Douglas Carswell

07 NOV 2016

Lib Dem peers should remember Asquith

Nick Clegg thinks Lib Dem peers can extort concessions from the government over Brexit. It's a reversal of what Tory peers tried to do to a Liberal Prime Minister a century ago. They should remember who came off worst.

In 1909, when the House of Lords broke with convention not to interfere with a money bill and vetoed Chancellor Lloyd George's so-called People's Budget, it might have seemed like a show of strength. In reality, it was the opposite.

The consequence was two general elections in 1910. The Prime Minister, Asquith, fought the first on the budget. The Liberals lost seats, but still came out ahead. Faced with their new mandate, the Lords backed down and passed the budget they had blocked the year before.

But the battle didn't stop there. Asquith fought a second general election on reforming the House of Lords. Again he received a mandate. Again the Lords tried to block the legislation. Yet when Asquith threatened to flood the upper House with Liberal peers, backed by the King, the Lords relented.

The result was the Parliament Act 1911. The House of Lords lost its absolute power of veto. What had begun as a show of strength ended in a humiliating surrender.

Asquith's election address in the second 1910 election especially resonates today: "Are the people, through their freely chosen representatives, to have control, not only over finance and administrative policy, but over the making of their law?"

A century on, Clegg seems to believe it is legitimate for the people's representatives – both elected and unelected – to veto a policy that the majority of the people chose at the ballot box. A policy, moreover, that seeks to restore the people's control over their laws.

It's a mark of the Liberals' decline that their position today could have been articulated by a Tory peer a hundred years ago. Might that elitist shift have something to do with their failure to win a general election since 1910?

The Tory peers in 1909 didn't know how their campaign would turn out. With the gift of hindsight, Lib Dem peers today ought to be wiser.

Fight the people at your peril.

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