Spot the errors…

As readers will know, The Independent has not exactly shone in its coverage of the debate about the future of the House of Lords.  It goes from bad to worse.  In today’s edition, it has a section on asking the big questions with Clive Stafford Smith providing less than big answers.  Here’s how he responds to the question ‘Do we need the House of Lords?’:

“This needs a full essay! In short, no, we should not have the “House of Lords” (an anachronism) but we certainly need a second elected house (called a Senate) that checks the populist nonsense that comes out of Parliament. The fear of democracy reflected by the political opponents of change is rather pathetic, given that Westminster is labelled the mother of parliaments.”

Readers are invited to see how many errors they can detect in the two substantive sentences.

As for The Independent’s grasp of the House of Lords, it illustrates the paragraph with a picture of senior judges (not even the justices of the Supreme Court) attending the State Opening of Parliament.  Note to The Independent: peers do not wear wigs.  If people in robes are wearing wigs, they are judges.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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8 Responses to Spot the errors…

  1. Jonathan says:

    At a push, if we are going to be charitable, the photo accompanying the article ( ) could be to cover some of the other questions, many of which are on legal issues. But the rest of it is rubbish. Even putting aside the detail, the yes/no answer is wrong. He actually means “yes”, we need the House of Lords, but it should be elected. The obsession with the name of the chamber rather than what it does just shows the reform is lead by people who want to turn us into a bland republic, a carbon copy of the many countries that have a “senate” and a “president”. If they genuinely wanted to “improve” the constitution, they would start at the beginning, decide what the upper chamber should do, how it fits into a country with increasing amounts of devolution.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: I think you are being overly charitable. The print version has a ‘bubble’ with a quote from the paragraph overlapping the picture, so I’m content to treat it all as rubbish!

  2. The Duke of Waltham says:

    Let’s see… 1) England is the mother of parliaments, not Westminster (the easy one). 2) I suppose he is referring to the populist nonsense coming out of the Commons, rather than Parliament as a whole, otherwise his sentence makes no sense. 3) “Senate” is no less anachronistic a term (and far older) than “House of Lords”; if it is not considered to be so, this is purely through association with bodies considered “modern”. Indeed, I understand that the original Senate was an appointed chamber!

    The rest seem to be fallacies rather than errors, like the equation of democracy with change and the assertion that an elected house will check populism.

    • Lord Norton says:

      The Duke of Waltham: Spot on. I think readers will already be aware of the fallacious nature of the argument. You have succintly identified the errors. Three errors in two sentences may be a record, but then again…

    • Rich says:

      I think asserting that an elected house will be a check on populism is more than merely a fallacy. Democracy, through elections, inserts populism into governance. Saying, “we certainly need a second elected house (called a Senate) that checks the populist nonsense that comes out of Parliament,” is contradictory. If one wants a second house that will serve as a check on populism, the best way to do that is through a house that is not elected. Giving “senators” 15-year, non-renewable terms does little to tame their populist impulses. The only way it does is by eliminating democratic accountability, which undercuts the whole reason for doing this in the first place.

      But then the proposals are so full of contradictions that the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Lords have contradicted each other from their respective dispatch boxes on whether the reformed House will be more powerful than it is now. For what it’s worth, I think the Lord Strathclyde has a firmer grasp on the realities of the conventions that exist between the houses than does the Lord President of the Council.

  3. Iqerkheperensa says:

    What about the idea that an elected chamber will or can put a stop to “populist nonsense”? Less an error than a contradiction, but I still think it counts for a fourth.

  4. George K says:

    Hasn’t the HoL already been damaged beyond repair by Blair’s government? Shame we got rid of the hereditary peers if you ask me.

    • Chris K says:

      I agree. Watching ‘The Lords’ Tale’ on youtube made me realise quite what we lost in 1999.

      Great name, by the way.

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