Thursday, June 28, 2012


House of Lords Reform Will Struggle to Pass into Law

Lords Reform has been around for ages of course. Everyone wants it but nobody agrees what is the best way to go. So the issue is suspended in limbo. My guess is it'll stay there for a while too.

After the AV debacle May 2011, the Lib Dems really need to show what they are here for. Nick Clegg must anguish over the polls which suggest even UKIP might soon overtake them as the third party. Clegg himself must wonder if he'll have a party left after the next election. Many Tories and not just on the right hope his worst fears will be fulfilled.The dissenting MPs have threatened to rebel if it comes to the crunch; little suggests Cameron's endorsement of the plan yesterday has changed their minds.

But there is another powerful factor at work over the Lords; around 100 Tory MPs are opposed to the very idea of the Lords reform. Inventing an 80% elected and 20% appointed chamber with 15 year terms will seriously alter the dynamic of Parliament, say the rebels. Conor Burns, PPS to the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Patterson thinks the reform will enable the Lords to veto any major initiative; he says he is prepared to resign over the issue. So the political opposition to the reform is considerable. What will Labour do? They talk supportively of reform but may not be able to resist the opportunity of making trouble if the bill begins to go pear-shaped.

Peter Kellner's Yougov poll on the topic reveals some interesting nuances.

So how does the public view the Government’s plans, unveiled this week, to reform the Lords? YouGov’s poll for the Sun suggests three big truths:

"As many as 76% of us think peers should be mostly or wholly elected; and by two-to-one we want the 21 seats reserved for senior bishops to be abolished. However, only 18% people regard Lords reform as an urgent matter. Politicians who are thought to divert attention from more pressing problems may find themselves in trouble with the electorate. However, if reform is to happen, 55% want the ultimate decision to be taken by a referendum; just 26% think change should be enacted without a public vote. And support for a referendum runs at around two-to-one among supporters of all three main parties."

The key point is the negligible number thinking reform of the Lords is a priority. If Tory rebels seek to put their spoke in Dave and Nick's reform wheel, there will be precious little by way of popular support in the country. I'd say the odds on it going through are at best 50-50 and I'm almost certain i'm being optimistic.

You're right of course that no sane person could fail to see that Lords reform is long overdue. I occasionally chuckle to myself about how the world might react if one of the newly emerging democracies were to propose a system like ours for populating its second chamber. (Mind you the French system is also pretty odd, it seems to be possible to become PM having got no votes at all from le public over there.)

But then there's the Clegg factor; not only is the proposed reform not the optimum one, it's he who is proposing it. If I were an MP (perish the thought) I'd be tempted to vote against it even though, as with voting reform for Commons elections, it may be the only chance for change in a generation...
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