A Labour leopard doesn’t change its spots

Don’t tell anyone, but George Osborne probably let out a sigh of relief when Baroness Manzoor’s fatal motion failed last night.

Of course, it was inevitable that Labour peers would rather bravely abstain on the cuts to tax credits, as their elected counterparts did in July. And Jeremy Corbyn is probably skating on thin ice, given that the scandal of Labour abstaining in July put him where he is today.

Eagle-eyed watchers will note that the Government majority was smaller than the number of active Labour peers. But what was most sickening, of course, was that more Labour peers actually voted against the fatal motion than for it. Sure, only eleven of them actually voted, but only four of those stood up for the working poor.

Indeed, John McDonnell famously stated that he would “swim through vomit” to defy the Labour whip to abstain on the Welfare Bill – which he did. But on Andrew Marr this past Sunday, McDonnell signalled that Labour could support tax credit cuts – if “real protection” is given to the worse-off.

Of course, Osborne has no plans of modifying these plans other than surface changes to make it look like he’s offering those protections. So Labour gave him three years to figure out the exact spin he’ll use, instead of killing the tax credit cuts outright.

But what of our motion? Well, let’s imagine it would have passed. There is no easy victory for George Osborne. He would have had three options: pack the Lords, try his hand at a money bill, or abandon the bill.

In the case of the first option, David Cameron would have had to appoint at least 150 cronies to create the largest legislative house in the world. At a time where Osborne is lecturing us to live within our means, spending tens of millions on salaries for rich donors, to push through cuts on the working poor, is not going to look good for anybody.

The second is bringing it back as a money bill. While it would bypass the Lords, its passage through the Commons would not be secured. Tory MPs like Heidi Allen are getting cold feet at the cuts that the Government promised not to implement – although not enough to vote against them just yet. The bill committee would be likely to force a reconsideration.

If the Tories wanted to make a constitutional crisis, it would be one that they would lose. After all, the Lords is not bound by the Salisbury convention, not least because the Tories promised not to cut credits. But either answer to this constitutional crisis will end up with an elected upper house.

The Parliament Act was never meant to be a permanent feature of the constitution. Its preamble states that the restriction of the upper house to scrutinise the budget at all was a transitionary measure until the house was elected. The debate over an elected Lords was won 104 years ago. It’s time for Labour and the Conservatives to get with the program.

The worst part of Labour’s strategy is that it gives the Tories an easy ride. The primary job of an Opposition is to oppose, after all. Labour should be making the Government sweat on every vote. Only that way can proper scrutiny be offered. But wholesale Labour abstentions make these measures look more accepted than they are. Instead of a scrappy and harmful parliamentary vote, the Tories are getting three-figure majorities on bills which Labour should be opposing.

And if Labour won’t take up the job of Opposition, we are more than happy to do so for them.

* Sarah Noble is an activist in Calderdale. Alongside her role on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats executive, she shares a keen interest in devolution and transport policy.

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44 Comments

  • Sarah, easier said than done, only 8MPS, due to our own ineptness 2010 – 2015, only one week in eight is there an opportunity for our leader at PMs Questions, and the SNP dominate us in the House and in the media. Our opposition will have to come from outside of Westminster and be based on issues where we are clear and concise, preferably those that the other parties are not raising. We need to be individual and outspoken to catch the eye. Not easy. The media will ignore us until we win a by election!!!!!

  • Please stop this nonsense about Baroness Manzoor’s motion not succeeding because Labour failed to support it !

    Simple arithmetic will reveal some basic facts:

    Baroness Manzoor motion was voted against by 217 Cons plus 74 Crossbenchers = 291

    Even if every Lab Peer (164) had voted with the LibDems that bothered to vote for their own motion (83) that would still have been defeated by the Govt because 291 is greater than 247.

    LibDems could do themselves a favour by looking objectively at some facts or they can choose to make lots of sound & fury but ultimately, look somewhat foolish when the facts are revealed.

    Take the fight to the Tories for it is they who are the ‘enemy’

  • Martin, there are 213 – well, 212 now – active Labour peers, not 164. The government majority on the fatal motion was 211, and that includes the seven Labour peers who voted with the government.

  • MRDW: I was perfectly willing to give Corbyn a chance to prove himself, and I’ve actually cautioned against knee-jerk reaction because he’s more left-wing than recent politics has been used to . He was one of those MPs who “swam through vomit” against the Welfare Bill. But their peers’ antics in the Lords last night shows that Labour’s problem is far from solved.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Oct '15 - 6:28pm

    Just a point – the regulations are not a bill, they are a Statutory Instrument, ie subordinate (delegated) legislation. They were not sent to us for approval by us by the Commons, but by the Government. Whether or not the financial privilege of the Commons applies is arguable, but not clear.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 27th Oct '15 - 6:32pm

    As for “what happens now”, I don’t think there is much difference between effect of the Liberal motion from (Bness) Zahida Manzoor and the delay motions. The Government has to decide what to do in order to find a compromise of some kind that the Commons and Lords will accept – or that the Commons will accept if they find a way of tagging it on to a money bill or turning it into one.

    The difference is that the Labour Party look silly for not voting for a motion to just throw them out.

    Tony Greaves

  • MRDW

    Except they haven’t! That’s the point! Corbyn was supposed to have revolutionised Labour. Last night Corbyn and McDonnell should have been doing everything in their power to get their Lords to stop tax credits cuts. Instead they’re playing politics, abstaining on the only motion which will stop the cuts and only voting for delaying tactics. Reminds me why I will never vote Labour – it’s all about self interest and protectionism, and never for the greater good.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Oct '15 - 6:43pm

    Tories should remember that King Edward VII was reluctant to flood the house of Lords, but he died. His son, George V agreed. According to research by Roy Jenkins a list of possible peers was created for Asquith. Facing defeat the Lords approved the Parliament Bill. Tories today seem reluctant to recall that there was a time when the Liberal Party had an overall majority in the Commons elected first past the post.
    The front page of The Times warns the current government against dragging the Queen into party political argument.
    She knows that she was persuaded by a Tory Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, to appoint Alec Douglas Home, 14th Earl, as Prime Minister. Historians of the present conclude that she lost half her power when she did so.
    Tories will recall that the decision was followed by a general election defeat.

  • Dave Orbison 27th Oct '15 - 6:43pm

    MartinB – hear hear! For goodness sake please read the newspapers – any or all of them. Listen to the news. Does it sound like Osborne is happy and let out a sigh of relief?
    As for Labour not being an effective opposition, a recurring claim made by some contributors, you must be having a laugh. Corbyn has led in PMQ’s on tax credits at every occasion. He challenged the Government to cancel the prison’s contract with the Saudi’s. They did it. He has gone a good way to changing the yah-boo of PMQ’s that Clegg complained about in 2010 but did nothing about. On tax credits Labour’s amendment succeeded in the House of Lords with the support of LibDems and the Government are now left running from one TV studio to the next crying foul and lost as to what to do. The Tories are in disarray as to which way to go on this issue with further threats of rebellion if Osborne doesn’t make substantial changes should he reintroduce the measures in one form or other.
    From my perspective it seems that the combined opposition parties have already made life difficult for the Tories and we are only a few months into this Government’s term. I don’t claim that Labour could have achieved this all by themselves. But I have to say the arrogance with which some LibDems attack Labour on LDV is astonishing, notwithstanding a virtual annihilation in the GE, the LibDem’s have just 8 MP’s and their master strategy re the amendment failed in the Lords. Yet, you claim that the LibDems are an effective opposition. Really? By what measure?

  • Sarah Noble

    212 in total but only 164 available for yesterday’s vote.

    How many active LibDem Peers are there ? Far more than the 81 that turned up to vote for your OWN motion yesterday !

  • MartinB – I think actually the figures are about 77% of Labour peers to about 74% of LibDem peers. I am open to correction though. Quite an impressive turnout for both parties.

  • Colin

    How have the Lib Dems changed their spots? We spent 5 years in coalition preventing this. The moment the Tories got a majority in the commons they brought it forward as we told the electorate they would.

    Neither Labour or the Tories have shown any urge to reform the HoL – the Lib Dems tried to replace it with an elected chamber but that failed thanks to Labour and Tory backbenchers. So now it’s time to bring it down from the inside.

  • All this bashing Labour is just daft and it’s about time we began to cooperate with them against what is a pretty nasty Tory government – I gather they even got two thirds of a billionaire Lloyd-Webber to fly from America to vote – and to think we cooperated with them for five years on the bedroom tax et al. It’s going to take a long time to get over that one…. And I speak as someone who joined the party in 1960 when we had a radical party led by a radical leader whose aim was a radical realignment on the left.

    As someone who actually listened to the whole debate I have to say in all honesty that by far the best speech came from Baroness Hollis on the Labour benches.

    @ Richard Underhill. …. Historical note…. Yes the Libs had a majority government from January 1906 to January 1910 – but thereafter relied upon the Labour Party and the Irish. Nationalists for a majority ……. And whilst it may have been first past the post it wasn’t even universal male suffrage …. And Sarah would certainly not have had a vote.

  • Paul Kennedy 27th Oct '15 - 10:19pm

    Out of interest who were the 7 Labour peers who voted with the Govt and against the motion rejecting the tax credit cuts?

  • @David Raw
    “All this bashing Labour is just daft and it’s about time we began to cooperate with them against what is a pretty nasty Tory government”

    I think that the Lib Dem fatal motion was correct and Labour failing to support it was disgraceful I think that Lib Dems are entitled to do a severe bout of Labour bashing so good on you Lib Dems.

  • @ Will. Your first paragraph was better than your second ………

  • The fatal motion would not have stopped the cuts. It would have united the Tory party in the Commons behind Osborne and he would have pushed through the cuts as part of a money bill with little or no amendment. If the aim was to force substantial changes to the plans so as to protect the incomes of low paid workers then the Lords made the best tactical decision.

  • AndrewR is absolutely right. It’s also worth noting that unlike the Mansoor motion, the two successful motions were for revisions to the policy, which is entirely in keeping with the function of The Revising Chamber. Killing off government policy is outside its remit and would have left the House of Lords vulnerable to more widespread criticism.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Oct '15 - 12:21am

    I believed fundamentally in the supremacy of the Commons, I didn’t think I had a right to change my mind because Tories were in it. Now, it seems a bit more complicated than that, but I think I was also coming from a reasonable position.

    I know someone close to me getting their tax credits cut. They were planning to work longer hours to make up for it. It’s not going to be a disaster for everyone and Lib Dems supported similar policies in the last parliament.

    I think Labour did the right thing. I think the public want tax credits cut a bit and don’t just want 100% opposition to these measures.

  • Sorry, I know what would have been said if Labour had put the “fatal” motion. If it had failed, Labour would have been pilloried for over-reaching, for being extreme lefties who always demand the impossible rather than settle for a viable compromise. If it had passed, the Tories would have jumped on their highest available horse to condemn the Lords for exceeding their powers and, with the constituitional lawyers in agreement on that point, the Tories would have taken revenge on the Lords. Then once again, Labour would have been pilloried for over-reaching and being extreme lefties who always demand the impossible rather than settle for a viable compromise.

    Corbyn & Co worked all this out, and they decided that they would prefer to be pilloried for under-reaching and being so moderate that they would settle for a limited compromise, on the basis that gaining a little is better than heroically losing everything. People are duly now pillorying them for that.

    Er, how about we turn our attention to hitting the Tories, who just love to watch their opponents beat each other up and get lost in abstractions?

  • David Raw
    “a radical leader whose aim was a radical realignment on the left.”
    One that was completely ignored by Labour I remember.

  • I believe it shows the alignment of today’s LibDem party when, after an almost unprecedented action by the Lords overthrows an illiberal attack by a right wing Tory government on the poorest in society, the majority of threads/posts attack Labour….What will it take for the same level of venom to be directed at this government?

    Sarah, you seem fixated with 212 Labour peers; what happened to almost one third of our lot who didn’t support the motion?’

  • Yes Expats makes a very good point! Please can we have an explanation from the Lib Dem peers who did not support their own motion? I thought Tim had issued a three-line whip on this? Anyway you can hardly blame Labour for not supporting you, for the perfectly valid reasons given by John McDonnell on the Marr show and also by David Allen above, when you couldn’t even convince your own peers, and the majority of crossbenchers, to do so. This is just thoughtless Labour-bashing. The fatal motion was fatally flawed.

  • Stephen Howse 28th Oct '15 - 10:02am

    “All this bashing Labour is just daft and it’s about time we began to cooperate with them against what is a pretty nasty Tory government ”

    On issues where we and Labour share common ground, we already are – e.g. the tax credits and electoral registration votes in the Lords this week, where we backed a Labour motion on the former and Labour backed a Lib Dem motion on the latter.

  • The peers I’ve identified as not voting for the motion were:

    Lords Alderdice, (Richard) Allan, Alliance, Burnett, Carlisle, Chidgey, Lester, Palumbo, Shipley, Taoylor, Tordoff, Vallance, and (Jim) Wallace;

    Baronesses Falkner, Nicholson and Thomas of Walliswood

    Earl of Mar & Kellie

    I did this by comparing the list on the party website to the voting record in Hansard. There are some new peers on the party website who haven’t taken their seats in the Lords yet so they don’t count; others, such as Baroness Brinton, have their title but again I’m unsure if they have taken their seats so haven’t included them in this list either way.

    I would expect that, looking at the list, they will have pretty good reasons for not voting – most of them are fairly senior and former MPs, so know the drill.

  • But we still need an explanation from Labour why they didn’t vote to ditch the tax changes though…

  • Keith Legg

    John McDonnell explained their position in The Marr Show.

    And if you read David Alkens post above, you will see why backs g the fatal motion would have been politically unwise, not just for Labour but for the Lords in general, and would have been pointless. That’s why the crossbencherscrossbenchers also voted against. You have to choose your battles.

  • Keith Legg 28th Oct ’15 – 10:25am…………….But we still need an explanation from Labour why they didn’t vote to ditch the tax changes though………….

    You write the above and yet, in your previous post you blythley excuse our MPs with, “I would expect that, looking at the list, they will have pretty good reasons for not voting – most of them are fairly senior and former MPs, so know the drill.”…
    Absolute double standards; this is why we are not trusted.

  • Expats – I don’t think so in this case. The Labour peers who were there almost entirely chose not to support our motion. Indeed, I gather more voted against it than for it. In contrast our peers almost entirely supported theirs. Doubtless some peers of all persuasions Lab, Con, Lib Dem, Xbenchers etc were unable to attend due to old age, illness and other valid reasons. Do you know what proportion of Labour peers didn’t vote at all so we can compare the two? Without that, describing it as “Absolute double standards; this is why we are not trusted,” is really to paint the party black when it may not be anything like justified.

  • David, I only raised the issue of our peers to ‘counter the usual “Labour leopard, etc.” ……I believe that sending Osborne’s spiteful SI ‘back to the drawing board’ (Tim Farron) is what matters…..
    We have 112 peers and when only 83 comply with a three line whip something is amiss….After all, if the Tories got Andrew-LLoyd Weber to fly in from the US, what excuse do our peers have…..

    As for not trusted I’ll repeat a conversation I had with a large group of 18-25s, in Minehead, prior to the 2015 election….
    Tory/Labour…Maybe
    Ukip…………………No, “racist”
    LibDem…………No, “untrustworthy”

    Again, this is my third post so that’s me for the day

  • @Keith Legg
    Because they wanted to force a government retreat on tax credit cuts rather than provoke a constitutional row which the government would win.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Oct '15 - 2:00pm

    After PMQ on 28/10/2015 there was an Urgent Notice Question. The Leader of the House spoke words when asked but did not answer the questions substantively. He was reminded that the Tories did not have a majority of votes in May 2015. Although Tony Blair, David Cameron and other ministers have given ample precedent to not answering questions, the habit of not doing so is discourteous to the House,, to the tv and radio audiences and to the electorate in general. The position of the Speaker should be strengthened. Speaker Bercow has made progress by allowing an increase in the number of urgent notice questions.

  • @AndrewR – “Because they wanted to force a government retreat on tax credit cuts rather than provoke a constitutional row which the government would win.”

    I think you have probably got to the real reason for Labour’s gamesmanship. A slightly different thread of thought to that discussed by Iain in his article: https://www.libdemvoice.org/it-isnt-always-good-for-the-lib-dems-when-labour-and-the-tories-agree-48025.html

    The key here is that Labour stayed focused on the issue at hand rather than overtly risking the issue being transformed into a different issue, probably because the LibDems got distracted by the hare of reform rather than practicalities of what can be done about moderating the business at hand, namely reductions in tax credits.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Oct '15 - 11:23am

    Richard Underhill .Saw the same Chris Grayling was struggling to justify the appointment of an hereditary peer to head up a committee to look into this” breach of convention” . What was interesting was cross bench including conservative MPs the question of reform of the house of lords was raised time and time again .We need to strike whilst the iron id hot on lords reform and push for an elected second chamber in an overview and scrutiny role to ensure it is a genuine revision body for government legislation and it does have the power to reference back money bills that have unforeseen circumstances to the commons but not to kill the bills but to give government ministers the opportunity to withdraw them or amend them accordingly .If the minister does not want to do so the still retain the right to guillotine that legislate under the parliament act.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Oct '15 - 11:58am

    We should also pick up the point that Tory MP David Davis made on tv, that the use of secondary legislation (statutory instruments) for the proposed changes to tax credits does not allow amendments to be made in the Commons either. They have therefore not been fully debated, although there have been several debates in the Commons and several votes.
    His proposal that changes to tax credits and the minimum wage (so-called National Living Wage) should occur ‘in step’ (at the same time) is worth consideration.
    Lord Strathclyde is a smoothie. When he was the Leader of the Tories in the Lords he consistently proposed idealised solutions to Lords reform which he knew perfectly well that the Lords would not vote for.
    It was good to see Paul Tyler on the Daily Politics, telling the BBC when, how and why the Salisbury convention (from 1945) was abolished by a subsequent Labour government. He is an effective spokesman.
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/paul_tyler

  • @Richard Underhill
    “It was good to see Paul Tyler on the Daily Politics, telling the BBC when, how and why the Salisbury convention (from 1945) was abolished by a subsequent Labour government.”

    Can you give any more detail on that? I thought the Salisbury Convention had held up pretty well until the Lib Dems rather high-handedly declared they were dispensing with it about ten years ago.

  • Tsar Nicholas 29th Oct '15 - 4:22pm

    Labour has an ongoing problem with Blairites, just as we have had with Orange Bookers. I think it’s a minor miracle that Labour opposed anythingat all on tax credit cuts. After all, who doesn’t believe that if right-winger Yvette Cooper had been elected Labour leader, that party would probably have caved in to the Tories altogether?

  • Richard Underhill 30th Oct '15 - 11:42am

    The PM is attacking the Labour-Liberal Democrat votes on tax credits, but a majority in the Lords also needed the independent cross-benchers and the Bishops. The Archbishop of York spoke powerfully and intervened repeatedly when the Tory deputy leader was summing up.
    https://youtu.be/owif6Cp0O-M

    On BBC tv Michael Portillo said that the Lords have saved George Osborne’s bacon, because if the policy of cutting tax credits in this way had been allowed to run on for longer it could have been more damaging to the government. Recalling the ‘Omnishambles’ budget they refused to speculate on the Chancellor’s career prospects. He has boxed himself in by legislating for budget surpluses in ‘normal’ times and will need to find a way to re-arrange the numbers.
    Labour MP Margaret Hodge said that lots of Tory MPs are very angry at the way this was handled in the Commons, in a welfare bill and in a statutory instrument which only allows tham to accept or reject, but not to amend.

  • It’s a pity the focus of debate is not the obscenity of the HoL regardless of any vote outcome. When does the madness stop regarding an unelected unrepresentative 2nd house end.

    Shall the Tories add another 100 to “balance” the house.
    Why should the LibDems have over 100 when the country rejected them as a political force.

    Stop praising a meaningless stunt and act on getting rid of this abomination in a democratic system.

    As is typical of LibDems you like to portray high standards but in reality you can’t wait to get your share of the illusion of influence which reveal your true nature.

    Your politicians can be bought by the provision of a ministerial car or a piece of ermine.

  • @Clootie
    The trouble with having an elected HoL is that nobody has explained how it could be implemented without leading to either (a) chaos, (b) pointlessness, or (c) a diminution of democracy.

    For instance, under the Lib Dem / coalition proposals, we would have had a situation where Lords who had been elected over 10 years ago felt they had a democratic mandate to vote down legislation put forward by a government elected with a huge majority just a few weeks ago. Democratic? I don’t think so. It would be like giving Tony Blair’s last cabinet the power to veto anything the current government tried to do.

    You might counter that by pointing out we kind of have that situation already, with a HoL stuffed with old, failed politicians. But the difference is that the current HoL is essentially pretty toothless. This week’s defeat of the government is not much more than a minor inconvenience for Cameron and Osborne, who can – and will – find ways to circumvent it. (This, incidentally, is the reason why Labour’s delaying tactics have a far better chance of actually helping people on tax credits than the Lib Dems’ grandstanding “fatal motion” would have done.)

    An elected HoL would presumably have far more power than the current one – if it didn’t, why bother electing it at all? But once we have an elected HoL, you end up with anti-democratic anomalies such as the one I just described, not to mention the potential chaos of two chambers unable to agree but each claiming to have a democratic mandate.

    Most people who favour an elected HoL don’t seem to be able to offer any argument other than “but it’s obvious, innit?” But it seems much more obvious to me that a better way to proceed is to have one elected chamber answerable primarily to the electorate rather than a second chamber of dubious legitimacy. Some sort of revision body is obviously desirable, but I wouldn’t want it to have more power than the one we currently have – and if it’s not going to have more power, than whether it’s elected or not hardly seems to matter.

    The real affront to democracy in our system is the continuing influence of big money over governments. Compared with that, and the other obvious outrage of the voting system, the continuing existence of an unelected HoL really isn’t worth spending a single second worrying about.

  • To my mind the real problem with politics today is that there isn’t nearly enough involvement of the public. We expect the PM to be an expert on every subject under the sun, and I think you will agree that he is very far from that. That’s why we need the Citizen’s Initiative, as proposed by UKIP.

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