The arch-secularist’s proposal for the House of Lords harks back to a time when the Church of England had bite
Richard Dawkins is at it again. He says he wants the bishops out of the House of Lords, which is not a complete surprise. The novelty is that he wants them replaced with elected members of the secular professions instead: philosophers, doctors, scientists, academics and so on.
“Replace bishops in Lords by representatives elected by Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, RA etc” he tweeted, and suggested “The Noble Lady the Member for the Royal Society of Literature”, “the Royal College of Nursing”, “For Oxbridge”, “For the Police Federation”.
The electorates, of course, would be the other members of these professions, not the vulgar public. “Commons electorates are limited to geographically resident adults. My proposed Lords electorate would be limited to non-geographic elites.“
This is how things were still run when he was born: the MPs elected by members of the universities were only abolished in 1948. They were handed out in a deliciously establishment way: Oxford and Cambridge had two seats each, London one, as it was almost a proper university, and seven provincial establishments had two more seats shared between them.
The Attlee government abolished them on simple democratic reasoning: it was wrong for the privileged to have two votes, one for a geographical constituency and one for an elite, non-geographical one. When you think about it, a wholly hereditary House of Lords may be less of an offence against democratic principles, as its members are in effect chosen by genetic lottery. It may not be egalitarian, but at least no one has a vote in their selection, rather than some people having more votes than others.
Of course, only a tiny minority of people are egalitarian about subjects they actually understand. “Elitist” may be a boo word among Guardian readers, but “populist” is an even worse insult here. Quite right too.
The undemocratic and inegalitarian features are precisely what makes Dawkins’ proposal attractive. We want scientific decisions to be made by properly qualified scientists, decisions about prison policy to be made by properly qualified criminologist, good teachers to run education and so on. And I don’t think that the argument from democracy – that seemed to powerful in 1948 – would work nearly as strongly now.
But there are still two things to be said about Dawkins’ proposal. The first is that it shows how very Anglican and reactionary his style of secularism is. Back when the establishment of the Church of England had bite (roughly, the mid-19th century) you had to subscribe to certain theological opinions to be part of the governing elite.
What Dawkins wants to revive is the Victorian establishment, with the theological polarity reversed. “Yes. Some Christians do good. So what? Does that make their supernatural beliefs true? Let’s get our priorities right”, he tweeted. Correct beliefs again become more important than correct behaviour. That philosophers or members of the British Academy may suppose one another entirely mistaken about almost everything does not seem to worry him. They are after all the right sort. That, too, is rather Anglican.
There is a more important criticism, however. He tweets as if Margaret Thatcher had never lived. One of the central parts of her legacy is that she broke the power of the establishment that Dawkins wants to re-enfranchise. The prime minister now cares far more for the opinions of the Daily Mail than of the Times. I am entirely with Dawkins in deploring this but what do our opinions matter? There is nothing sillier in the world than a romantic conservative. If you are going to deal with power, you have to recognise first where it is and what it wants. The last thing that power wants in the world today is to be told what to do by a bunch of pointy-head intellectuals, chosen by others whose heads are all pointed the same way.
Website Design and Video Platform for Parliament
The UK Parliament (the Authority) intends to launch a new online video platform displaying all procedural and some non-procedural video and audio content. The new platform will replace the existing parliamentlive.tv website. Read more…
Lords highlight policy failures over aging population and advise pensions review in raft of adaptations to older ‘customers’
Britain is “woefully under-prepared” to cope with an expected explosion of older people and ministers need to respond by raising the retirement age and tackle the costs by reviewing pensioner benefits, a House of Lords inquiry concluded.
A special committee of peers blamed successive governments for their failure to tackle policy issues generated by the ageing population, warned that the biggest threats are to already stretched health and social services, and proposed a raft of new policies to help people cope.
Led by Lord Filkin, the group did not put forward a specific timetable for increasing the state pension age – already set to rise from 60 for women and 65 for men, to 66 in 2020 and 68 by 2046 – but the body did cite recommendations made by Lord Turner, chairman of the pensions commission, who had said the threshold could rise to 70 by 2030.
Controversially, the peers also suggest a review of pensioner benefits, which currently include free public transport and TV licences for the over-75s, plus help with heating bills – universal schemes that critics claim waste money as many pensioners are relatively wealthy.
“Age is no longer a good indicator of people’s needs or income, so the government should review whether age alone is a sensible determinant for tax liability, access to services or benefits,” the group said, a few days after the business secretary, Vince Cable, queried whether it was appropriate for pensioners like him to benefit from winter fuel payments.
The peers also recommended that a simple and trusted scheme be created to allow retirees to sell equity in their homes to pay for old age, a review of universal pensioner benefits, and a massive shift in NHS spending from acute and emergency care to keeping older people out of hospital.
Unless all parties develop clear manifesto positions and the next government acts urgently to address the problems, “this boon could turn into a series of miserable crises”, adds the report. “This is not a distant issue: our population is older now and will get more so over the next decade.”
The wide-ranging inquiry heard startling evidence about the scale of the demographic change coming. Between 2010 and 2030 there is expected to be a 50% increase in people aged 65 or older, and a doubling of people aged 85 or older.
The consequences are predicted to be a 50% increase in people with arthritis, coronary disease or strokes, and an 80% rise in people with dementia to nearly two million.
As well as the pressure on the NHS and public funding for social care, in two decades there would be a doubling in the number of households where disabled elderly people needed informal care from their relatives or friends, said the committee, which will now be disbanded.
“The challenges are by no means insuperable, but no government so far has had a vision and coherent strategy,” says the document, which specifically criticises ministers for rejecting calls for government to take a broader view.
“When you ask what’s the plan to address this changing pattern and need, [the reply] is essentially ‘we don’t believe in top-down Stalinist control’,” Filkin told the Guardian. “That’s a completely false dichotomy … we need some sense of vision, a framework.”
To support people who want to work for longer, and those who care for relatives, employers and the government must also make sure they have more flexible working hours and pensions, and offer retraining, say the peers.
“By 2030, men aged 65 in the UK will expect to live another 23 years, to 88, and women another 26 years, to 91,” adds the report. “People should therefore be enabled to extend their working lives if they wish to do so, as a vital part of the response to increased longevity.”
Other recommendations include radical changes to the NHS and social care, including a proper integration of their structures and budgets, and a 10-year budget so that they can plan ahead.
The advice is also for pressure on the pension industry to make the majority of defined contribution pensions easier to understand so that people get a better idea of what income they will retire on and be able to save more if needed.
Floristry Services to the Houses of Parliament
The House of Lords and the House of Commons (the Authority) requires a Contractor to provide a wide range of high quality fresh cut flower displays and plants for use within banqueting and dining room events, special occasions. Read more…
Lib Dem cautions against triumphalism and says London can no longer be expected to support rest of the country
Nick Clegg has cautioned against the triumphalism displayed by the prime minister over last week’s economic growth figures, warning that the recovery will be “fitful” and that London will no longer “bail out” the rest of the country.
David Cameron taunted Labour in parliament that the good news would keep on coming, as GDP figures for the third quarter of the year revealed that the country had emerged from recession.
However, speaking to the Observer, the deputy prime minister voiced a contrasting message over the 1% bounce in growth, which was helped by spending on the Olympics, insisting that politicians would be unwise to dwell on one set of statistics.
He further warned that the UK needed to move on from a “clapped out” system where tax receipts from London and the south-east were used to subsidise the rest of the country.
Clegg, who is a Sheffield MP, said his city had been one of the areas to have become over-reliant on wealth created in London: “I think any politician or economist who over-relies on one quarter’s statistics is being unwise.
“I have always said our recovery is going to be slow. It is part of a long healing process; it is part of a complex rebalancing process and the recovery is going to be fitful.”
The Liberal Democrat leader added: “Basically, what we are doing is nothing short of replacing a clapped-out model of growth which over-relied on one square mile, the City of London, generating huge tax revenues which were then recycled to the other hundred thousand square miles around the country.
“That worked fine as long as the goose was laying the golden egg. That came to a crashing halt in 2008, and I think that’s why it is so important to understand that we can’t just put Humpty Dumpty back together economically.
“Yes, we need to fix the finances. Yes, we need to fix the banks and all sorts of things, but actually what we need to do above all is find a new model of sustainable balance where you are not over-relying on one part of the country to fund what are, in effect, bailouts for the rest of the country.”
Clegg made his outspoken intervention as he prepared to launch a second wave of deals on Monday in which power and money will be devolved to major and fast-growing cities in an attempt to build an economy less reliant on the City of London’s financiers.
In the last round, in July, eight cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester – negotiated the transfer of transport and skills budgets, along with additional powers to borrow on their future tax receipts.
Clegg, who has been working closely with Greg Clark, the financial secretary to the Treasury, on the project, will announce that 20 further cities will now compete for similar deals, although they will have to propose innovative methods to improve their local economies in order to win the new powers. In Manchester, for example, the local authority has struck a deal that allows it to keep a proportion of the tax receipts earned from the infrastructure investments it drives forward and funds.
In forthright comments, Clegg said that in the recent past large swaths of the country gave the impression of prosperity, but had in reality been “kept afloat through a massive transfer of public subsidies”. Today, Clegg warns, this is not even an option. He said: “That merry-go-round has stopped, and so anyone in power has to make sure that areas outside London and the south-east can stand on their own two feet.”
Clegg said he was in a rush to make the changes, describing devolution of power and cash as the preeminent constitutional reform that he hoped to make, following failure of the AV referendum and reform of the House of Lords.
He said: “I don’t just see it through the economic lens, but I also see it from my perspective of constitutional reform because, while of course I have been bogged down in constitutional reform in terms of how to reform Westminster, voting systems and the House of Lords, my ambition is that the biggest constitutional reform of all this government will leave behind is a radically decentralised country, where I want to see by 2015 every area of the country more empowered than they were … in 2010.”
Your article (Muslim sect hounded in Pakistan warns of UK threat, 8 October) states that I attended a meeting of Khatme Nubuwwat in Luton in July. This is true – but it is incorrect to suggest that I automatically support the views of my hosts at any meeting which I attend.
As a Muslim peer I am regularly invited to attend meetings on numerous topics, and try to get to as many as time permits. In this case, a meeting was being held by supporters of Khatme Nubuwwat. However, when I was given the opportunity to speak, I repeated the strong message which I deliver at meetings across the country – that in favour of tolerance and in opposition to sectarianism and hatred both within and between religions.
It has always been my belief that it is for an individual to choose what to believe in. Britain is a multi-faith, multicultural society and there is no room for hatred. This is the message I will continue to deliver at meetings, even when I disagree with others present.
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
In simultaneously seeking to assert a classically Liberal identity for his party while pledging his continued allegiance to the coalition project, Nick Clegg unwittingly exposes the fundamental delusion that underpins Liberal Democrat thinking: the fantasy that a compassionate and enabling social order can be built on the foundations of long-discredited rightwing economics.
The Liberal ideal of freedom is a fine thing for those who have it. For the rest of us to come within shouting distance of such freedom – to move beyond Clegg’s limp “freedom to be who you are” to the opportunity to become who we might be – requires not more Orange Book laissez-faire and privatisation, but a government prepared to wrest back control from the markets and the rent-seekers, to assert and convince the electorate of government’s legitimate rights and obligations in such areas as education, healthcare, welfare and investment in and oversight of what used to be called the commanding heights of the economy.
Given the overwhelming evidence of the failure of the market project of the last 30 years, it shouldn’t be that hard, but clearly someone like Clegg, who cannot make the most basic connection between an abstract concept of freedom and the policies needed actually to achieve it on behalf of the majority, can never be part of the programme.
In 1821 Liberal basically meant not Tory; if it means anything at all today, it means more or less Tory.
• Nick Clegg’s was almost the worst leader’s speech I have heard in nearly 50 years of listening to Liberal and Liberal Democrat leaders. He has signed his own political death warrant. It may take some time before he has to go, but what is now frightening is his apparent determination to take the rest of us down with him. To call Jo Grimond in evidence was a disgrace. Clegg’s gunfire is turned on his party.
Lib Dem, House of Lords
• I have been a member of a joint Labour-Lib Dem administration on Berkshire county council and before the 1997 election ran an organisation called Linc (Labour initiative on co-operation) set up to promote co-operation nationally between Labour and the Lib Dems. I wrote a pamphlet called What’s the Beef?, showing that there was, then, a high degree of overlap between the two parties’ policies.
But I have to say that today, all the Lib Dem MPs, including those who appeared on Linc platforms, having trooped loyally through the lobbies since May 2010 to support Michael Gove’s dismantling the principle of local democratic responsibility for education which dates back to 1870, Andrew Lansley’s determination to hand the NHS over to the private sector, and Iain Duncan-Smith’s plans that will make tens of thousands of families homeless and destroy the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of disabled people, I have to question whether any of those MPs are properly described as part of a “progressive majority” (Martin Kettle, Guardian, 27 September).
The challenge after the 2015 general election will be, rather like that after 1945, to build, on the wreckage the Tories have left and, in a period of austerity, a new welfare state fit for our times. That’s a task for real progressives, not people emerging from five years self-imposed exile on Planet Osborne and pleading for a second chance.
• Polly Toynbee’s mocking comment (27 September) that Clegg reprised his “scare-mongering Greek comparisons” speech at conference, seems to have backfired on her quite spectacularly. Can I suggest Ms Toynbee stays in more andwatches the news channels, which this week have covered the Greek people protesting at the punitive conditions attached to the next tranche of bailout funds imposed by the global bondholders and banks. Or does Ms Toynbee still believe such a financial meltdown couldn’t have happened here, especially if the sainted Ed Balls were chancellor? I, for one, would not like to have taken the risk of some similar financial disaster happening to the group of people, [in which I include myself ] who Ms Toynbee claims to support and speak for.
• Sensible stuff, mostly, from Martin Kettle on future Lib-Lab co-operation – but Jack Straw is the last man we Lib Dems would work with. Moderniser and reformer? Head undertaker, more like, in the New Labour graveyard of civil liberties, Lords and party funding reform – and saboteur-in-chief as home secretary of Roy Jenkins’ commission. That was our best chance since 1931 of real voting reform to bridge the divide on the progressive side of British politics.
Lib Dem, House of Lords
• It’s not so much that they’re sorry, rather that they haven’t a clue.
Dr Quentin Burrell
Ballabeg, Isle of Man
Indeterminate sentences for public protection were introduced by David Blunkett in 2005 for 153 specific violent or sex crimes of varying seriousnesss (Strasbourg judges attack ‘open-ended’ prison terms, 19 September). Judges set a minimum prison term (tariff) for each crime, but could not set a release date. This was the Parole Board‘s job after viewing how well the prisoner had “addressed his/her offending behaviour” – usually by means of cognitive behaviour therapy courses intended to “cure” anti-social or criminal behaviour. But Blunkett forgot to finance or staff these courses adequately and the Parole Board was notoriously risk averse, releasing only 4% of all IPPs awarded each year.
So queues swelled of prisoners going past their tariff dates. Numbers grew from 434 in 2005 to 4,461 in 2008 – when the law was changed to ensure fewer IPPs. But by June 2012 there were 6,078, with 3,531 beyond tariff – with no clue when they might be released. This causes extreme worry and anguish to both prisoners and their loved ones; children suffer, families disintegrate. IPPs were finally scrapped by Ken Clarke in May this year, but are now defended by his replacement, Chris Grayling – and judges are still awarding them. Shame on this country that it has taken the European court of human rights to condemn this legal lottery.
• Ken Clarke says (20 September) his justice and security bill‘s proposed secret hearings would be an improvement on current practice. “National security material”, as yet undefined in scope, would be heard by the judge, unseen by claimants, though “an independent advocate will represent them and be able to challenge it”. But how effective can such a challenge be if the advocate cannot take proper instructions from the claimant? And why is it that the independent advocates themselves, all distinguished lawyers with security vetting, reject his plans. Clarke says if his proposals are opposed from both right and left they are probably correct. The alternative view is that they are probably wrong.
Labour justice spokesman, House of Lords
The letter (13 September) from John McArdle and Dr Stephen Carty of the Black Triangle Campaign attacked Unum’s reputation. At Unum we are proud of the work we do to protect the income of and provide support to people with long-term illnesses or injuries that prevent them from working. The financial protection we offer continues until they either recover and are able to return to work, or until they reach retirement. We also offer rehabilitation support to those returning to work after a long-term illness. Unum is committed to improving the understanding of the factors that influence health, illness, recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. That’s why we took part in the International Forum on Disability Management at Imperial College London. We work hard to protect the incomes of more than 1.9 million people in the UK. We are proud to have paid out more than £5m a week in benefits to our customers last year.
Chief marketing officer, Unum UK
•?Lack of representation of disabled people in the House of Commons (Disabled people need a voice in parliament, 12 September) and at cabinet level offers a very good illustration of the shortcomings of recent proposals to reform the House of Lords. White middle-aged males dominate both houses, but in the upper house the appointments system has been used to some effect in helping to redress the balance and increase the franchise for neglected minority groups. As reference to Hansard over the past two years will show, I and disabled colleagues who are life peers take very seriously our “mandate” to promote and defend the rights of disabled people, and our voices are heard. While the Lords is clearly in need of reform and downsizing, proposals for a directly elected chamber will worsen the representation of the 11 million disabled people in this country.
House of Lords
Nick Clegg rejected changes to the House of Lords proposed by the former Liberal leader Lord Steel of Aikwood
David Cameron should scrap a planned vote to reduce the number of MPs by 50, Nick Clegg said as he accused the Conservatives of failing to uphold the coalition agreement on House of Lords reform.
In a statement to MPs after abandoning plans to reform the Lords last month, the deputy prime minister also rejected out of hand modest changes to the upper house proposed by the former Liberal leader Lord Steel of Aikwood.
Clegg briefed MPs on the government’s decision to shelve reform of the House of Lords after attending a meeting of the “quad” group of senior ministers – himself, the prime minister, George Osborne and Danny Alexander – to discuss the government’s new plans for economic growth. The deputy prime minister told MPs that abandoning Lords reforms has opened up space in the parliamentary programme for bills to provide £40bn to guarantee infrastructure projects and £10bn for new house building.
Clegg said: “The prime minister and I will be making some announcements shortly on how we will use this opportunity of a gap, an unexpected gap in the legislative timetable, in order to push forward things which will help to create growth and jobs in our economy.”
The deputy prime minister also spoke to the prime minister last week about Lib Dem appointments in tomorrow’s ministerial reshuffle. David Laws, former chief secretary to the Treasury, is expected to return to government as an education minister. Whether he can have a roving brief across general government policy in the Cabinet Office is under discussion. Jo Swinson, Clegg’s parliamentary private secretary, is also expected to be promoted.
Clegg hopes the return of Laws will strengthen his team in government amid unease in the party about his leadership. Lord Oakeshott, the party’s former Treasury spokesman in the Lords who is a close ally of Vince Cable, called last week for Lib Dems to consider a change in “strategy and management”.
Senior Lib Dems are saying Cable, who let it be known over the summer that he would be available if Clegg stood down, is “on manoeuvres”. The business secretary’s case is helped by a poll in the Independent which shows the party would enjoy a four point bounce if he became leader. The ComRes/Independent poll put support for the Lib Dems at 14% under Clegg. When respondents were asked how they would vote if Cable were leader, this increased to 18%.
Clegg showed his impatience with Oakeshott when he joked to MPs that he wished the peer would retire. “Having seen the coverage of the views of one or two members of the other place from my party, I can think of one or two I hope would take early retirement,” he said.
But he also hit out at the prime minister as he said the Lib Dems are no longer bound to support government plans to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 MPs because of Cameron’s failure to deliver sufficient Tory support for Lords reform. The plans are on the statute book but cannot be implemented until there is a final vote in the Commons.
Clegg was asked by John Spellar, a former Labour defence minister and a scathing critic of the Lib Dems, how the plans to shrink the Commons could remain on the statute book. Clegg responded: “The primary legislation remains in place. There is clearly – it is not rocket science this – no agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat parties in the coalition agreement to repeal that primary legislation. So it stands. I happen to agree with him that, given that the final vote is a foregone conclusion, we might as well not push it to a vote.
“But, perfectly understandably, other members of the government want to push it to a vote. I have made it crystal clear what my position and that of my Liberal Democrat colleagues will be when that vote occurs.”
Clegg was scathing about Lord Steel’s proposals. These would extend a voluntary retirement scheme, require expulsion of peers convicted of criminal offences and those who do not not appear in the house. He said: “Any scrutiny of that draft bill will show that it will barely trim at the margins the size of the House of Lords. By its own reckoning it doesn’t actually do what it purports to do: which is to dramaticallyt reduce the size of the House of Lords. While I have a great deal of respect for the considerable amount of time and effort Lord Steel has put into this, my own view remains that there is no surrogate for democracy.”