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.”

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is a candidate for Party President.

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13 Comments

  • Peter Watson 4th Aug '12 - 10:07am

    “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.”
    I think that accepting increased Lib Dem representation in the Lords to be “reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”, especially when one considers the subsequent collapse in support as measured by polling, would look like a terrible betrayal. It would also look like job creation for soon to be unemployed MPs.

  • “That should give significant negotiating power over other issues – if used well.”

    We should be looking for all of that AND to stuff the Tories very publicly on boundary changes too.

  • jenny barnes 4th Aug '12 - 11:10am

    The relevant sections of the coalition agreement reads as follows:
    ” We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies.”
    and
    “We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.”

    In neither case does it say anything about voting for the bill once it’s brought forward. I expect that was assumed, but sauce for goose for gander.

  • paul barker 4th Aug '12 - 12:38pm

    The idea of creating new lords to reflect the result of the last election would effectively make the HoL into an indirectly elected upper chamber such as many countries have, it would be a lot more democratic than we have now.
    As to the libdems having had a “collapse in support”, we have no information about that. Polls dont even claim to be a predictive tool for general elections, not 3 years out, historically they have a very poor record at predicting libdem vote shares.
    The libdem losses in other elections are irrelevant as voters vote differently for different institutions, compare the london assembly with the mayor or holyrood with westminster.
    This route would see a ridiculous number of peers but most of them dont attend debates so in practise thats not a huge problem.

  • “The idea of creating new lords to reflect the result of the last election would effectively make the HoL into an indirectly elected upper chamber such as many countries have …”

    If by “indirectly elected” you mean “appointed” …

    “As to the libdems having had a “collapse in support”, we have no information about that.”

    There’s a big different between having no information, and having plenty of information but refusing to believe it.

  • Brian Robinson 4th Aug '12 - 1:49pm

    So, in respect of number 4 and with Paul Barker’s comments in mind as well, how about: (a) each party is allocated the fewest number of additional peers that will bring the totals into proportion with the votes cast at the last general election; and (b) the Liberal Democrats elect the people to fill our allocation. Then we have a House of Lords that is both representative of the will of the people in terms of the share of the vote for each party, and elected (at least, the Lib Dem additional peers would be), but too big. It wouldn’t offer a long term solution – repeating the process after each new general election would mean an ever-expanding House of Lords – but each party could put their preferred solution in their next manifesto.

  • Richard Dean 4th Aug '12 - 1:58pm

    I think there should be three chambers.

    > A House of Commons, first past the post in constituency elections, the dominant chamber
    > A House of Seconds, second past the post in constituency elections, power to object but not block, overridable by Commons
    > A House of Revisors, essentially the present Lords, appointees, power to advise but not object or block, overridable by Commons

    This would achieve far better representation of the people, since most of the electorate would have voted for the people who ended up in the Commons or Seconds – indeed it might even approximate to proportional representation or an AV result. It would also clarify and justify the dominance of the Commons, and would retain the benefits of scrutiny by persons deemed able to do so by present and past governments, including ex-PMs and Chancellors who certainly have valuable experience irrespective of whether some people interpret their appointment frivolously as retirement.

    As to location, I suggest splitting the present Lords chamber into two two floors. Not sure who should be on top though!

  • paul barker 4th Aug '12 - 2:08pm

    On the point about electing our extra peers, we used to have a system for this didnt we ? Othey could be reccomended by local parties, as long as the party as a whole has some input I am not fussed.

    On the point about refusing to accept reality, the best predictor of general elections has always been the one before, neither midterm polls or locals have ever had much predictive power.

  • James Sandbach 4th Aug '12 - 2:11pm

    Interesting proposed solution here to this almighty (but predictable) lords reform mess, of increasing proportinately the number of appointed lib dem peers as political fillet – the first thing that comes to mind is that Mark himself hovers somewhere pretty high on the interim Peers panel (we still have this I think) so would be nice for him (!), but it doesn’t really address the basic problem that party appointees in the lords never get to meet the real electorate so become the ultimate products of the westminster political village establishment…

    The party has always been wasting it’s time in trying to get any meaningful progressive constitutional reform out of the Tories, part of their function is to resist any such notion and promote boundary changes which increase their first past the post advantage..

    We need to rethink our whole strategy on constitutional reform which I believe will only be delivered as part of a progressive lefwards alliance..

  • “On the point about refusing to accept reality, the best predictor of general elections has always been the one before, neither midterm polls or locals have ever had much predictive power.”

    I was responding to your claim that there was no evidence that there had been a collapse in Lib Dem support.

    I said nothing about predicting the result of the next general election. I am happy to leave the predictions to you.

  • Peter Watson 4th Aug '12 - 6:31pm

    @Paul Barker
    “On the point about refusing to accept reality, the best predictor of general elections has always been the one before, neither midterm polls or locals have ever had much predictive power.”
    ?
    I don’t think the result in 2005 was a great predictor for 2010, or 1992 for the 1997 result. Equally I don’t think that the 2010 result is the best predictor if a general election were to be held tomorrow.
    But if you don’t believe in polling then there is anecdotal evidence of former Lib Dem voters who will not vote for the party again unless it changes direction, even if it is only me!

  • Peter Watson 4th Aug '12 - 11:44pm

    @Paul Barker
    Even if you don’t believe polls and won’t accept anecdotal evidence, what about the party membership figures being reported by the Telegraph? Down by a quarter in 2011 alone.

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