What does a Lord do when they disagree with their party’s membership?
Today (20 October 2015) we have seen a Labour Peer “resign the Labour whip” – but not apparently resign from the party. This strikes me as strange because from the noise that Lord Warner is making this morning his gripe is not with his fellow Labour Peers, but with the Labour membership and their choice of leader.
He quotes Dennis Healey:
“There are are far too many people who want to luxuriate complacently in the moral righteousness of opposition – we are not just a debating society.
“We are not just a Sunday socialist school. We are a great movement that wants to help real people living on this earth at the present time. We shall never be able to help them unless we get power.”
Guardian website, 20 October 2015 : Lord Warner resigns Labour whip, saying party is ‘no longer credible’
This may be true in the old two-party politics of “turn and turn about”, but in the multi-view (if not true multi-party) politics of today, that attitude leads to prostituting your principles just to gain power – and then when you gain it finding that you do not have a mandate to do what you really want.
Sometimes it is necessary to question whether repeating the mistakes of the past are a good way of bringing about real change. I don’t believe that Labour really stands for the sort of minimally regulated blue in tooth and claw capitalism that we have experienced from the election of Thatcher (37 years ago!).
Just perhaps the membership (as a proxy for “the Labour movement”) has woken up to this and decided that a real difference is required and Labour needs to offer an alternative that is not “capitalism light”. Perhaps it is better to suffer another Conservative government whilst developing something different rather than form another light blue government (power before principle) – which will be seen through and thrown out before making any of the changes that Labour supporters want.
Warner is out of line with the membership of “his party”. Whilst is surely open to any party member (of any party) to “fight his corner”, Lord Warner seems to have selected the wrong corner.
Lords are in a different position to that of elected members of the House of Commons. Members of the House of Commons can refer to their electoral mandate – based on the manifesto on which they stood at the last election. MPs owe their prime allegiance to their electorate. If push comes to shove they can, and will, defy the whip citing this allegiance.
Lords do not have such a mandate (Warner was created a Life Peer by Tony Blair, so possibly that is where his allegiance may lie). However this should mean Lords can claim a degree of freedom – which is usually exercised by defying a whip rather than resigning it!
The Labour membership have the power to elect the leader – which they have done. They have the power to deselect MPs – and they need to do so if they really want the change that their choice of leader would seem to imply. Lords, however, are there for life and as such represent “political drag” (like “fiscal drag”, not “ermine and stockings”!). If a Lord senses that they are out of line, resigning the whip is a cop-out; they should
- stay as a whipped Labour peer and take the heat from defying the whip; or,
- resign from the party (and resign the peerage that the party gave them)