In the bleak tundra of the far north of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, live a number of species of rodents which are very closely related to our more familiar voles. These cute little furry creatures are called Lemmings. Most species of Lemmings eat grasses, sedges and dwarf shrubs. They create runs at ground level under the grass, in attempts to remain under cover away from predators. All species are given to large fluctuations in population size. One species in particular, the Norway Lemming (Lemmus lemmus) is particularly well known for this. In some years, their numbers reach plague proportions, and it is then that they begin to move en masse to new territories. As they travel, their numbers swell and as the landscape channels them, they move across the terrain in aggressive, squabbling columns. When they get to water, they will attempt cross by swimming – and many drown in the attempt. It is this behaviour which gives them their reputation for committing suicide.
Norway Lemming (Source: Getty images).
The primary function of the House of Lords is to act as a revising chamber. The flow of legislative bills from the House of Commons and back again is a process of amendment, drafting, re-drafting and checking. A good summary of this process is here. This oversight is necessary, requires close reading and detailed thought for amendments. It is rarely newsworthy – to the point of being completely dull – and goes unremarked by the general public. The power of the Lords has been progressively constrained over the years, but mostly by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.
The composition of the Lords has altered considerably over the years. The hereditary peers have been drastically reduced in numbers and progressively replaced by Life Peers. The creation of Life Peers has become more and more mired in controversy as patronage has resulted in the appointment of people who are simply creatures of their own party. Many are donors to a party. In effect, there is a price which is paid to obtain a peerage. In fairness, some peers have not paid money, but have given other kinds of service to a party. But even that is not free of controversy. For example, Baroness Chakrabarti was appointed a Labour Peer after writing a report about antisemitism within the Labour Party. Sadly for her and Jeremy Corbyn, her attempts at burying the issue from the public gaze have been unsuccessful and the issue has come back to bite them.
This brings us to the House of Lords debate upon the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which is ongoing as I write. Their Lordships are debating not one, but a whole series of amendments whose purpose is not to correct minor errors in the drafting of the initial Bill, but to reverse the referendum result entirely. There is a substantial majority of the Lords who are working hard to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union, despite the clearly expressed wishes of the electorate. This agenda was made abundantly clear by Lord Bilimoria. So far there have been several of these wrecking amendments passed by a majority of the Lords.
The response in the Eurosceptic parts of Parliament, the conservative press and the general public has been outrage. Jacob Rees-Mogg here summarised the position in constitutional terms, and also indicated the contempt which their Lordships have for the electorate. Note that at the end of this soundbite, he asks the rhetorical question “….you have to ask: what purpose is the House of Lords serving?” This is as close as Rees-Mogg will ever get to inciting us, the great unwashed, to sharpen our pitchforks and our pikestaffs. And then take to the streets.
The public, media and Parliamentary response to their Lordships’ wooden-headed obduracy is incredibly serious. Public impatience has built up over the last two years because there is so little apparent progress on getting out of the EU. This head of steam has built up for the following reasons:
- There has been a constant whine by the Remainers for two years, containing all sorts of specious, Jesuitical sophistry about how the referendum did not really represent the opinions of the majority.
- This continuous whine has been amplified and broadcast innumerable times by the BBC and others.
- Predictions about the disastrous consequences of leaving the EU have so far proved to be uniformly wrong.
- At least 50% of people who voted Remain at the time, now recognise the democratic reality and want to get with it; for better or for worse.
- Most people (including those in 3. above) are revolted by the arrogance of the Continuity Remainers, who persist in telling us that we are ignorant, old, under-educated, xenophobic and so on.
- Most Leavers are sick of privileged people telling us how we should have voted.
- Most want the country to face up to a new future which has enormous potential in economic and constitutional terms.
Unsurprisingly, the contempt felt towards the voting public by Their Lordships, is returned with compound interest by the electorate. The following linked petition was started in the middle of January requesting the government to grant a referendum to abolish the House of Lords. It has until 17th July to run. Initially, it did not make much impact and accumulated votes rather slowly. However, as the media began to broadcast the Lords debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the rate of accumulation of signatures to this petition went viral. Within four days, the number of signatures went from about 45,000, to well over 100,000. As I write this, the number of signatures is just over 150,000. The magic number of 100,000 triggers a debate in the House of Commons. Depending upon the subject matter, the Petitions Committee have a number of options including making (non-statutory) recommendations to the government. And it is here that the problems for the government begin.
Below is an assessment of some of the most likely events which will flow from this petition.
The great statistician RA Fisher, who invented much of the mathematical basis for modern statistical modelling, is quoted as saying “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” This story may be apocryphal, but the point is made. My model above will be wrong in some way, because other routes are possible – including the complicating option of offering the electorate a three-way choice on the ballot card: ‘Abolition’, ‘Reform’ or ‘No Change’. But to keep things simple I have considered the electorate being offered a binary choice of ‘Abolition’ or ‘No Change’. My model is useful in that it suggests that once this process is started, all but one of the outcomes result in the likely defeat of the Conservatives at the next election. The only positive outcome for the Conservatives is where the outcome of a referendum is clear and the government acts clearly and decisively upon the wishes of the people. This route is highlighted with the dashed orange line. The red arrows indicate the points at which the public assesses the government’s ability to carry out the will of the people – and finds it wanting.
In Clause 61 of the Magna Carta, signed on 15th June 1215 by King John, there is a reversion to the old Anglo-Saxon idea that the king and his servants are as duty bound to uphold and comply with the law as everyone else:
“If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress….”
This is the first expression of this aspect of the rule of law to enter the post Norman Conquest statute books – the requirement that all men (and women) are as one under the law, regardless of their position in life. It is a remarkable revocation of the principle of the divine right of kings, which was then current amongst the Norman hierarchy. It is hardly surprising that John reneged upon this document within weeks of signing it. The uprising against him, which had brought him to the negotiating table at Runymede in the first place, recommenced and then continued until he died on 19th October 1216. The chaos, war, economic difficulties and arbitrary, swingeing taxation which marked John’s reign, was over. England then entered a long period of rapid economic and cultural expansion which was to influence the course of our history for centuries to come.
The uprising itself, along with this clause limiting the arbitrary powers of the king, arose partly because of another Anglo-Saxon idea – that the primary purpose of the king was to protect his people. Anglo-Saxon kings who failed in this duty were sacked and replaced by better leaders. In other words, a king ruled by the consent of his people. When the king is found wanting in his abilities to perform his basic duties to his people, that consent is withdrawn. Although this principle was suppressed by the Norman kings, this implied duty of protection and competence by the state (and its concomitant constraint of consent) runs like an invisible thread through English history. There is a deeply ingrained sense of fair play within English politics (and by extension, the Welsh, Irish and Scots). Above all, it makes demands upon the king (or the modern state) to exhibit competence. The moment the competence of a government wanes and a better alternative appears, that government loses the consent of the people and then loses the next election.
There are many recent examples where the government (and the establishment which supports it) have failed to protect the people and are slowly reversing the principle of consent into a divine right of the establishment to rule over us – for the benefit of the establishment, not the people. The following is a list which is far from being exhaustive:
- The industrial scale grooming and rape of underaged white working class girls by (principally but not exclusively) Muslim men of Pakistani origin, in towns and cities all over the country. The establishment, in the form of senior police officers, social workers, council officers and council members, have effectively acquiesced to this because they have stood by and done nothing. The people have not been protected. Consent for this to happen was never sought and never granted.
- Wholesale immigration into this country was started by Tony Blair’s Labour government as soon as they took office. This was never mentioned by Labour – it was never talked about in any discussions, nor was it a manifesto promise. But it happened anyway and the strains upon housing, NHS, social services and education are now manifesting themselves with a vengeance. Consent for this to happen was never sought and never granted.
- Political correctness is bringing freedom of speech to an end. In a typical incident, a Scottish comedian has been tried, found guilty and sentenced for ‘Hate crime’. He posted a picture on Twitter of his pug dog doing a Nazi salute. Police forces across the United Kingdom are now devoting manpower and resources to checking the internet for people who are saying nasty things about each other. Meanwhile limited resources within the police mean that serious crimes like burglary and theft are not being investigated. The people are not being protected. Consent for this to happen has not been sought and has never been granted.
- The aftermath of British forces fighting in Iraq and then Afghanistan brought a series of investigations prosecutions against former and serving soldiers for alleged war crimes. These allegations have been made against those men by a cadre of human rights lawyers. Their modus operandi is to find poor people who require legal assistance in order to bring an action against the British state. Whichever way the investigation falls, it is paid for by the British taxpayer. This business model is highly lucrative for the lawyers. The human rights leaches have recently moved even further back in history by transferring their attention to the period of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The result of these well publicised cases has been a slow down in recruitment to the armed forces which is leaving the UK unable to respond adequately to major emergencies. The defence of the people is being deliberately undermined, for which consent was neither sought nor granted.
All of the above are examples of where many parts of the establishment are visibly co-operating against the interests of the people. The House of Lords, in tabling and passing this series of wrecking amendments, is just one of the more visible instances where the establishment are actively overturning the principles by which the British people have been governed for many centuries. The House of Lords has become bloated with a plague of wealthy businessmen and retired EU commissioners. The result is a rabble of pompous, arrogant placemen who think, like Lord Bilimoria, that membership of this particular gentlemen’s club entitles them to tell the British electorate what is good for them and how they should be voting.
There have been twelve referenda in the UK since 1945. Only two of them have been UK-wide; the rest have been about the individual countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These latter referenda have been about serious constitutional issues which could potentially have involved the breakup of the Union. The two UK-wide referenda were about membership of the European Economic Community (1975) and the Brexit referendum in 2016. All of these referenda have been about matters which have long term and serious implications for the constitution and future of the whole of the UK. In this instance, the Lords is not just amending and revising, or even urging the government to think again. The House of Lords is rebelling against the clearly expressed wishes of the British people. This self-indulgence, insufferable arrogance and over-weaning self-importance is unprecedented in the Parliamentary history of the United Kingdom – and is why the House of Lords is heading over the cliff.
The popularity of this petition is a very strong indicator of the current weakness and indecision of the Government. As suggested in the above flowchart, there are a number of routes that events could take us. But, like the lemmings, the government is increasingly channelled by the lie of the land. They are helpless to stop before the waters edge is reached – and where the Lords, Commons and the establishment will plunge to their doom.
The reason that the government continues to be blown, mindless, along its perilous path is entirely because of the weakness of its leader – Theresa May. This is a Prime Minister who is so shy of meeting with her colleagues that she is usually closely closeted with a very small number of advisors whom she trusts. Both of her senior civil servants – Sir Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins are ardent Remainers and seem to be determined to view Brexit as a problem to be managed for the convenience of the Civil Service and the establishment. The wishes of the British electorate are irrelevant in this scenario. Theresa May continually gives the impression of indecision. Despite having made good speeches which are apparently clear in their charted course, there is no clarity in the actual government response to the EU negotiators. Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt sense this and are running rings around the UK team.
The last time a Conservative government was perceived as being this weak, indecisive and ineffectual, was in 1997 at the end of John Major’s government. In that General Election, the Conservatives lost 171 seats, whilst Labour gained 147 to get an overall Parliamentary majority of 88 seats. The Conservatives were out of office for the next 13 years.