1990s >> 1999 >> no-1133-january-1999

Editorial: The side show

Reform of the House of Lords, changing the voting system, elected local mayors, these are the issues the politicians and media have wanted us to get interested in recently. But why, when a recession is looming, are they trying to get us so worked up about constitutional issues?

The experience of the three previous recessions since 1973 has taught politicians that they can do nothing to stop a recession coming. All they can do is brace themselves and wait for it to pass by. There is, however, one field where a government does have some power to change things—the constitution. The Blair government has been exploiting this to the full, in a bid to avoid losing credibility through appearing to be completely powerless.

The House of Lords is to be reformed. This was an issue when the Socialist Party was formed in 1904. At that time and for many years afterwards the Labour Party campaigned for the abolition pure and simple of the House of Lords. Like the Monarchy this is indeed an anti-democratic relic of feudalism which will have no place in a socialist society. (It may have no place in a modern capitalist society either, but that’s for supporters of capitalism to decide.)

Attlee, as pre-war Labour leader, once unwisely said that if he was ever offered a seat in the Lords he would call himself Lord Love-A-Duck of Limehouse. When the offer came he bottled out, and his son now sits in the Lords as the second Earl Attlee of Walthamstow. As a hereditary he may (or, it now seems, may not) be booted out by Blair and be replaced by some superannuated hack nominated by one or other of the main political parties who will still be entitled to call themselves Baron or Baroness.

As to electoral changes, the unelected but non-hereditary (which, apparently, makes it alright) Baron Jenkins in his Report commissioned by the government recommended a complicated hybrid system whose main aim would seem to be to give his party—the Liberal Democrats—more MPs. In the days when a spade was called a spade this would have been known as gerrymandering.

But this is to fall into the trap of discussing these constitutional reforms seriously. The fact is that they are completely irrelevant as far as the real, social and economic problems people face are concerned. They won’t make any difference to these, and they aren’t even democratic.

Blair’s battle with the Lords is a side-show that should not distract us from the real issue. What is required is not constitutional reform but social revolution—a change in the basis of society from class ownership and production for profit to common ownership by all and production to satisfy people’s needs. This is the only framework—which will end the privileges of wealth and not just of birth—within which the urgent problems of pollution, mass unemployment, transport chaos, a crumbling health service, social breakdown and so on and so on can be solved in a rational way.

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