Why Conservatives should back Lords reform

There’s a certain irony to the fact that it seems to regularly escape the memory of Conservatives that they failed to win the general election in 2010. Despite Tory MPs having to negotiate on a daily basis with a rival political party just to keep their leader in Number 10, no substantive discussion seems to happen among Conservatives about why, in such conducive conditions, they failed to win a majority.

One reason for that is perhaps that would involve some rather uncomfortable truths.

It’s a fairly uncontroversial statement to say that more Britons share the fundamental beliefs of the Conservative party than bother to turn out to vote for them. Probably substantially more; certainly enough to have given them a majority in the Commons.

One of the common diagnoses for this problem is the issue of perception. Because while people might share the beliefs of Conservatives, they don’t necessarily think that they can trust those same people with power.

Hence why David Cameron spent so much time in opposition detoxifying the way the Tories were perceived on issues like the NHS and climate change. On these two issues he was moderately successful, but the problem is that he didn’t go far enough.

Not enough people believed that Cameron was a new type of Tory, representative of modern Britain and accepting of the new political and social consensus.

And the Tories in government are in danger of going backwards. Ironically enough, this is often not because of what they are doing, but because of what they are saying. Calling for the scrapping of the 50p tax rate, obsessing over Europe, opposing political reform – all harm rather than help the Tory brand.

The fundamental point that the 2010 election highlighted is that being on the right side of public opinion on a particular policy is not enough for the Conservatives. They have to do more. So only by ruthlessly positioning themselves as the modernisers of British politics to the Tories have a chance of a majority in 2015.

If the Tories were focussed on winning in 2015 they’d be supporting wholesale reform of the outmoded, illegitimate, oversized and unaccountable House of Lords not because it’s top of the public’s list of priorities, or even because they believe in lawmakers being elected, but because of what it would mean for public perception of their party. Only when he does things to surprise people can David Cameron stand up and say that he is a different type of Tory. And it’s only as a different type of Tory that he has any chance of being the prime minister in a Conservative majority government.

Principle might not lead the Tories to support Lords reform; self-interest should.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I think this is a very confused post. It seems to be using a dubious premise (it is not uncontroversial that “Tory beliefs” are shared by a majority of Britons) to suggest the Tories might want to support Lords Reform. I don’t really want to address whether they should / ought to support reforms to the Upper House, more to contest the premise. Firstly, of the 3 major parties (and probably among the minor parties too) the Tories are the only one who as far as I know, have no statement of beliefs at all. So how can it be that a majority ‘support their beliefs” (maybe a lot of people regard themselves as ‘traditional’ Tory supporters). I have a friend in Scotland who calls the Tories the SPP – no not the Scottish anything – the Selfish People’s Party – so I suppose in those terms you could deduce a majority!

    I am not even sure there is any psephological support for Nick’s contention. Certainly in the Ballot Box, the majority has in all but one case in modern politics, come out with a Tory majority over Labour + Libs / Lib Dems / Alliance. Anecdotally, I would say that a lot of the stay at homes at GEs have borderline fascist views. I draw on experience from telling at both GEs and Euro elections, where you get a much smaller turnout, but a lot of different voters, who listening to their comments, insults, and watching their contorted faces, you know they are of that mindset. They believe at GEs they will not have a chance of influencing the outcome, whereas they might at Euros. I do not think you can legitimately add that (what might be called an extreme right vote) to the Tory percentage to deduce a Tory majority. Often their views on equality (among a certain section of the population) are far away from Tory views on that!

    As for Nick’s view that Tory support for Lords Reform (even if many of their own backwoodspeople wanted it) would help to reinforce people’s belief that Cameronism was a new feature rather than old Toryism, I think people would see that there was plenty of old Toryism (and certainly of a Thatcherite variety) on issues closer to their hearts, to realise that an issue marginal to their everyday concerns would cut no public ice at all. If behind Nick’s comments, he believes that our leadership in the Lib Dems are showing clearly how we differ from the Tories, and will therefore vote for us next time round on the basis of moderating the Tories, then again this is trumped by us going along with Cameron on more everyday issues in a way that hasn’t been expected of Lib Dems or their predecessors for 70 odd years.

  • Michael Moore Nick Thornsby 1st Mar '12 - 12:17pm


    I don’t say that a majority of Britons share the values of the Tories, merely that more people than vote for them do. Such a statement could equally be applied to other political parties, but there are different reasons for different parties why those voters don’t actually vote for that party.

  • David Evans 1st Mar '12 - 2:05pm

    Oh dear. Sadly this simply reads as another desperate attempt by the Lords reform brigade to talk up in any way the waste of our time that Lords reform will be.

  • Michael Moore Nick Thornsby 1st Mar '12 - 3:36pm

    Ooh, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a brigade before. Exciting.

  • Tories have been trying to make the case AGAINST democratic accountability in favour of the status quo… good luck with that.

  • One thing which does appear to have escaped this whole debate is this – NOT ALL of the Lib Dem Members are in agreement with all aspects [if any] of Lords Reform! This is despite the constant massaging of figures which purport to state the opposite view.

    I, for one, do not believe that we should have a totally elected lords- I have put my proposals forward but my opinions are very often discounted. The so-called “majority” want either a “fully elected ” House of Lords or an “80% elected” House of Lords. I do not believe either option is the best option.

    I don’t doubt that some reform is needed, some streamlining maybe – there are far too many “risen to the ranks” Peers and Lords who have arrived there on the back of previous “political or sporting achievements” – some are worthy of this honour, but there are many who are not.

    There are some very worthy “new” Peers, Lords and Ladies and there are many hereditary ones too. As with all political entities – there are good ones and bad ones – rather like the “curate’s egg” – good in parts.

    I would not like to see a wholesale sweeping away of hereditary peers [generically speaking, but male and female] and I would not like to see a wholesale sweeping away of the others, but we are in danger of throwing away the baby with the bathwater – throwing out the good with the bad – that is political suicide!

    Personally speaking, I think the Reform of the House of Lords should be at the bottom of the Government’s agenda and not at the top, dominating the press and other media circus scrambles.

    We have far more pressing and really important issues with which this government should be grappling – this is not one of them!

    Please do not assume that all our Members are behind this move for total Reform of the House of Lords – we are not!

  • …. and as for calling it “The Senate” and having “Senators” – NO WAY!

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Mar '12 - 12:11pm

    @Rebekah — a majority that you disagree with is still a majority, not ‘a so-called “majority”‘.

    And what on earth is this violent objection to “Senate” and “Senators” about? (I’ve seen it from one or two others before.) Is it an anti-American thing? If it helps, they didn’t invent the words. 😕

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