Expert Comment: The House of Lords Reform ProposalMonday 9 July 2012
Adjunct Professor of Politics Bill Jones discusses the proposed House of Lords reforms and the affect it could have on the coalition.
This morning Dame Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker, excoriated the reform proposals on behalf of the traditionalists in the Lords. She insists the Lords is a revising chamber and as such does a really good job. If it is elected it will eventually find that on the really major issues its members will argue that as an elected chamber its legitimacy is on a par with the Commons and that will create deadlock. Such immobilism, she argues, will prove detrimental to the good governance of the country.
She is not alone. A fair swathe of fellow members think along these lines together with around a hundred Tory MPs, who are threatening to rebel tomorrow when a motion is debated to time limit the debate. If the rebels join Labour then the motion will fall and the way opened up for opponents to filibuster the reform into inevitable failure.
But the politics of the situation contain a number of additional elements, making it deliciously complex. Firstly, the Lib Dems are desperate to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives to help them improve their disastrous poll ratings which are barely in double figures. Having failed miserably to achieve their AV voting reform in the ill-fated May 2010 referendum, Clegg is also intent on chalking up at least one major part of the Lib Dem Coalition Agreement objectives; they can scarcely expect voters to be galvanised to vote for them on the basis of a battle cry of:
‘Er..we think we’ve prevented the Tories from being nastier than they otherwise would have been’
Clegg is adamant that Tory MPs are whipped to support this measure and vote for the time limit as well as the principles of the reform: 80% elected for once only 15 year terms in a 450 strong chamber. If he is let down he might well pull the plug on the deal and decide his party is better off allocating support to a minority Conservative government issue by issue. That would enable them to define a distinct profile and build up support for a 2015 vote.
Cameron is in an almost equally difficult position. Since the March budget nothing has gone right for him: the re-toxification of the ‘nasty party’ brand; the economy is still in a fairly deep recession and shows little sign of fulfilling expectations of resuming growth any time soon; and finally, Labour has refused to implode into internecine squabbling and not only leads the Tories overall but is catching up on the ‘economic competence’ rating while Cameron’s personal rating is falling rapidly. Finally, many Conservatives are really fed up with Clegg and his party. Never having overcome their disappointment at not winning he last election outright and furious at the restraints imposed upon them by the Deputy Prime Minister, they want their prime minister to be a true Conservative and reject the Liberal Democrats.
So the stage is set tomorrow for a confrontation as important for the coalition as yesterday’s Wimbledon clash was for Andy Murray. If Lords reform is aborted the Coalition’s life might be limited to days rather than weeks or months.