From all the debate and angst within the Tory party over the issue of House of Lords reform you’d imagine the plan to inject an element of democracy into the UK parliament had been foisted on David Cameron by sneakily obsessive Liberal Democrats.
Yet the reality is somewhat different. The Coalition Government’s pledge to overhaul the revising chamber (after Labour’s successive, botched failures) built on Tory promises to the electorate over a decade or more — recognising perhaps that such reform is in fact in their own interests.
Here’s what the Tory manifesto said as far back as 2001:
In changing the way Parliament works our overriding objective will be to strengthen the ability of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to hold the Government to account. We will strengthen the independence of the House of Lords as an effective revising chamber by requiring new members to be approved by an independent appointments commission. We will set up a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament in order to seek consensus on lasting reform in the House of Lords. We would like to see a stronger House of Lords in the future, including a substantial elected element.
By 2005, this Tory pledge of Lords reform had become firmer still:
proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered. … We will seek cross-party consensus for a substantially elected House of Lords.
This reforming pledge was repeated in 2010:
We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.
With such a track record of commitment to Lords reform small wonder that the 2010 Coalition Agreement made an almost identical pledge to the Tory manifesto:
We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.
So the question really to Tory MPs about Lords reform is this: why have you stopped supporting your own party’s manifesto commitment?
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.