Given all the dreadful things that have been happening – and I may comment on them in a later post – I thought it may be appropriate for a bit of light relief and, by popular demand, offer another caption competition. The picture shows Mark Stuart, Brexit Secretary David Davis and me in conversation. The picture was taken some time ago at a conference in Hull. I think it is a challenging picture for a caption competition, but whenever I think that I am usually proved wrong. As usual, the reader providing what in my view is the most witty and appropriate caption will be the winner. The prize will be a copy of Reform of the House of Lords. What greater incentive could one wish for?
I have now received copies of my Reform of the House of Lords, published by Manchester University Press. As explained in earlier posts, it is a short guide – the first in MUP’s series of Pocket Guides – to the different approaches to reform of the Lords. Those familiar with my Constitution in Flux may recall the four R’s – retain, reform, replace, and remove altogether – and these provide the framework for the volume.
I have just realised that at 86 pages it is the same length as my Voice of the Backbenchers – illustrated in my previous post – providing an analysis of the 1922 Committee. As a short, pocket guide, it is priced at £9.99.
Having just checked, it is doing well in the Amazon bestselling ranking – even better than when I last wrote about it – though perhaps I should not mention that. When I last wrote about it, it then plummeted in the rankings. All being well, its appearance will put it on a roll…
The 1922 Committee attracted widespread media attention when it was addressed yesterday by the Prime Minister. In my nineteen years of attending the 1922, it was by far and away the best attended.
The media coverage has encompassed the usual misreporting of the foundations of the Committee. I have previously posted a note on its formation. The Sun, Daily Telegraph and even the Parliament website continue to get it wrong. The 1922 Committee was not formed in 1922 and there is no evidence to link it with the Carlton Club meeting. It came into being in April 1923 when a group of newly elected MPs, led by Gervais Rentoul, got together to form what amounted to a form of self-help group. Its name – the Conservative Private Members (1922) Committee – reflects the fact that it was formed by, and initially was confined to, Members first elected in 1922. Only later was membership expanded and it became open to all Conservative private members and take the form that we see today.
For those interested, details may be found in my The Voice of the Backbenchers, published by the Conservative History Group in 2013, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Committee. I will be working on the centenary history. As a political scientist, I am aware of the value of being a participant-observer!
The issue of gay rights has come to the fore as a result of the PM’s plan to do a deal with the DUP to craft a majority in the Commons. The development occurs as I prepare notes for a short speech I am giving next week, looking at how attitudes have changed in the Lords. I have previously published a post on why the Lords voted by such a massive majority for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. As I noted then, attitudes have changed over the years since I entered the House. When I spoke in 2000 on the proposal to lower the age of consent, I was in a minority, notably so on my own side, but also in the House as a whole. The situation was notably different in 2013 on second reading of the same-sex marriage bill. Those opposing the bill constituted the minority.
Re-reading my speeches, there is nothing I would change in either. Both are relatively short – there was an advisory time limit in the 2013 debate – but that I think is a benefit, since it meant the key points were not lost. For anyone interested, here is the speech in the debate in 2000 and here is the speech I delivered in 2013. I am not sure if my speech in 2000 influenced any members – I received a good many congratulations, but mainly from those who agreed with me. I also got a few strange looks. One peer told me my speech in 2013 did influence how some peers voted, though the only evidence I have is a fellow peer who said that as a result of my speech he was not going to vote against the bill. Every little helps.
Attitudes on same-sex marriage changed markedly in the UK at the start of this century (and have done so more recently in the USA) and it was notable in the 2013 vote how some more traditional peers were voting for the bill. Every main political grouping in the House (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Cross-bench) produced a majority in favour. Looking back on the 2000 debate, I was struck by some of the claims that were made which today would sound outlandish and, in some cases, were simply factually incorrect. Popular attitudes have moved on. We have same-sex marriage and society has not collapsed. I believe it is strengthened.
Since the June 2016 referendum on membership of the EU, various supporters of remaining in the EU have called for a second referendum. They are perfectly entitled to do so. They obviously encounter opposition from supporters of leaving the EU, but what amazes me is how much a major obstacle to them succeeding in their aim is, well, themselves. The two campaigns in the referendum were an exercise in how not to campaign and those dedicated to calling for a second referendum seem keen to maintain this tradition.
To achieve a second referendum, campaigners have to win over others who supported leaving the EU or who by default supported that outcome by not voting. That requires some degree of political nous and subtlety. Both of these qualities are notably absent. You do not win over people by telling them that they are ignorant or deluded (or worse). The publication The New European has a headline: ‘When one person suffers from delusion it is called insanity. When an entire government suffers from a delusion it is called Brexit.’ This is pretty much par for the course.
Supporters of a second referendum rather jumped the gun by calling for one as soon as the result was known. Oona King had a short debate in the Lords calling for one. She said she wanted one when the negotiations were complete, but the way it was argued made it clear it was a reluctance to accept the referendum result. That now bedevils the case for a second referendum: it comes across as sour grapes, a reluctance to accept the outcome of last year’s referendum. The same applies when drawing attention to the fact that it was not legally binding or that there were no threshold or turnout requirements. We cannot apply rules retrospectively. People knew the basis on which the referendum was being held. The result was a majority in favour of leaving the EU. It was a majority of those voting, but that is what matters. Those who failed to vote by default supported the side that won.
The way to make the case for a second referendum is to start by accepting the result of the 2016 referendum. Then one begins to make a case for having a say on the outcome. One does that more by stealth than shouting it from the rooftops. One also does it by biding one’s time. If negotiations do not turn out as well as expected one does not say ‘told you so’ (some are in effect already doing this in advance) but rather take the line of ‘oh dear, but it is not necessarily too late…’. But all this may now be too late. Those arguing for a second referendum may have alienated those they need to win over to such an extent that the odds of them carrying the day may be too big to overcome. They really are their own worst enemies.
I drew attention in a previous post to my forthcoming book, Reform of the House of Lords. It is being published by Manchester University Press at the beginning of June. It is a short introduction to the functions, history and approaches to reform of the House.
I mentioned that the book is available to be pre-ordered and I have been gratified by some people tweeting that they have already ordered copies. When I checked on Amazon today, I saw that it ranked at just over 48,000 in the Amazon Bestselling rank. This may not appear to put it among the nation’s best sellers, but I am more than happy with that, not least given that another book on the Lords comes in at over 1 million in the ranking and another at over 3 million.
Watch this space…
The entries for the latest competition were notable for their quality. Despite being few in number, I had difficulty selecting a winner. The choice was between a speech that was effectively usable on future occasions – the sort of thing a Leader of the Opposition could keep to hand, just in case – and those that were specific to the current election. In terms of what a Leader of the Opposition could have said last month, Croft offered a brilliant contribution based on boundary changes (or absence thereof) as did seanjm72 based on the supremacy of Westminster. It is possible certain politicians may look at their contributions and think ‘Hmmm, if only…’.
However, I decided to opt for the entry by Gary Weatherhead on the grounds that he offered a more generic speech that could be modified by a Leader of the Opposition whenever a Prime Minister decides to call for an early election:
Of course, it goes without saying that the Labour party welcomes the opportunity to put its case to the British people and give them the chance to get rid of this wretched Tory government. Bring it on is our view. However, I’m afraid that we will not be able to support the motion today for the following reasons. The timing of an election should no longer be purely on the whim of a PM, with as little time as possible given to the opposition and the smaller parties to prepare our campaigns. If the government want to return to the ways that were in place before the FTPA was introduced, we are happy to work together with them to explore how we can repeal this anathema to our constitution. But as things stand, we will not give the Government a free and helping hand to gain party political advantage by supporting an instant and self serving dash to the polls. We have no issue with supporting a general election later in the year. There are several acceptable dates in September or October that would give all parties a fair and decent chance to start the election campaign on an equal footing. If this is not acceptable to the PM and her party, she is free to declare that she and her Ministers have no confidence in themselves and can thus force an election that way. If the PM is so keen to gain advantage, this is what she must do.
All three contributions demonstrate how an astute Leader of the Opposition could ensure that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act does not necessarily give a Prime Minister a free ride when it comes to an early election.
If Gary Weatherhead would care to get in touch, his prize will be in the post.