Opinion: Can we campaign on Lords reform?

Let’s face it, Lords reform doesn’t come up on the doorsteps often, however important it is.

But there is one group of people in Britain who Lib Dem Voice readers know, who care deeply about Lords reform. Campaigners for AV, who most of us have spent the last 6 months working with, are overwhelmingly in favour of Lords reform.

So today we can all use Lords reform as a great campaigning opportunity. Simply create a local petition (like this one)  to make sure that your local MP votes for and campaigns for a 100% elected Lords.

Then send this petition to everyone you know who worked on the Fairer Votes campaign, and to your local Lib Dem members. And don’t forget to also lobby any Liberal Democrat peers who have connections with your area – some of them may need reminding of our policies!

You won’t get thousands of people signing your local petition, but you can both help to make sure that Lords reform is passed, and find people who in the months and years to come will become Lib Dem supporters, members and activists.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “Let’s face it, Lords reform doesn’t come up on the doorsteps often, however important it is.”

    Exactly. And it’s precisely the reason why we shouldn’t be wasting too much effort on it.

    Yes, Lords reform is important for democracy, and the Lib Dems probably have a higher share of constitutional geeks as members than the other two parties which is why there’s an appeal to members on this.

    But we’ve spent the last few months fighting a losing campaign on AV, when in fact people are more concerned about their services and jobs which are under threat at the moment. If we spend any longer navel-gazing and not responding to the concerns of the electorate then the results of a couple of weeks ago will start to seem like good ones.

    So OK, lets use existing campaigning tools – blogs, Focus, etc – where we were already doing this. But don’t waste additional time and resource on it.

  • Lorna Spenceley 23rd May '11 - 2:07pm

    Frankly, Rob, I’m unconvinced. The movement for democratic reform had its face well and truly kicked in on 5 May, and we need to recognise that. We’re highly unlikely to win any change in any electoral arrangements for anything for at least 20 years – whatever the three party manifestos and the coalition agreement said. (AV was in Labour’s manifesto, and look what relevance that had to how they behaved in the recent referendum).
    Rather than trying to divert the energy of all those disappointed activists towards some rather less shiny second, or third, or fourth prize, we really need to spend serious time – time that we’re not spending working towards real elections in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, anyway – on a serious drains-up of the whole democratic reform movement.
    As others have said elsewhere, we need to look long and hard at the various organisations who’ve brought their chairs to the picnic – the ERS, Unlock Democracy, Take Back Parliament and so on. What do they all contribute? What are their campaigning priorities? Do we need so many of them, or are they all just tripping over each other’s feet instead of getting on with the task in hand? Are they competent at what they do? Do they have enough really smart, savvy political fighters of national calibre in their top reaches, or are they just the bumbling amateurs they looked in the run-up to 5 May? Are they conveying the right messages? Are they engaging enough people?
    The democratic reform movement, or what passes for it, has historically been too full of people burbling on at each other about Droop Quotas and Condorcet, rather than seeking to engage the uninterested public-at-large in what is, or should be, a simple moral crusade. Electoral reform is about justice and fairness, not some abstruse reaches of higher maths – and won’t be won until the burning injustice of the present arrangements is felt as deeply as slavery and the fight for women’s suffrage. Until we can articulate a simple case clearly, persuasively and from the heart, any public-facing campaign for democratic reform is time wee’d up the wall.
    If there’s an easy majority in both Houses of Parliament for changes to the Lords, or changes to local council election arrangements, which can be put onto the statute book without too much trouble, fine. But if not, as KL says above, people are worried about their jobs, pensions, buses, libraries, child care, utility bills, and if we’re devoting our energy to snatching some tawdry consolation prize for having lost the AV referendum, we’ll look increasingly out of touch with real life.
    Lords reform isn’t a ‘great campaigning opportunity’, and won’t be until the democratic reform movement has had the thorough blow-through that it needs.

  • Bill le Breton 23rd May '11 - 3:58pm

    Over thirty years we have made progress when we have recognized the value of the three Cs. Concentrate, Campaign and Communicate. Concentration can mean concentration on target wards and target seats, but it also means concentrating on certain issues.
    The future of the Party depends in no small way on the Liberal Democrats forcing the Conservatives to abandon the present Health and Social Care Bill. We need a high profile policy victory. This would be it.
    It is the one big ticket item that may convince the majority of the population that working within a Coalition with the Conservatives and therefore being able to moderate the worst aspects of their ideology was the right decision.
    So, if you were thinking of writing a FOCUS, sending an email, collecting signatures at the supermarket or whatever, then, the subject must be: Join the Liberal Democrat Campaign to AXE the Health Bill and Save the NHS.
    Sorry Rob, but anything else just now is a distraction.
    This is a fight for survival, in requires total concentration.

  • “Let’s face it, Lords reform doesn’t come up on the doorsteps often, however important it is.”

    i.e not very

    Just because the Liberals have been backing lords reform for 100 years, during which time they’ve been relegated to third party, doesn’t make the issue important. The only people who actually care about Lords reform are those that physically worship electoral democracy like a cult, and see any deviation from electoral democracy as evil. A lot of them are the same people who believe that the Queen is dangerous, and think jokes about Prince Phillip whipping peasants are both amusing and a serious political commentary.

    For the rest of us the last thing we want are more politicians running around Westminster. We’re quite happy to let the big beasts from the larger parties retire to the Lords, because they end up causing trouble for the commons (whilst also recognizing their inherent influence), but it’s the idea of eminent businessmen, lawyers, and scientists being given a seat in the house that’s most attractive. After all the English were holding meetings of wise men before we were even a single kingdom.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd May '11 - 4:29pm

    @Bill le Breton
    I agree with you. Save the NHS is a good strong message (and an evidently worthy aim), whereas Lords reform is going to be particularly hard to sell at a time when public opinion of politics is so dark it’s verging on the nihilistic.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd May '11 - 5:39pm

    ” Every local party needs new members, deliverers and activists ”
    Mostly because the current behaviour of the parliamentary party has caused those we had to leave and give up. The results of the local election disaster probably won’t be seen for several years, but where I live we had a similarly disastrous local election 4 years ago – and the party locally is now almost dead. 5 years ago we had control of the local council. Now – there are no LD county, district or parish councillors in the entire constituency. When long serving councillors lose their seats on the council, some will carry on, but many will abandon politics.
    After all the electorate gets the politicians it deserves.

  • David Allen 23rd May '11 - 5:51pm

    Head. Brick wall. Bang.

    Go onto BBC I-Player and listen to last week’s Andrew Neil. Listen to the pundits explaining why just about every MP in the chamber was taking the mick when Clegg piously proclaimed that this time Lords reform was serious and that it was really going to happen. The reason why it failed last time, and will fail again this time, is that despite all the fine words, nobody in the Commons really wants it to happen. Why scrap a nice comfy retirement home?

    Now, of course, a party which was riding high in the polls, with an unblemished record of moral probity, might potentially be able to work up a fine head of steam amongst the nation at large about the disgracefully complacent and self-serving attitude of the MPs from the old parties. Sadly, the Lib Dems are no longer that party.

    Boasting our superior ethical standards, and then betraying them wholesale, has not impressed the punters. The long hard slog to win them back must mean humility and responsiveness to what voters actually want from us – starting, as others have said, with action to save the NHS.

  • I am told that the Liberal Democrats want to show in this Parliament that they can be trusted with power.

    I am not sure that this end is best attained by obsessing over subjects the public cares nothing for, or attacking their own coalition partners.

    The economy is stagnant.

    So talk about that. Talk about land auctions or deregulation or free trade or microeconomic reform or SOMETHING.

  • The reason why it failed last time, and will fail again this time, is that despite all the fine words, nobody in the Commons really wants it to happen. Why scrap a nice comfy retirement home?

    Quite. But that’s exactly why we should either make the upper house elected or (an option not sufficiently discussed) scrap it altogether. The House of Lords is a joke and although I agree that 99.9% of normal people (i.e. non-political-geeks) aren’t interested in this issue, I think they would support reform strongly if we explain exactly how offensive it is.

    The expenses scandal involved such tiny sums (in the scheme of public spending) that it was an unimportant issue compared with, schools’n’hospitals etc. But it rankled with people because they saw MPs taking the mickey and often being arrogant about it. The Lords has many of the same attributes – the public can democratically expel an MP and then watch them get appointed to a cushy job-for-life in the upper chamber. It’s another example of arrogant mickey-taking, and an example of the behaviour that puts politics in such contempt with many people. Does it affect the bread-and-butter issues, like the economy or the NHS? No. But neither did expenses.

  • As one of those active YES campaigners I feel massively patronised by this.

    Did you look at what the AV campaigners have been doing in the last few weeks? We have been discussing what we’ll be doing next, and yes, Lords reform is on our agenda (although not everybody agrees, of course). Check out the relevant Facebook groups!

    I have to say, if any of the local party activists (who were helping me as I was co-ordinating YES activities locally) were to come to me with such a petition as if it were a novel idea, I’d probably sign, but I would feel rather miffed that they thought that I’d need encouragement of this kind (I think our local LibDem activists know better than trying that, actually).

    I suggest that party activists with interest in this should try to find their local or regional YES group – many of them are planning to remain active at the moment – and co-operate with them. That would be a better way of getting a campaign going without annoying the activists. You also have to be careful, since not all the AV campaigners are in favour of Lords reform, but in many cases, those discussions will already have gone on within those groups in recent weeks.

    By co-operating with your local YES group (might be operating as Take Back Parliament now) rather than merely exploiting them as petition fodder, you are also more likely to get a bigger list of signatures, since the YES campaign groups are likely contain people who wouldn’t necessarily be willing to help LibDems, but would be willing to support Lords reform.

  • As most have put it better than I can – I agree with those who disagree with this Lords Reform as it is being proposed. The timing is totally wrong and it is ill-conceived.

    Lords Reform is the last thing on people’s minds at the moment – the people who have lost their jobs as a result of the cut-backs – the people whose jobs are threatened by the needless reform of certain areas – the disabled, the vulnerable, the poor who have been targeted or who see their incomes dwindling with rises in VAT etc. – people who have NOT seen the promised increase of “an extra £200 in their pockets” – people who are still awaiting the £10000 tax threshold – we are not the least bit interested in such a campaign.

    Many of us already belong to the above named groups and have already been engaged with the efforts in the last year on AV, YES vote and Take Back parliament – you are preaching to the converted Rob and you won’t get far with it. As Maria says – it is patronising to say the least.

    Our Party has haemorrhaged members since the Coalition, mostly out of despair and desperation, and we will no see more of them/us leaving a Party which has its priorities wrong in so many areas.

    We have given away too many concessions to the Tories in order to be in power and remain in power.

    If we are going to reform the House of Lords at all, they should STOP creating new peers out of ineffective “has been” politicians (with the exception of the very good ones of whom there are some) and putting them out to grass because they no longer have a place in the House of Commons.

    The H of L is overburdened with the “fat cat politicians” who have been created by the “powers that be” simply to get rid of them. Being a Lord, Peer, Baroness should have some meaning – I can think of a few excellent people who have deserved this honour – not be a “safe retirement home on an even larger pension” than those they are already guaranteed, unlike the rest of us mere mortals who are seeing our derisory State Pensions and whatever small private or occupational pensions we may have being whittled away by the day with price increase, VAT increases etc..

    Get what we are supposed to be doing RIGHT first! Stop tinkering with non-essential issues and tackle the real issues which affect everyday folks’ lives, most of whom don’t care fig about the H of L Reform. Stop spending billions on wars and weapons and put the money into education, health and Social Care where it is more needed. THOSE are the priorities which this Government should have, not nit-picking about who is in the House of Lords! Many of the Lords/Ladies are doing a grand job in blocking some of the idiotic Bills which Members the Other Place try to get through – I say leave them alone to do it. The Lords have a job to do – leave them to get on with it and get on with your own jobs – and do them properly!

    Let’s be honest here – there are not very many of us “ordinary folks” who have ever been allowed to get near being elected MPs – our faces don’t fit. Many of those in the Cabinet are the privileged to start with, very few are from the back streets or the deprived areas of the UK. If there are any at all, good for them – let them be proud of what they have achieved but remember the rest of us for whom you are working.

  • Lord Ashcroft has just been given a job in government!
    This is our big chance, We need every Lib Dem in front of camera tonight asking about Nom Dom status, tax avoidance, and dodgy dealings in Beleize! If we wanted a better example of what is wrong with the Lords then you don’t get better than Ashcroft. The term gift horse comes to mind. It’s time to cause a stink!

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