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Coming Soon To A Parliament Near You: The Slow Motion Horror Movie Of Lords Reform

Last Updated: Friday, February 24th, 2012

In a parallel universe, the Government’s plans for the coming new Parliamentary session would be considered in a disinterested way – entirely on the merits of the proposals themselves.

For better or worse, this is not the world that David Cameron and Nick Clegg inhabit.  And no single item of Coalition business is more likely to prove this true than the latter’s plans for Lords reform.

We do not yet know the final shape of those proposals, but can be certain that they will propose in a bill the election of some members of the second chamber by some electoral system other than first past the post.

The following considerations will therefore come into play:

* Conservative backbenchers will not want to allow Clegg to gain electoral reform through the back door now that the voters slammed the front door in his face – in other words, voted overwhelmingly against AV in last year’s referendum.

* Liberal Democrat backbenchers will not want to see their wish for such change to be stymied by the Tories for the second time (as they see it).  If Lords reform is snarled up or watered down a significant proportion of them may vote against reducing the size of the Commons in 2013 by way of revenge.

* Ed Miliband could try to prise the Coalition apart by backing the Liberal Democrats and thus help a Lords reform bill get through the Commons.  However, the temptation to gang up with Tory rebels to attempt to defeat the Government may be irresistible.

* There is no Government majority in the Lords.  But even were there one the second chamber wouldn’t simply nod through its own abolition or transformation.  Liberal Democrat peers themselves are broadly against a part or wholly elected second chamber.  If that’s the view of Clegg’s own party wait until the others – plus the crossbenchers – start probing the detail of a bill.

* The Government risks defeat in the Commons perhaps not on the principle of a bill but on major votes when its committee stage is reached.

* It also risks gridlock in the Lords as the revolt over a reform bill spreads to other pieces of legislation.

* It further risks a backlash as major media outlets ask why so much energy is being spent on such a bill.

* And Cameron risks angering both his backbenchers and the Liberal Democrats – thus perhaps losing the Commons seat reduction which his party needs to help win a majority at the next election.

The great wartime radio series ITMA boasted a character called Mona Lott whose catchphrase was: “It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going.” I don’t want to turn into the Mona Lott of this newsletter, but it is hard to see this story of Lords Reform ending well.

Essentially, no-one really wants it very much – except Nick Clegg and his party in the Commons.  No wonder it was reported today that Viscount Astor, the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, has a plan to force a watered-down measure through the Lords.

His gambit is apparently to elect only fifth of the Upper House first-time round – thus making Lords opposition to the proposal seem unreasonable, and getting public opinion on Cameron’s side if he uses the Parliament Act to force a bill through.

A joint Commons-Lords committee is due to report on Clegg’s plans soon.  A bill of some kind will surely follow in the new session.  This looks like the slow motion horror movie of the new session – and it is coming soon to a Parliament near you. 

By Paul Goodman 

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

Mark Menzies MP on Comment: In defence of the Union – a cause for common concern.  “Of course, Members with English, Welsh and Northern Irish seats have a primary obligation to represent their constituents. But to represent their constituents effectively they must also defend our constitution. Scottish independence would have significant consequences for the rest of the UK. Not least of these would be the end of the United Kingdom as a nation state: Alex Salmond may say that Scotland would retain the monarchy, at least for a while, but Scotland and England would become no more united a kingdom than England and Australia. Read More: http://is.gd/Ii6Lve

Tim Montgomerie: We need shock-and-awe tax cuts in the budget, financed by a mix of wealth taxes and spending cuts.  “I guess that financing tax cuts by deeper spending cuts won’t be controversial among ConHome readers. Yesterday Paul Goodman called for a “Lower Spending Commission” to investigate ways of delivering a smaller state more quickly. On Comment today Lord Flight says faster cuts in spending are essential…More controversial among ConHome readers will be my belief that we should increase wealth taxes too so that we can reach towards a pot of £25 billion for cuts in income and other more economically-harmful taxes.” Read More: http://is.gd/scaTpF

Paul Goodman:  We need to think less about raising tax and more about cutting spending. Let’s have a Lower Spending Commission.  “A Commission on Affordable Spending a body would look at Britain’s long-term spending challenges and how to tackle them.  On the political side it could include, for example, Lords Lawson and Lamont, senior former Labour politicians such as Alan Milburn and James Purnell, Andrew Tyrie (if membership was judged compatible with his role as Treasury Select Committee Chairman), Frank Field and David Laws.  It would make recommendations to which the Government would respond.” Read More: http://is.gd/RztA4F

Martin Callanan MEP: How I invented “The Grexit”.  “The press release went out as I sat down… and the phone immediately started ringing in my office. Before I was back at my desk the speech was running on the Press Association wire and had been highlighted on this worthy website and others. A round of ‘down the line” TV and radio interviews followed – and a frantic day ended with a live spot on Newsnight about a subject which by now had its very own newsy nickname – The “Grexit”.” Read more: http://is.gd/pgWmUn

Bruce Anderson: The Second World War was the key to the history of the EU and it still is.  “The reality is that Britain has never really joined Europe. It is true that we signed up to all sorts of stuff, but we did not mean half of it and we did not understand the other half. As Jacques Delors said a few years ago – the wisest comment ever from a Eurocrat – the British are allergic to Europe. Eventually, on the other side of the present crisis – if there is another side – we will have to renegotiate a limited but sustainable membership of some European entity “A common market” will do as the working title. In the meantime, the crisis continues, oscillating between farce and tragedy.” Read More: http://is.gd/1iKa0N

Nadine Dorries MP: Liberal Democrat MPs want to have their Coalition cake and eat it.  “Call me old fashioned, but I was rather hoping for a Conservative majority next time. Allowing the Liberal Democrats to have an unfair competitive advantage against our own candidates at the next election doesn’t seem to be a clever way to go about it. Unless of course, the Prime Minister’s long term plan really is to keep working in coalition. He possibly feels he can manage the double standards of expectations from MPs in both parties. If that’s the case, he may find a turbine blows him a fair wind which will bring him ill luck.” Read More: http://is.gd/af6AIB

J P Floru: The Falklands are small fry compared to Antarctica.  “Occasionally diplomats try to reach some sort of agreement about the exploitation of Antarctica. Sadly a free market and workable system does not seem to be at the top of their mind. In 1988 a Convention to the Treaty attempted to allow for mining, but is was never ratified. It would have established an eye-wateringly complicated bureaucracy and a quasi-communist proceeds distribution system similar to the unworkable International Seabed Authority. Until a new Treaty is signed, extracting Antarctica’s mineral treasure remains unlawful. Britain has the oldest claim on Antarctica and must stand by it and defend it. Exposing Argentina’s breach of international law should be Government Policy.” Read more:http://is.gd/sRSkA3

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