the Tories far more than it suits Labour; the Conservatives are tribalists by their very nature. This is hardly surprising since the basis of our current system of government was laid down in the 19th century by Tories and Whigs, the latter being little different from the Tories at the time. When the Conservative and Liberal Parties emerged later, nothing changed in any profound way. Both Parties were upper class bastions of the rich until well after the First World War.
This is the system under which Britain is still ruled – tribal, confrontational and designed by and for the wealthy. With so many old Etonians and millionaires – Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Hague, Huhne (for now) and others – in the current Cabinet, you would be justified in wondering how much we have actually progressed.
It’s also a system which does Labour no favours. This, more than anything else, is why I think constitutional reform is so important. If we want a fair and equal society where social mobility is the norm, where state education is given priority and social cohesion is an accepted part of the political agenda, we need a broad-based and inclusive government. Of course there will be political differences and differing views on what needs to be done, and there will still be Labour, Conservative and Liberal-Democrats. We should, however, have a fairer and more open system so that we all work for the public good, not for our own tribal ends.
Most other European countries have achieved this. All or nothing, shout at your opponents until they give in rather than look for intelligent compromise is not the way other EU member states do business. Most also have better state social security and pensions systems, shorter working hours and arguably better education up to the statutory school leaving age.
Back to Britain. As far as the House of Lords is concerned, I find the idea that the second chamber of the Mother of Parliaments is appointed by the Prime Minister little short of abhorrent. This is patronage and is therefore open to less than honourable dealings. I will say no more, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
Given this, I am always pleased to see new thinking. Democracies, even, may be especially, one so in need of reform as ours, need thinkers, people who can see beyond the box and come up with new ideas.
I am therefore glad to see Ed Miliband has endorsed Blue Labour. The recent election results show Labour needs to listen and Blue Labour is, I believe, part of this process. However, In do have one word of warning. Labour should aim to appeal across the board and get away from tribalism. It is only by leading the way that we may achieve this. Britain will be better if, and when, we all become more open and less obsessed by narrow party interest.