Our former intern Aled Jones reflects on his time in the Lords, and how best to work with Labour Peers on legislation
Some may fear that the end of Nick Clegg’s Lords reform debacle means an end to the importance of the House of Lords when it comes to the political agenda. They couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the importance of the House of Lords has never been greater.
Why? Well, as the Coalition government gets more desperate and more brutal, the Lords is going to remain part of our frontline as we protect the poor and vulnerable in our country. And to fight as hard as we can, it’s time to put pragmatism ahead of dogma. Instead of distancing ourselves from the Lords, it’s time to get closer.
When it comes to the important topic of Lords reform, given Mr Clegg’s rejection of some of the sensible incremental reforms being suggested (via the ‘Steel’ Bill), it is likely that we will be unable to do anything now during this Parliament. With the next few years set to see attempts to crush the foundations that our country stands on, it is time to see the current House of Lords not as we think it is, but what we think it could be. Instead of expecting the worst, we must look for the best.
So what exactly are the best attributes we must seek?
In the six months I was fortunate enough to work there I was able to witness some of the greatest triumphs of our current period in opposition. The Labour Party without the will to act is nothing, and I saw a plethora of people who were willing to not just act, but to fight for the worst off in our society.
And that bone-marrow commitment to change was coupled with a potent cocktail of knowledge and experience. In every area of policy, many of the Peers I encountered while working in the Lords didn’t just know the playbook, they’d written it. They come from every walk of life, and the rich seam of experience they can mine is a valuable asset indeed. Another area in which they excel in is scrutiny. Like political ferrets (or should that be ermines!), Peers often pick apart bills with forensic accuracy.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the Lords is the collaborative tint that colours every aspect of legislating, and which manifests itself in two particular ways.
The first signals a shift away from partisan politics, and a shift towards putting forward considered arguments within the chamber itself. Labour in the Lords best win when it is working with or building alliances with Crossbench Peers and individuals (‘rebels’ and otherwise) from other parties with a view to putting forward reasoned amendments.
Indeed, the House of Lords has been the scene of some of our greatest victories in the past year. On both Legal Aid and Welfare Reform for example, government defeats in the second chamber softened the Coalition’s jackhammer blows. Such victories were achieved in part through working with specialist groups – the other way in which the Lords excels. Opportunities galore exist to work with, inform and assist our Peers; and as this Parliament continues to remake the very fabric of our society, such collaborative work will become even more vital.
So we can go down two paths as to how those with a stake in politics treat the House of Lords. We can listen to all the arguments and instead of looking for the best in the Lords, expect the worst, distance our relationship and allow the government to run roughshod over the people of this country. Or we can look to the best, work together and realise that the choice isn’t between the chamber we have and the chamber we wish we had, but between what we have or nothing at all.
For Lords reform, the work will continue and the cause will endure. But in the next three years, ordinary politics won’t cut it in face of the Coalition’s extraordinary disdain for the British people. The goal of politics is to make hope possible, not despair convincing. So it’s time to save the arguments of the recent past for a future day, and to now work together with the House of Lords to ensure the government’s attacks do not go unanswered and that hope can rise again.
Aled Jones interned in the Opposition Whips Office in the House of Lords from March to July 2012. He tweets at @AledR. Labour Party Conference is hosting a fringe event ‘Working with Labour in the Lords’ on Monday 1st October, 5.30pm-7.00pm, Exchange Room 10, Manchester Central. More details HERE