Monday, 26 October 2015

Tax Credits and the Constitution

In case you missed it, the government's plan to cut tax credits (a form of social security payment) to the working poor has attracted some opposition both in other parties and on their own backbenches. Lacking a majority to overturn it in the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrats are tabling a 'fatal motion' to reject it in the House of Lords, while the Labour Party is offering a delaying motion in that house.

The Conservative Party is furious. They say there's a constitutional convention that the unelected House of Lords doesn't overturn finance bills, and manifesto commitments. The opposition points out that the tax credit cuts weren't in the manifesto (the Prime Minister even promised they wouldn't happen) and that if the Tories were serious, they'd actually legislate for the cuts rather than use a statutory instrument.

Nevertheless, the Labour Party in particular seems very scared by the Conservative threats to flood the Lords with new Tory peers and take other forms of revenge: the peer tabling the fatal motion has discussed these threats over the last few days.

I don't know what Labour's problem is. The facts are these:

1. The Liberal Democrats tried to get House of Lords reform through when they were in coalition.
2. The Conservative Party blocked it. They wanted the unelected house to carry on as it always has (it's massively bigger than the elected chamber now).
3. Now the Tories are threatening the Lords to stop it doing what it's allowed to do under the rules the Conservatives fought to uphold.

Labour should call their bluff. The Tories opposed constitutional reform and must now face the consequences. They can't moan about having a democratic mandate having fought strenuously to avoid making the Lords have one. If the Tories do stuff the Lords with placemen, hopefully the electorate will start to vote for actual democracy. Or perhaps they won't.


Jake said...

If we want "real democracy", we might start by doing something about the state of the Commons first; the Lords are so far doing a better job of preventing the Conservatives ruling by fiat than the Opposition is at the moment.

But of course the Tories well and truly poisoned that particular well by 'compromising' with the Lib Dems by holding a referendum about a voting method they didn't want instead of the one they did.

chris y said...

the Lords are so far doing a better job of preventing the Conservatives ruling by fiat than the Opposition is at the moment.

'Twas ever thus. You don't need too long a memory to recall the Thatcher era when for several years the effective leader of the opposition was the Earl of Stockton, a.k.a. Harold MacMillan.

But it isn't good enough. Labour needs to get its act together about parliamentary reform in both houses, because leaving that as an open goal for the right will not lead to better times.