An apocryphal story (attributed to C. Northcote Parkinson) tells of a board of directors who had only two items on the agenda of their monthly meeting. The first was a proposed £100 million investment in a new plant that would be a make or break investment for the company; the second what colour to paint the bicycle shed at head office. The first was disposed of in two minutes, but agreeing the best colour for the bicycle shed took the rest of the afternoon.
However daft this may sound it’s pretty much the ranking of priorities Nick Clegg has chosen. For many liberals reforming the House of Lords is a spot that must be scratched. Fair enough – but how important is it in the scheme of things? I have seen no compelling evidence that its existing form is a serious impediment to good government nor that the proposed changes would improve decision-making in Westminster. Such evidence may exist but, if so, advocates of the bill have failed to make the case. If anything the evidence is to the contrary; there have been several occasions in recent years when I have been delighted that the Lords has, in effect, asked the Commons to reconsider some point and I remain to be convinced that a reformed HoL would have done as well. If composed largely of Westminster Village insiders (who else would stand?) it would be at great risk of succumbing to the waves of groupthink that periodically sweep the Commons. Hence it is no surprise that the comments on this LDV post suggest widespread reservations about the bill’s specific proposals even among liberals. In short, HoL reform remains firmly in the bicycle shed category.
In contrast the evolving financial mess and associated banking criminality are an existential crisis for Britain and moreover one that exposes the complete bankruptcy of Conservative thinking – not to mention how compromised some of their leading characters are. And where is Clegg? AWOL as far as I can tell.
Can we please focus on the things that really matter; things where we should be offering leadership.