Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Tory tantrum on Lords reform is nothing to worry about

On Sunday the Telegraph came out with the following ominous headline:
Nick Clegg's Lords reform plans to be watered down after Tories' anger over Hunt treatment
And then went on to say:
"Nick Clegg’s plans to replace the House of Lords with an elected senate could be watered down after the Conservative MPs expressed fury about Liberal Democrat attacks on embattled Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt."
Now, aside from the telling fact that the tories view as an "attack" any suggestion that Hunt, a minister with serious question marks hanging over him, should, you know, be referred to the regulator of the ministerial code in order to resolve the situation one way or another, and that they clearly are more concerned with protecting one of their own regardless of whether he has done wrong, this does sound somewhat serious.

After all, despite it being in the manifestoes of all three parties at the last election, Tories are distinctly hostile to Lords reform and Labour are rather lukewarm on the issue and seem likely to back or oppose it on the basis of whatever will give them the most political advantage rather than anything else. So if tory MPs are planning revenge (despite the fact that they agreed to lords reform in the coalition agreement) then there's a chance that the plans could be well and truly scuppered.

Quick, let's read on:
"Officials are understood to be working on plans to ensure that any legislation recognises the primacy of the House of Commons over the second chamber, and that MPs and peers will not represent the same Parliamentary constituencies.
The changes, which will be presented to the Cabinet next week, have emerged after backbench Tory MPs spoke out against the reforms at a stormy meeting of the Conservatives 1922 committee of backbench MPs"
 Hang on, hang on. That's it?

Okay, let me explain something. The House of Commons already has primacy over the second chamber and that was always going to be the case regardless of the outcome of the reforms. So all that the legislation "recognising" this means is that a clause will be inserted to state the bleeding obvious. Also, given that the reformed chamber is proposed to be elected by STV, a multi-member constituency system of proportional representation, and with members serving one off terms of a different length to that of MPs, there was never any proposal for MPs and peers to represent the same constituencies.

So what's happened here? ConservativeHome has run the story, indicating that the grassroots, at least, seem to believe that this is a victory.

Now, I'd guess that there are two possible explanations. The first is that the tory MPs are just so ignorant of the proposals for Lords reform that they've stumbled into demanding things that were already going to happen as a way of getting revenge, a level of stupidity which I wouldn't put pass them, and the second explanation is that someone in either the Lib Dems or in Cameron's circle has managed to trick the tory MPs into thinking that this is a victory for them. If it's the latter then well done to whoever had the genius idea of tricking the tories into thinking that this is a triumph.

Either way, it does raise the rather interesting prospect that a few months down the line we will see tory MPs marching in determined to give the Lib Dems a drubbing and then voting exactly the way Lib Dems want them to before marching out again and boasting of their triumph.

Still, if it gets tories to back a fairly modest reform to inject some much needed democracy into the upper house then I for one will not complain. Though I will probably titter slightly as I watch tories advance the cause of progress while convinced they are doing the opposite.

1 comment:

I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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