There’s a finely balanced stand-off in the Lords over the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Many Labour peers feel they are just a few days of filibustering away from achieving, for them, a major political objective – forcing the government to change the date of the AV referendum – and, or perhaps instead, forcing major changes to the Bill, such as a change in the new rules for drawing up Parliamentary constituencies.
However they also face a major risk of the delaying tactics going wrong. Overplay their hand, annoy the cross-bench peers and spur the government into action and the likely result? Support of the cross-bench peers gives the government the votes and the political standing to change the rules of debate in the Lords to end filibustering, following which government gets its way over boundaries.
Is ending up with only the AV referendum delayed really worth it for wrecking relations with cross-bench peers, weakening their position in future debates – especially in the eyes of Labour peers who either quite like the idea of the AV referendum happening in May or who really dislike the idea of Lords reform and so want to maximise their abilities to oppose that? And given how much hostile media coverage there has been of Labour filibustering, such as the BBC Today program’s reports leading on Toby Harris’s discourse into prime numbers, what does filibustering to to Ed Miliband’s attempts to portray his party as being into new politics and leaving the political style of Gordon Brown behind?
The view from the Liberal Democrat side at the moment is a mix of confidence and doubt – confidence that things will work out, a referendum will happen and the government will prevail in the Lords, but doubt over whether this will happen through Labour agreeing a face-saving way to back down or by Labour trying to tough it out and being undermined by cross-bench peers, many of whom privately are very critical of Labour’s approach, as too – far more quietly – are some of the longer-standing Labour peers.
The nearing deadline for getting the bill through in time for a May 5th referendum, not to mention the decisions needed shortly on whether or not to cancel the mini-break in sittings that the Lords is due to have in February, is concentrating minds heavily at the moment. Much is likely to be decided in the next few days.