Blair describes Charter 88 as "wankers". However, by the end of the week, we are downgraded to "tossers"

The week begins auspiciously when it is revealed that Charter 88 is one of only two groups that Tony Blair has ever been heard to call "wankers" - the other being Scottish journalists. I immediately call the Charter 88 director Pam Giddy to tell her what a great coup this is, citing the Livingstone effect. Rather than wait for the Prime Minister to hold a series of rallies denouncing us as wanting to re-fight the battles of the 1640s, I suggest an advertising campaign celebrating this new badge of honour.

Looking for something millennial to do for the new year, me and the missus decided to sell up and move to Dorset by the sea. When we weighed it all up, it kind of felt like we were only living in London due to peer pressure. We spent the week before Christmas moving into an old guest house overlooking Chesil Beach. A force-nine gale greeted our arrival. I found myself describing our new environment as "elemental".

The Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords releases its report, and it is immediately clear that what many have been saying for the past year is true: the most important aspect of Lords reform is composition. Lord Wakeham's committee comes up with no fewer than three options for getting bums on seats in a reformed Upper House, all of them recommending a minority of elected members among a majority of appointees. On everything else the committee was unanimous, yet on the method of selection, a dozen people split, not two, but three ways. Why such division? Because from composition comes legitimacy and from legitimacy flows power.

Wakeham's fellow commissioners are all over the teatime TV news programmes. Gerald Kaufman makes a memorable contribution to the debate on the Channel 4 News. Rather than respond to Jon Snow's questioning on the report, he puts on a display that calls to mind all the adjectives that you would find if you looked up the word "supercilious" in a thesaurus. Our six year old pauses from painting another picture of a tornado to comment, "What a rude man", as Kaufman theatrically tears off his earpiece and walks out. Snow's criticism was that there is no mechanism in the report for getting rid of the present incumbents, the life peers of Halfway House of Lords. Wakeham suggests that they be allowed to retain their role until they decide to retire, with the important recommendation that "life peers who remain members of the second chamber should be encouraged to reach an informal understanding with the appointments commission about how long they intend to serve". Having seen off the aristocrats, are we now to be lumbered with a parliament of patricians?

It's a shame, because there are some good ideas tucked away among the 132 recommendations: a statutory gender balance; the acceptance of regional representation; the ending of the link between political power and the honours list. In fact, Wakeham comes mighty close to suggesting a practicable means for a democratic Upper House, the "Model A" option: members would be selected from regional lists on the proportion of votes cast for each party on the day of the general election. Sadly, this method is only recommended as a means of election for a paltry 65 members. Extend the principle for the whole House and you would create a renowned chamber with enough democratic legitimacy to challenge the executive but not the will of the directly elected Commons.

The Guardian gives over two pages to the critics of Ken Livingstone within the Labour Party. Their arguments boil down to one accusation: he's not very good for presentation.

I discover an added bonus to our recent relocation to west Dorset. We are unable to receive Channel 5.

Pam Giddy appears on Newsnight to discuss the Wakeham report. Jeremy Paxman introduces her as "the most gorgeous brain in London". The BBC logs over a dozen complaints. The debate again centres around composition. It's an argument that will run and run because, having accepted the abolition of the hereditaries because they were undemocratic, the electorate will not take kindly to being excluded from the process of choosing their replacements.

The government still doesn't seem to have grasped that, like devolution, the toothpaste is out of the tube on Lords reform. Returning to an all-appointed House would be regarded as a severe failureof nerve. Sticking with the present arrangement will give the impression that the abolition of the hereditaries was nothing more than gesture politics.

Meanwhile, Blair's spin-doctors have been busy and, by the end of the week, his pejorative term for Charter 88 has been downgraded to "tossers", which is a dreadful disappointment to us because it gives the impression that he just doesn't care.

This article first appeared in the 31 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why arms sales are bad for Britain