CAN YOU EXPLAIN, OFFICERS?
The astonishing course of the phone hacking scandal so far has seen the humbling
of a media empire that many liberals will have seen as among their sworn
News International quite openly prostituted its tabloids’ political allegiance
to whichever party it felt would be most pliable in advancing its business
interests – one reason why its papers largely ignored the Lib Dems and vice
They were the papers that helped put Margaret Thatcher in office and in 1992 the
ones “what won it” for John Major. With the Tories doomed in the mid-1990s, they
switched without a bat of an eye to supporting Labour, which returned the favour
by doing nothing to control the Murdoch empire.
When they switched their allegiance back to the Tories in 2009, it was business
as usual, with senior figures in News International serving as both employees
and personal friends of the prime minister.
So far, the scandal has made David Cameron’s judgement look woeful, closed the
largest selling national newspaper, stalled the Murdoch bid to control BSkyB and
led to fresh calls for tougher press regulation.
But quite the most disturbing aspect so far has been the position of the police.
If a disinterested observer were to conclude that the original phone hacking
investigation was abandoned by the police because of a web of morally (if not
financially) corrupting links between the police and News International, that
observer would surely hold a reasonable view.
We have not, as yet, had any credible explanation from the police of why the
first investigation ended with two people charged and the conclusion that hardly
anyone was hacked. We also do not know who and what the police thought they were
protecting then, and may never know.
But the whole thing stinks and, given how important the integrity of the police
is to democracy, this matters a great deal more than does the conduct of News of
the World journalists, appalling as some of that was.
The felling of a Tory tabloid, and the caution that is likely to impose on the
Sun, might be causes for Lib Dem rejoicing. But the party should resist calls
for excessive regulation of the press, as Nick Clegg has rightly done.
The scandal would never have come to anything without fearless reporting by the
Guardian and Private Eye, and hasty legislation on the back of public outrage
will inevitably be a disaster.
WITHDRAW THE WHIP
Any Liberal Democrat peer who votes against House of Lords reform should lose
the party whip, a step that in itself would prevent them from being selected as
a party candidate for any future elected upper house.
A century ago, a Liberal government was locked in combat with the House of Lords
over getting its budget enacted. That battle took two general elections and was
resolved only messily by limiting the Lords’ power to one of delay rather than
rejection of legislation.
Since then, there have been various attempts to reform the Lords, each of which
has been torpedoed by powerful vested interests or by those who wanted to make
the best the enemy of the good.
A century after Asquith and Lloyd George realised that it is a fundamental
offence to democracy that unelected people should be able to make laws, their
successors now have a real opportunity to remove this anomaly, or at least to
reduce the number of unelected legislators to a proportion that makes them
Yet despite Lords reform having been party policy for a century, out of the
woodwork crawl those Lib Dem peers who rather enjoy their unelected and
unaccountable power and do not want to have to trouble themselves with anything
as vulgar as getting elected.
They enjoy the privileges and status of belonging to London’s ‘best club’ and do
not want to lose the right to ponce around in robes making laws to regulate the
lives of others while having no democratic mandate from anyone to do so.
The argument is advanced that peers are there for their expertise and that
experts would not necessarily be easily able to secure election.
This is specious on two grounds. Firstly, an upper house can take evidence from
any experts it chooses to. Secondly, peers are chosen for their expertise
usually in one or two fields, yet they are able to vote on legislation
concerning anything, including matters of which they may be wholly ignorant. Let
the new upper house summon evidence from those experts qualified to give it as
and when needed.
Another argument made is that the current House of Lords ‘works’. That claim
could have been made by members of the all-hereditary house of 1911, whose
members were doubtless of the same opinion in relation to their own rights and
The idea that those who make laws should be accountable to those who live under
those laws is intrinsic to liberalism, and the minority of Lib Dem peers who
want to frustrate reform so as to preserve their privileges and status are a
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