GIVE a thought to that political panjandrum, that veritable Bard of Britishness (to quote the late Tom Nairn), that great sage of Fife – James Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of this disunited kingdom.

We should cast a modest tear for Mr Brown as he contemplates the latest U-turn by Sir Keir Starmer. No, I’m not talking about the messy ditching of the pledge to spend £28 billion per annum on green industrial investment. After all, who wants a green economy or a rise in productivity?

No, I’m referring to Starmer’s decision to bin what was left of Gordon’s constitutional blueprint – the one he actually commissioned from the Bard in 2020.

For those of you who missed this political pantomime, four years ago Sir Keir was running for the Labour leadership. True to form in such contests, he affected a sympathy for radical policies, the better to con hapless lefty voters in the party to support his candidacy.

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Of course, left-wingers inside Labour always know they will be betrayed. But, in the classic fashion of the mad, they go on repeating their delusions in the impossible hope something will change.

Once elected Labour bossman, Starmer needed to throw a few bones to his internal supporters while he expelled most of the left.

In particular, he needed to show that he had heard of Scotland.

So he commissioned our Gordon to prepare a “constitutional review”. This would be a blueprint to “settle the future of the Union” and devolve “power, wealth and opportunity” throughout a grateful nation.

Brown duly established a commission which included Labour councillors, MPs, peers, constitutional lawyers and assorted academics. This august body published its findings in December 2022. The sage of Fife had a few brief media moments outlining the 40-odd recommendations, including the abolition of the House of Lords.

The National: Keir Starmer

Starmer was quoted as saying the report proposed “the biggest-ever transfer of political power out of Westminster and into the towns, cities, and nations of the UK”. For a brief moment, Starmer looked like a radical reformer. Except, of course, he had no intention of implementing any of this turgid, dog-eared agenda. After all, the Labour Party has been promising to abolish the House of Lords since forever.

The Labour manifestos of 1935 and 1983 had a clear promise to scrap the Lords. Brown’s 2010 manifesto promised us an elected upper chamber, as did the 2017 and 2019 versions under Jeremy Corbyn. OK, Labour did not win these elections but somehow when the party was victorious – under Attlee, Wilson and Blair – the subject was relegated to the “pending” file.

From this perspective, it is worth remembering that the Lords has actually been abolished – on March 19, 1649, during the revolutionary Commonwealth. The abolition act said pithily: “The Commons of England assembled in Parliament, finding by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England to be continued, have thought fit to ordain… that from henceforth the House of Lords in Parliament shall be and is hereby wholly abolished and taken away …”

The argument for abolition has never been better put. So why do we still have the Lords? There is a theory that pragmatic Labour politicians such as Starmer believe abolition is just too complicated, as nobody agrees on what kind of revising chamber should replace the Lords. So why take up valuable parliamentary time chasing a will o’ the wisp?

However, the truth is more sinister. Under Harold Wilson, Labour introduced life peerages. Under Blair, the party got rid of most of the (Tory) hereditary peers. Those moves actually increased the influence of the unelected chamber and put fantastic new, undemocratic powers into the hands of party managers.

The real reason Labour will not abolish an unelected upper chamber is because it gives the political class fantastic powers over the governing apparatus. Ditto with the Tories and LibDems. True, the Lords can slow down and complicate the passage of legislation. But who cares in a system that is increasingly presidential and centralised on the executive?

FROM that perspective, the Lords is useful political camouflage but we also need to understand that the continuing existence – nay, expansion – of membership of the Lords is highly popular among the new, middle-class elites who dominate society and the economy.

Life peerages give the new professional middle class an immediate entry into the political system. And they provide a reward system for party funders and supporters that benefits Labour as much as the Tories.

Witness the latest round of 13 new life peerages announced on Friday. They include tech millionaire Stuart Marks, a big Tory donor and friend of Boris Johnson. Then there is Franck Petitgas, another Tory donor and Rishi Sunak’s special adviser on business investment.

Not to mention Paul Goodman, who runs the ConservativeHome propaganda website.

Is Starmer shocked by such brazen political favouritism? Not a bit of it, because he happily put up his own nominees for the ermine. These include a former special adviser, a trades union boss, the party’s former “ethics” adviser, and the Labour Party solicitor. The new nominations push the size of the Lords to nearly 800.

Friday also saw the Tories engage in a wonderful spot of constitutional manipulation when list MSP Donald Cameron – no, I’d not heard of him either – was suddenly made a Lord and translated to the Scotland Office as under-secretary of state. Cameron’s place on the Highlands and Islands (he owns a lot of it) list is taken up by the equally anonymous Tim Eagle. In all of these shenanigans, no-one bothered to consult the poor, bloody voters.

To their credit, the SNP remain the one political party that – to date – refuses to nominate any peers. But we seem to have former Westminster leader Ian Blackford suggesting a rethink. I don’t speculate on Ian’s motives but he is mistaken.

The Lords and its appointment procedure is a cesspit. There might just be an argument for appointing special Scottish commissioners to the Lords during the final independence negotiations, to safeguard against Labour and Tory reactionaries sabotaging Scottish self-determination. Otherwise, leave well alone.

So pity poor Gordon Brown. He is wheeled out when Labour want to pretend they are a reforming party of the people, then wheeled in again after a few media crumbs. His constitutional commission was always bogus. The wonder is that Gordon put in so much effort to a project that was never going to bear political fruit.

Worse, Starmer’s constitutional cynicism bodes ill for Holyrood. As for the Lords, expect Starmer to appoint loads more peers to give Labour extra clout in the upper chamber. Doubtless he will present this as “making the Lords more youthful and representative of the regions”.

Instead, this will be an exercise in reducing elective democracy and expanding the power of the executive. The oligarchy that runs Britain will only expand and expand under Starmer.

What price a newly ennobled Lord Tony Blair as leader of the upper house?