Political

House of Lords reform: what next?

Four quick thoughts before I go off in search of chocolate, pizza and friends (in reverse order of priority, of course):

1. The last rites on Lords reform for this Parliament have not yet quite been uttered, though it’s striking how those in government I’ve spoken to are all now pretty much just talking about what the repercussions are rather than how it might yet go through. Will Ed Miliband be tempted to mix opportunism with principle and say, ‘No problem about those Tory backbenchers; we’ll support this measure?’. It would revive Lords reform and play havoc with Cameron’s position in the Conservative party. Unlikely, even though.

2. The Parliamentary vote on implementing constituency boundaries isn’t actually governed by the Coalition Agreement. What that did cover was setting up the process and the new rules; what it strictly speaking does not commit the Coalition to doing is voting through the boundaries which the process comes up with. That makes the commitment actually a rather weaker one than the one in the Agreement on Lords Reform. When ranks of Conservatives are lining up to claim that killing Lords reform doesn’t break the Coalition Agreement, only the most myopically arrogant will fail to see that if the wording on Lords reform wasn’t enough to count as a commitment in their eyes, the wording on the boundaries isn’t even close.

3. That boundaries vote is not due until next year – giving the Liberal Democrat a period of time when there is something the Tories very much want the Lib Dems to do and know that most likely they won’t do. That should give significant negotiating power over other issues – if used well.

4. Back to the Coalition Agreement – it did commit to large-scale creation of new peers in order to bring party strength into line with the general election voting shares.* This had been quietly sidelined as proper reform was being drawn up. If proper reform is dead, a large-scale creation – which requires no vote in Parliament – should be back on the agenda. For the Liberal Democrats, a semi-permanent long-term strengthening of the party’s power in a Lords which stays mostly unreformed would only be a consolation, but it would be an important consolation.

 

* “Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

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