|The 'Why Should... ?' Syndrome||John Tyndall|
The tame acceptance of the Lords' demise shows that both right and left are transfixed by the 'equality' ideal.
I am not a strong partisan for the House of Lords - but this is only in the sense that I am not a strong partisan for our parliamentary institutions generally, at least as they have evolved in modern times. It seems glaringly obvious to me that we need to start thinking seriously about the radical reform of our whole political system, from which the Lords should not be exempt. What is ridiculous about the 'radicalism' of the present day is that it directs its reforming fervour almost solely at the Upper House whilst retaining a faith in the efficacy of the Commons that is almost reverential.
There is a reason for this that is not difficult to pinpoint. Today's political culture simply cannot accept the idea of hereditary power and privilege. Although this non-acceptance is, like almost every other political idea in current fashion, of left-wing pedigree, it meets with little more than mute resistance on the right - so slavishly has contemporary Conservatism adapted itself to the rules of the left-wing agenda. This, no doubt, is why the traditional rights of hereditary peers were surrendered last month with barely a whimper. It took one of the younger, and perhaps more eccentric, of them, the 34-year-old Lord Burford, to make a stand on behalf of his class, climbing onto the woolsack to draw attention to himself and shouting "Treason!", thereupon getting unceremoniously thrown out of the House for his pains. In fact, Lord Burford had much more than the House of Lords on his mind. In a statement to the Daily Telegraph afterwards, he asserted:-
"Tony Blair wants to abolish Britain and William Hague is doing nothing to stop him. I want to hold the mirror up to the three main parties who are all a single beast, a three-headed hydra, and challenge them to give the people of Britain an assurance that it will remain a sovereign independent nation."
In response to this, the Telegraph reporter, Rachel Sylvester, commented: "It might seem strange that a member of the aristocracy could promote itself as the only true remaining representative of the majority. But Lord Burford believes that his instincts are more in tune with the nation than the Government's."
In fact, none of this is strange at all. It has always been a leftist-liberal myth that elected MPs in the House of Commons are closer to the pulse of the people than the hereditary peers. The former, to further their political careers, must become the tools of one or other of the big party machines, which in modern times, as Lord Burford says, "are all of a single beast." For a long time, these party machines have been moving further and further away from the people of Britain, both in respect of their political instincts and of the interests they serve - so much so that it has been in the Lords almost exclusively that there can be found men and women who can speak for the British people. Admittedly, there are not all that many of them. A very large portion of the Lords today consists of life peers who are political appointees and therefore, like their counterparts down the corridor, folk who have spent a large part of their lives faithfully serving the liberal-globalist establishment (the 'single beast', as Lord Burford would put it). Nevertheless, even these people, having been elevated to the peerage, are there till the end of their days, are not dependent on the favour of the party machines and are consequently much freer to vote according to their consciences than if they were still in the Commons and could be deselected for stepping out of line.
A classic case was the late Lord Tonypandy, formerly George Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Commons and before that an ordinary Labour MP. It was only after he took his seat in the Upper House that this lifelong servant of the Labour Party began to speak out forcefully against British integration with the European Union - at a time when his own party was becoming increasingly Euro-federalist. Some of Lord Tonypandy's political statements in his final years could have come from the platforms of the British National Party. Did this constitute some remarkable late conversion to patriotic ideals? No, it simply meant that His Lordship now felt free to say openly what for many years he would have liked to say but was inhibited from saying by fear of the party whips!
Aristocracy in theory
The hereditary peers are of course a different case altogether. In theory, they should represent an aristocracy of intelligence and character. In fact, no small number of them have owed their presence in the Lords to some chance circumstance many centuries back, when an ancestor performed self-interested services to some king or other and was rewarded with one of the titles which it was customary to hand out for such favours. Or, as in the case of the young Lord Burford, they may be the distant offspring of highly questionable sexual liaisons, Burford himself being a descendant of the illegitimate son of Charles II and Nell Gwynn.
But nevertheless, occupying their seats for life like their appointed colleagues, they do not feel the pressures involved in survival in the party political game. They do not have to toady to anyone; they can say 'No' to whomever they like. It may be remembered that the appalling 'War Crimes' Bill, which violated some of the most ancient canons of British justice, got an easy ride through the Commons some years ago under pressure from what one MP described as "the world's most powerful lobby," but met with much stiffer resistance in the Lords, where it was subjected to the expert scrutiny not only of leading legal luminaries but also of people unwilling to serve as the same kind of tame lobby fodder. The Bill was not stopped, but it was subjected to considerable delay, with some of its more ludicrous and outrageous clauses excluded.
Andrew Roberts, writing in the Sunday Telegraph of November 11th, was near to the heart of the matter when he said:-
"Their lordships should be thanked... for having helped provide the best possible bulwark against over-hasty and ill-thought-out legislation. They should be thanked for having given of their time, energy, consideration and wisdom, for no other reason than a sense of duty and the fact that their forefathers did. Above all, they should be congratulated for devoting themselves to the service of their country, as Lord Salisbury wrote, 'unaffected by the motives which might mislead those who are less safe from the freaks of fortune and less insensitive to the fascinations of ambition or of gain.'"
And further on:-
"... Personal ambition was rarely part of their motivation in the way it all too often is in the Lower House. If one wanted to find corruption, deceit or petty-mindedness in British parliamentary life, one did not look to the crimson benches but to the green ones..."
Importance of breeding
All this is true in its generality, but it might appear to be an over-flattering picture of the peerage as it is today. As I have said, the theory about the hereditary peers, at least, is that they should represent an aristocracy of brains and character. Quite apart from the fact that many of them owe their rank to circumstances rather removed from this rule, there is the additional fact that, over centuries, expedient marriages dictated by either infatuation or financial convenience rather than duty to the line have greatly lowered the race quality of so many noble families in Britain. This is a danger inherent in all aristocracies, and it greatly preoccupied Anthony Ludovici, perhaps the foremost advocate among modern writers of the aristocratic principle. Ludovici had no time whatever for the liberal-leftist idea of 'equality', and in his The Specious Origins of Liberalism he stoutly defended the concept of a superior caste of people born to rule, saying:-
"... Man's most urgent and everlasting problem must always have been, and still is, to find and establish an Authority which can lend acceptable compelling power to the rules by which he governs his society. Originally, men were doubtless assisted in this quest by the natural inequality of gifts and capabilities recognisable among them, and whenever no arbitrary imposition of rulership through conquest occurred differences in individual endowment, in mental and physical attributes, must usually have determined the identity of rulers and ruled.
"The readiness of all men in situations of emergency or simple need to defer to their superiors in strength, whether of body or mind, and willingly to profit from a fellow man's greater resourcefulness, perspicacity, inventiveness, mere dexterity, observational powers, or what not, must inevitably have induced most societies, however primitive, and even against the will of the least discriminating, to acknowledge and raise to Authority those among their members whom it was to the general advantage to follow and obey."
Today's egalitarians would tend either to reject this rule out of hand, just refusing to admit that any one man might be better than another, or to argue: "Yes, there are superiors and inferiors in ability, but let the first sort themselves out from the second by achievement rather than by any hereditary right. In other words, let every kind of hierarchy, whether political, social, financial or whatever be a meritocracy."
The latter is a compelling argument, and it has on its side not only the unquestionable fact that people of the highest quality can arise, and have arisen, from humble origins by the sheer power of their accomplishments, but also that aristocratic families, though perhaps beginning from noble blood lines, can degenerate down the centuries. Marriages of expediency, mentioned earlier, are the most obvious causes, resulting as these often do in offspring in which the superior genes are not reproduced. But, additionally, if the upbringing of the sons and daughters of nobility is not carefully supervised with a view to ensuring their fitness for the exercise of high rank and privilege, the ease and comfort of their lives may well have a corrupting influence on them notwithstanding good genetic endowment.
Our present hereditary peerage is a case in point. Whether through one of these causes or the other, most are not really fit to exercise political power. An anĉmic liberalism pervades the Upper House almost as thoroughly as it does the Lower. The mere acquaintance with a cross-section of them will reveal an abundance of castrated voices and weak jaws. The few lords who have spoken out courageously against the long series of 20th century betrayals only highlight the preponderance of those who have tamely acquiesced. Ludovici pinpointed the origins of this phenomenon when contrasting the heredity problems of royal families with the much less acute ones of aristocracies:-
"At all events, the decline of Aristocracy in the civilisation of the West has in one sense been less forgivable, because more avoidable, than that of genuine monarchy, and for the simple reason that nowhere have aristocratic families felt themselves under the perilous obligation of ransacking the whole Continent for suitable mates of so-called 'Blue blood'. They were thus spared this potent source of blood-adulteration and were free to choose mates for their sons and daughters among families who were at least of their own nationality and more or less of their own type. Only when, as we shall see, this liberty was abused and their sons stooped, in response to a romantic misunderstanding of their overpowering lust, to choose mates unlikely to help in maintaining the family quality, was this most important advantage over royalty forfeited."
Ludovici's model was the Aristocracy of Venice, a rare case of a ruling caste maintaining itself by strict regulation of its members. He said:-
"And what was the secret of this exceptionally successful aristocratic achievement? Simply that the Venetian aristocrats, being more realistic and intellectually gifted and upright than those of other European states, first of all knew that they must allow for the natural iniquity of man, even when it is clothed in ermine and silks; and secondly that, if they wished to survive as a ruling minority, they must devise a system of internal control and discipline designed to maintain a high standard of quality among the members of their Order and punish, if necessary with degradation, any one of them who fell below a certain level of decency and efficiency."
Ludovici's theory - for which there is ample backing - was that the clearly demonstrable faults in aristocratic families led their detractors to the wrong conclusions. As he says:-
"... their own sins against themselves and their Order have from the very first been overlooked by the liberal intelligentsia, who have consistently ascribed the vices of the rule of the 'Best', not to the absence of the Best, but to the inevitable defects of the institution of Aristocracy as such."
Clearly, this description applies to our own British aristocracy, hence its failings and derelictions of duty. Yet is it not a fact that our current debate on the subjects both of the Lords and the Monarchy is falling into exactly the same trap as that stated by Ludovici in his reference to the 'liberal intelligentsia'? We are confusing between these institutions themselves and the gross limitations of their present encumbants.
But, even given these limitations, are the alternatives any better? Leaving the Monarchy aside for the moment, is Britain really going to be better governed as a result of hereditary peers being greatly cut in number and eventually phased out altogether? If their appointed successors - life peers to the last man and woman - were to be truly a meritocracy, chosen on the basis of real contributions to Britain's progress and achievement, there might be something to be said for the change. But in the real world we know that this will not happen; indeed, evidence so far demonstrates that it is not happening. Life peers are for the most part mere party hacks, whether the party be Labour or Tory. They are put there mainly for the same reasons as the 'liberal intelligentsia' would condemn in the original setting up of titled dynasties hundreds of years past: they have rendered handy services to the ruling powers, mainly from motives of pure self-interest. Today they are also, in no small part, appointees chosen to pacify various noisy lobbies. Lord Waheed Alli, to whom we referred elsewhere in these pages last month, is a perfect case in point. An Asian homosexual, he serves the purpose of currying favour with two lobbies at the same time! His achievement consists of making a lot of money out of the production of trashy children's TV programmes which have done more to corrupt than to educate.
In a less diseased age than our own, such absurdities as the elevation of the ludicrous Lord Alli might have been rejected. Nevertheless, there remains an inherent danger in systems where every route to the top of the pyramid of national power is one that has to be negotiated by way of political infighting, intrigue and boot-licking. An unnamed American was once quoted as saying: "When I realised what a man had to do to become president, I determined that I would never want to be governed by such a person." There is a fund of native wisdom in this, and the truth of it contributes substantially to the case for aristocracy. Power acquired by hereditary right is power that has not had to be fought for by every dirty trick in the political game, and it thereby creates the hope that at least some, if not all, of its holders may exercise it disinterestedly and in a spirit of true public service. At the same time, the fact that that power cannot be taken away except by the Grim Reaper himself provides some prospect that the holder will not duck great public responsibilities for fear of the clamour of money and mob - the more so if this privilege is accompanied by the security of inherited wealth that ensures immunity from the pressures of financial survival.
Of course, these arguments in favour of an hereditary aristocracy presuppose such a body of people surviving and serving under ideal conditions - the kind of conditions exemplified by Ludovici in his reference to the Venetian ruling caste. Much more often, however, such conditions have not been maintained, and aristocracies have tended to decline and decay. To place political power simply in the hands of an hereditary aristocracy therefore provides a wholly inadequate answer to our problems of leadership today.
At the same time, the complete abolition of all hereditary power, as has occurred in most countries around the world and as is now clearly planned for Britain, has most certainly not led to any improvement in the quality of political leadership. On the contrary, it could be asked whether there has ever been a time in history when the calibre of the people in government, British or foreign, has been lower. Just where today are the Palmerstons, the Salisburys, the Bismarcks, Metternichs and Cavours? All we have to show are the Blairs, the Majors, the Clintons, the Chiracs, the Schroeders, the Yeltsins. Are these latter personages good arguments for a system of leadership selection based wholly on democratic principles and procedures?
Recent debate concerning House of Lords reform has centred almost entirely on the question of whether it is 'fair', or 'just' or 'right' for people to possess political influence by virtue of the deeds of some remote ancestor. I liken this question to what might be called the "Why should...?" syndrome. This is not a very elegant phrase, I will admit, and I would welcome suggestions as to a better one which would encapsulate the same tendency. "Why should...?" are words that I have been hearing for as long as memory extends, followed as they usually have been by some envious whine concerning the human inequalities that are part of life in the real world. "Why should" some people have more wealth than others? "Why should" some people have more power than others? "Why should" some people have special rights that others do not have? We hear this kind of talk all the time. It is natural enough coming from adolescents, but beyond a certain age it suggests that the utterer simply has failed to grow up. For that matter, "why should" certain people be gifted with good looks and others be ugly? "Why should" some have brains and others be stupid? "Why should" some enjoy good health and others be sickly? "Why should" there be superior and inferior at all? The fact is that these things are, and we cannot alter them. Political wisdom lies in accepting them and taking them into account, whether this be in respect of differences between races or between individuals.
Yet it is the 'Why should...?" syndrome that forms the whole basis for the scheme to get rid of hereditary peers, and in the meantime do away with their voting powers. It is the old lefty gripe against human inequality, but in terms of creating the conditions for better government in Britain it is totally irrelevant.
Our most important need
Our main preoccupation, with the 20th century now nearly behind us and a new century about to begin, should be with the question of how to achieve a much higher quality of personnel in the ranks of those who wield political power. We need somehow to find people infinitely superior to run our affairs than those to whom we have been accustomed in the recent past, and we then need to provide them with the instruments of government necessary for them to lead effectively. The political debate should be dominated by this question, yet it is almost ignored as we become bogged down in trivia concerning the 'rights' of one type of person in politics by comparison with those of another.
The scope of this proper and necessary debate is vast. It ranges right across the great complex of political institutions through which power is exercised. In this comparatively short essay, there is neither the time nor the space to explore every avenue of enquiry relevant to the question.
We can, however, acknowledge the over-riding imperative which I have stated: that of personnel of real quality in power, whatever their instruments of government may be.
In the quest for this quality, I believe that there is room for the rule of heredity to operate to some extent. Equally, there is room for the rule allowing for people to rise by merit - providing it is the genuine merit of real public service, as opposed to the Blairite criteria of toadyism and cronyism.
This means that it is desirable for us to maintain some institution whereby the best elements among the aristocratic classes are able still to be a part of the power structure, owing their positions to hereditary right rather than to mere success in the party political jungle.
The House of Lords, in its very imperfect way, has provided an institution of that kind. There is much that could be done to improve it, and therein opens up yet another debate of infinite range.
But those who talk of improvement by a rejection of the hereditary principle are aiming wildly off target and merely revealing that they have not the slightest understanding of the real problem. It is, again, the "Why should...?" syndrome - the great red herring in our search for better government.
Quality of leadership attained, rather than supposed justices or injustices in leadership selection, is what should concern us as we endeavour to make the new century a better one for Britain than the old.