THE REBEL MP AND THE JUDGE

~ Posted by Robert Butler, July 11th 2012

The most convincing argument about reforming the House of Lords is that there can surely be no problem to which the solution is having 450 more politicians. Yes, the Lords needs reforming, but only if it's the right kind of reform; a second elected chamber, with an increased mandate, would lead almost inevitably to gridlock between the Lords and the Commons. Last night's rebellion of 91 Tory MPs represents the biggest burst of friendly fire the present government has faced. It was striking that the rebels included some of the most interesting Tories, from the former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and the civil-liberties campaigner David Davis to the former editor of the Ecologist, Zac Goldsmith, and the co-founder of YouGov, Nadhim Zahawi.

Two of the renegade MPs are recent contributors to Intelligent Life. One is Rory Stewart, the explorer, who wrote about the treasures of Kabul in our September/October issue. The other is Jesse Norman, who wrote about his father-in-law, a giant of the legal world, in our March/April issue. As the leader of the rebels, Norman finds himself much more famous today than he was yesterday. Some believe that his chances for promotion have been dashed, but Betfair has now given odds of 54-1 on him being the next Tory leader.

Reports in this morning's papers suggested that David Cameron had lost his temper with Norman last night in Parliament, and there was more sympathy for the rebel (who had never voted against the government before) than for his boss. The Guardian profiled Norman today, calling him "Captain Sensible" and one of the brightest Tory MPs—not, perhaps, high praise coming from the Guardian, but he does have a doctorate and has taught philosophy at University College, London. The paper pointed out that some of his erudition springs from closer to home. "Norman says he owes much of his learning to one word: Bingham. That is Kate Bingham, his intellectually brilliant wife who dazzled him at Oxford, and his late father-in-law Tom Bingham, the former master of the rolls."

In the 3,500-word tribute he wrote for this magazine, Norman described the many discussions he had with his late father-in-law. "We often disagreed, but these conversations were a priceless set of tutorials in law, politics and power from a man acclaimed at his death as the greatest judge of his generation."

One topic the two men discussed was the constitution. "Having privately expressed some support for an elected House of Lords," Norman wrote, "he later rejected that option as merely re-creating the defects of the Commons, and embraced the far more radical idea of an appointed but non-legislative Council of the Realm." If he had read the Bingham piece, David Cameron might have been less taken aback by the Norman conquest.

Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life