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Get rid of the Lords—then get rid of the rest

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Issue 2464
Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament (Pic: Flickr: Robert Pittman)

Disgraced peer Baron John Buttifant Sewel’s job used to include defending the unelected House of Lords. He would write indignant complaints about “wearied caricatures” whenever it was criticised.

But he did his bit to keep those “caricatures” alive last week. Sewel was filmed exploiting women who work as prostitutes and appearing to take a drug working class people would be jailed for using.

The house is stuffed with aristocrats, bishops and the handpicked favourites of prime ministers long gone. Though to Labour’s shame, some of the only real parliamentary opposition to the Tories comes from the Lords’ benches.

The Lords is the only unelected house of parliament in Europe. Now some of Britain’s biggest newspapers are calling for it to go.

Perhaps while we’re at it we could chuck out the scrounging Windsors of Buckingham Palace.

As well as topping up her loot with generous annual subsidies, the queen gets a veto on many government decisions. Prince Charles’s letters show that the royals aren’t afraid to stick their own considerable noses in. But the royal prerogative also gives governments a weapon.

Tony Blair used an obscure royal “order in council” in 2004 to bypass parliament and the High Court to stop the Chagos Islanders returning to a home that had been turned into a US airbase.

Journalist John Pilger said at the time, “The Queen rubber-stamps what in many cases politicians know they can’t get away with democratically. Dictators do this, but without the quaint ritual.”


The ermine robes, jewelled crown and silly terminology can seem out of place in a society that’s supposed to be about democracy and rule of law. But that society is built on violent cops, corporate media and bullying bosses—and they fit it like a glove.

Our rulers are just as keen to deny us a say as they ever were, and just as happy to break their own laws. And they do it for the most modern of reasons.

This was brought home in Lancashire last week, as fracking firm Cuadrilla said it planned to appeal against the county council’s decision not to let it resume its dangerous drilling.

Ordinary people had protested, local politicians had voted—yet the government looks set to help bosses overturn their decision as part of its drive for fracking.

The same has happened on a much bigger scale in Greece. People voted in an election, and a referendum, to break with austerity. 

But the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund used naked economic blackmail to deny them that chance.

That’s the only way to run a society that concentrates the wealth produced by the many in the hands of the few.

The Lords needs to go. But to make our society democratic, we can’t stop there.

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