Lord Steel: “Belligerence and stridency are now the order of the day in Edinburgh …”

Lord Steel of AikwoodThe deterioration of Prime Minister’s Questions to a weekly exchange of insults isn’t the only negative aspect of UK political life that Lord Steel has noticed.

Belligerence and stridency are now the order of the day in Edinburgh as well.

[Ed – Slugger readers might recognise those traits in Stormont too?]

Lord Steel of Aikwood delivered the opening address in this year’s John Hewitt Society International Summer School in Armagh, a week long celebration of literature, arts and culture. More positively he lauded the huge increase in the number of female MPs at Westminster (now 191, 29.4%) and the reduction in the average age of MPs (due to the introduction of Parliamentary pensions).

You can listen back to his speech and the Q&A that followed.

John Hewitt Summer SChool flagDescribing himself as “not a real Lord” – in the sense he was neither hereditary nor the owner of a castle set in a large estate – he deplored the current practices of party spin doctors who circulate daily lists of questions to be asked and suggestions of tweets to circulate.

While making no reference to the Deputy Lords Speaker Lord Sewel who is prominent in national newspaper headlines, the former leader of the Liberal Party and first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament revisited his reform proposals for an elected upper house to replace the House of Lords. In summary:

  • a total of 500 members (fewer than the MPs in the House of Commons and fewer than the 840 peers in the House of Lords);
  • 400 would be party-political and drawn from MPs, MEPs and members of devolved parliaments (336 England, 32 Scotland, 20 Wales, 12 Northern Ireland);
  • 100 non-political members that would replace the cross-benchers in Lords (the 20% of peers who prevent any government having a majority in the Lords);
  • elections would happen shortly after a General Election and would use proportional representation.

Audience panel Lord Rana Lord SteelLord Steel was careful to stay uncontroversial as he answered questions from the packed Market Place Theatre audience. He refused to give advice to the Northern Ireland Assembly and parried back a question about his 1967 Abortion Act not extending to Northern Ireland with a reference to the chance that abortion policy could be devolved back to the Scottish Parliament.

Letting down his guard a little near the end, the 77 year old peer spoke of knowing and respecting 1980’s Labour leader Michael Foot but fearing that he would have made a bad Prime Minister. In the same vein he admitted knowing and admiring Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, but wasn’t optimistic about Labour’s likelihood of success under Corbyn’s headship.

Lots more events at the summer school which continues to run in Armagh all week.

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