For the past week there has been a lot of talk about a “constitutional crisis” following the House of Lords’ rejection of the government’s proposals for Tax Credit cuts. Although not directly affected by the proposals, I applaud the second chamber for doing what they are there for, holding the elected chamber to account and rejecting or amending ill-conceived legislation.
Most of the time the work of the House of Lords goes unnoticed by the public. They are often viewed as out of touch and unrepresentative. But every now and then the flex their collective muscles and stand up to the government of the day, in this case, forcing them to re-think the affect their draconian policies will have on ordinary working people. Rejecting the cuts in Tax Credits was not only justified but absolutely necessary.
The arrogance of the government on this issue is astounding. Their reaction to the Lords actions borders on the childish. One of the great ironies of the situation is that the Conservatives had an opportunity during its coalition with the LibDems to fully reform the House of Lords, but they rejected the idea. Now they want to rig the house so they get a majority! It is the kind of approach usually only seen in small children or dictators!
Let’s get a couple of things straight right from the start. Firstly, there is no constitutional crisis as there is no constitution, at least, not the kind of coherent and cohesive document you would expect. Instead, we have a series of conventions and Acts of Parliament, any of which can be changed or scrapped without the support of the public at large.
Secondly, our second chamber may be unelected, but they have proved once again that when the need arises they are not afraid to stand up to the more influential elected chamber.
The government claims that they have a mandate from the people. They have, after all, been elected. That may be so, but they do not have the support of the majority of the electorate. The UKs political and electoral system may be one of the oldest in the world, but it is not necessarily one of the best. The system is rigged to give a single party overall control, and if the Conservatives get their way it will be much more difficult for any other party to gain a majority of seats in the future. But that is a subject for another day.
The proposed cuts in Tax Credits is just one of a number of measures aimed directly at those who do not traditionally support the Tories. The government needs to be kept in check and for once the second chamber did the right thing. The Conservatives will no doubt continue to try to bulldoze their proposals through, seeking to pick on what it perceives to be easy targets. But they need to step back and take a good look at what they are doing to the country, to take off their blinkers so they can see whole picture. They also need to learn some compassion.
And until that day arrives, which I don’t think it ever will, we need to Lords to continue to fight for the common man against the outrageous proposals of the commons (an irony indeed!).