At an Open Europe event this week, Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the great white hopes of the Conservative right, said a lot about the House of Lords. Here’s a snippet:
“When it challenges the democratic will, as it is doing now, then we get fed up with it and think it has very little legitimacy and needs to be challenged. Their lordships are playing with fire and it would be a shame to burn down a historic House. They may have to decide whether they love ermine or the EU more.”
Several things to say about this. One, this is an empty threat, an elaborate bluff. The idea that the Tories are going to dismantle the House of Lords is laughable. And do what? Replace it with an elected house? Never. At the risk of ending the coalition and possibly putting Ed Miliband into Number 10 they died in a ditch to save the Upper House in its current form back in 2012; nothing of real substance has changed, Brexit or no Brexit. The other option would be to make parliament unicameral. That isn’t going to happen under a Conservative government either. That a constitutional purist like Rees-Mogg would even be talking like this suggests a desperation on the part of Leavers. I still stick to my impression that Brexit is simply going to happen and soon – yet Rees-Mogg moaning about the Upper House does make me think stalling it is actually possible, albeit the chance is slender. I doubt that’s what he had in mind when he spewed this nonsense.
The other thing Rees-Mogg’s threat to their Lordships makes me think is this: what is the point of the Upper House if it does not sometimes disagree with the House of Commons? The whole idea of the House of Lords is that it is one, not elected and thus able to make intellectual considerations without worrying about having to face the electorate (thus making a mockery of most of Rees-Mogg’s points) and two, that, as Rees-Mogg himself brought up at the very same event this week, it is a revising chamber. It can only suggest things to the Commons which the Lower House is then free to reject. Which is what Rees-Mogg is actually angry about; the fact that he thinks his Brexit vision is going to be brought down by the elected House of Commons. That doesn’t sound as good as having a go at the unelected Lords though, does it?