Blast from the Past: Lament for the Lords


I’ve just found this while looking for something else. I think events have proved me absolutely right – shame, though. SIG

From Free Life, Issue 34, October 1999 ISSN: 0260 5112

Editorial: Days of Shame and Degradation by Sean Gabb

As will be apparent from the Letters Page of the current issue, some of my readers have chosen to complain about the unrelievedly gloomy tone of my Editorials. This is a complaint that has been made at various times during the past eight years, and I propose to give it the same consideration now that I have always given it in the past. I will therefore proceed with my thoughts on the ejection of the hereditary Peers from the House of Lords.

For future historians, nothing else, I suspect, will more perfectly show the degeneracy of our present age. An assembly that is older than England itself, the origins of which are lost in the gloom of the forests that once overspread the north of Europe, has been destroyed in the name of what our masters are pleased to call “democracy” and “modernity”. I grant that something called the House of Lords will continue to meet and to transact parliamentary business. But this will not be the House of the English Peerage. It will soon have become entirely what it is intended to be – a rubber stamp for the most worthless and despotic government this country has ever known. Mr Blair has created more life Peers in the past two years than Mrs Thatcher created in eleven. I cannot recall a Prime Minister who created more Peers in so short a time. Nor will he stop until the House is packed with his own nominees. This is treason, and it must not be forgotten, even in the years of further constitutional vandalism that lie before us, who struck the loudest and perhaps the hardest blow against the free and immemorial English Constitution .

What is most shocking about this treason is the near silence of opposition to it. The debates of 90 years ago over the Bill to limit the veto of the Peers filled the whole country with noise; and the defence of the Peerage, though immediately unsuccessful, was conducted with a brilliance and passion that deterred all later governments before this one from repeating the attack. But when eventually it was repeated, the attack was barely resisted.

I will pause here to admire Lord Burford, eldest son of the Duke of St Albans. As an eldest son, his rights are confined to sitting in the Lords to hear debates, but not to take part. As the debate on destruction was beginning, though, he broke the rules of the House and made a short speech from the steps of the Throne. He said:

“This Bill, drafted in Brussels, is treason. What we are witnessing is the abolition of Britain. Before us lies the wasteland – no Queen, no culture, no sovereignty, no freedom. Stand up for your Queen and country and vote the Bill down.”

There is little need for a commentary on this. It is short and clear and plainly the cry of an honest man. It is the sort of statement that could never be made in the Commons, for the simple reason that the elected politicians have spent so much of their lives posturing and lying that they can no longer even imitate the language of unadorned truth. It also shows the practical justification for the existence of an hereditary peerage.

But however noble, Lord Burford’s intervention was a set of words without significant echo. The newspapers of the Quisling Right poured scorn on him, recalling that he was descended from Charles II and Nell Gwynne, and that he held unorthodox views about the plays of William Shakespeare – as if either fact had any relevance to the validity of his words. They had already combined with the Conservative Party to make a defence of the Lords so short and feeble that not even an awareness of how stupid are the personalities directly involved can erase the suspicion of deliberate sabotage. The leading members of the Peerage had no interest in defending their order, as they had already been bought off with promises of life Peerages that would allow them to continue profiting financially from their titles. As for the ordinary Peers, they were, like the French nobility before them, too soaked in democratic sentiment to believe any more in their right to sit in Parliament.

And so the Lords are no more. As a libertarian, I tremble for what remains of our freedom. We are threatened with the abolition of the double jeopardy rule in criminal cases, with the withdrawal of many criminal matters to what the Government knows is the more indulgent scope of the civil courts, with an e-commerce law that will make it a criminal offence to rely on our Common Law privilege against self-crimination, with a final neutering of Trial by Jury, with an extradition law that will allow foreign police officers to come into this country and arrest and deport suspects without so much as notifying the British courts – and generally with a torrent of oppressive and arbitrary legislation that will turn the words “English Liberty” into an oxymoron. The Lords who would once have resisted this for us have been themselves swept aside. I do not expect much in the way of a defence from “Lord” Bragg and “Lady” Jay.

But I am also a conservative, and I stand appalled at the loss of ancient landmarks in this wild, Jacobinical orgy of destruction. I can do no more than quote Wordsworth on an earlier horror:

Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade Of that which once was great is pass’d away.

Sean Gabb

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One response to “Blast from the Past: Lament for the Lords

  1. A good post.