The John Wayne stance… or is it more Blackadder
THIS morning I am caught between House of Lords reform and the John Wayne stance.
Let’s start with the serious, non-cowboy bit. The Brexit-besotted newspapers are flapping their arms about the Upper House, after Brexit defeats in the House of Lords. The Daily Mail turns the gas to full beneath its steamy kettle of a headline generator – “House of unelected wreckers.”
Above that is one of those shouty narrative sub-headings: “Make no mistake, the Remainer elite – in cahoots with Brussels – is fighting a guerrilla war against Brexit using any weapon it can.”
The Sun declares that unelected peers have become “a cancer eating away at our democracy” while a headline in the Express accuses peers of “Brexit sabotage”.
As it happens, the Brexit-bonkers press are right about this, but for the wrong reason. The trouble lies in the bulging eyes of their stare. They’re only shouting now about the unelected second chamber because the Lords are being obstructive about Brexit. Most of the time they couldn’t care less; and if the Lords are obediently nodding through policies of which they approve, they are happy to leave the unelected alone.
Imagine for a moment that the Lords had been reformed long ago and that the members of the second chamber had all been elected. It is possible that such a democratic body could still be asking awkward questions about Brexit. For there are many awkward questions to ask.
It is worth remembering, not that it gets us anywhere, that the referendum result was a narrow squeak of a victory for leave; and that ever since, a small majority has been over-sold as “the voice of the people” and other such blatant exaggerations.
Allied to this, the believers swallowed their own propaganda about how easy Brexit would be. And then promptly fell into the real world to discover that it was and is going to be an endlessly complicated slog with unforeseeable outcomes.
The main reform of the Lords was the Life Peerages Act of 1958 – until then the Lords was stuffed with hereditary peers placed there purely by privilege. But replacing privilege with patronage brings its own problems. Prime ministers often use elevation to the Lords as a sort of political golden watch for party time-servers who shuffle off to chunter in a higher place.
Mrs Maybe would surely have created a few more Brexit-leaning lords if she wasn’t in such a weak and perilous position.
The last main reform came in 1999 when life peerages were frozen. Wholesale reform of the Lords is needed, but not because the Daily Mail is wetting its Y-fronts.
And now to John Wayne. Or Sajid Javid, the new home secretary. The appointment of a George Osborne acolyte is hardly a sign of strength from Mrs Maybe, but Javid did spend his first day making all the right noises about the Windrush scandal.
His statements were only undone by the way he condemned what had happened while seeming surprised that his party could have had any responsibility at all for such an appalling affair.
Javid was photographed with his legs wide apart. This Tory power stance has been adopted to a pleasing degree of mockery by various ministers, including Osborne in his Treasury days.
The Mail referred to this as Javid’s “John Wayne stance”; it’s a thing, go and Google it. According to the BBC’s round-up of the papers, people on Twitter are instead comparing Javid’s curious gait to that of the vain Prince Regent in Blackadder.
Go compare: I know which version I prefer.