Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Death of the Salisbury Convention

Chris Lightfoot fears that an ID Cards Bill will find its way through Parliament quickly under the Salisbury Convention, which states that the Lords cannot hold anything up if the government has included it in its manifesto. If the Lords continue to uphold this convention, then they are spineless cowards and the sooner the Upper House is done away with (in its present form at least) the better.

Firstly, the mandate that the government claims is hardly that overwhelming. We all know the figures by now - 36% of a 61% turnout is not a ringing endorsement of any scheme the Labour government could put forward. Richard would argue that by not voting, they are tacitly supporting the will of any government that comes forward. But there would be a strong case for the Lords to make, that they had a right to hold the government to account to the extent of opposing the ID Cards Bill because of the lack of a proper mandate.

More to the point, however, Blair doesn't care a fig for manifesto pledges that he has made. Not only is he prepared to bring in measures such as foundation hospitals that weren't mentioned in the manifesto at all, he is prepared to explicitly break other promises. Such as his promise not to increase income tax - but it's OK to increase National Insurance contributions, an income tax in all but name. Or how about top-up fees? "We will not introduce top-up fees, and in fact have legislated to prevent them". Tell that to the 2006 university entrants.

If Blair is prepared to ride roughshod over promises made in an election campaign, then he can't use the Salisbury Convention to back up deeply unpopular plans that may have been included in the manifesto. Either it is a promise to the country, or it isn't. You can't have it both ways. And if the Lords are to stand up to the bully-boy tactics of the Labour Party, then ironically it is the unelected, unaccountable chamber that is doing democracy a service.