Homosexual foxes

Postponed reforms of Straw, and how the country has come over all knife knuts. Jonathan Calder repor

Reform of the House of Lords? Hereditary peers have feared nothing so much since the back of Nanny’s hairbrush.

Life peers are filled with foreboding too. Will they be selected as candidates in the elections to the new house? Will they get back in if they are? And will being a senator prove half as valuable as being a Lord when you want to make a last-minute booking at a popular restaurant?

Jack Straw’s white paper looks forward to an upper house with at least 80 per cent of the members elected, and that for a single term of 12 or 15 years. The house will be smaller too: he wants the Lords (present membership 746) reduced to no more than 400.

And if peers are banking on a Tory victory at the next election – on the grounds that they are chaps who understand a chap – they will be disappointed. The Conservatives want an upper house with only 300 members.

We New Statesman readers support Jack Straw’s reforms, don’t we? They are the culmination of the democratic assault on the landed interest that inspired the Anti-Corn Law League and Lloyd George’s budgets.

It’s just that when the Lords and the Commons clash, it tends to be the Lords who are in the right.

I admit that peers have blind spots on foxes and homosexuals – their views on homosexual foxes are yet to be tested but are unlikely to prove enlightened. But beyond that, they often speak for the country more convincingly than MPs do. This certainly applied in the Thatcher years and has been true even during the Golden Age of New Labour.

Which means that when Straw emphasises the primacy of the House of Commons, I don’t feel half as elated as I should.

You will say the great point in favour of elected politicians is that we can throw the rascals out. That’s true, but in practice we rarely do.

Yet we get through the nobility far more quickly. There is not a rock in Shropshire without a legend attached to it about some local aristocrat who tried to jump his horse from it. Others fought duels or ran away with the fairies.

The good news for peers is that Jack Straw has put off any change until after the next election. If things go wrong in Blackburn, “Lord Straw” may turn out to have a ring to it after all. And a hundred other Labour MPs are making the same calculation.

For better or worse, the unreformed Lords will be around for a while yet.


We’ve all gone knife knuts.

Gordon Brown has announced a £100m action plan. There will be early intervention in 110,000 problem families, and 20,000 of them will receive intensive parenting advice and lose their council homes if they don’t take it.

Problem families always live in council houses, it seems.

And he wants to see more curfews for teenagers. Police will be urged to pick up under-16s seen alone at night and hold them until their parents collect them.

That’s far too weak, says David Cameron. Anyone found carrying a knife should go to jail.
All of which is rather odd.

These hills used to be alive with Boy Scouts and their knives, every ready to sharpen a tent peg or skin a rabbit. (They may have been skinning the pegs and sharpening the rabbits. My memory is hazy on this point.)
Whatever the problem is with young people today, it is not that they are carrying knives.
I would write more on this, but I have a stone in my shoe.

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England