Coffee House

What’s going on over the Lords — and where to read about it

27 February 2012

9:30 AM

27 February 2012

9:30 AM

Finally, Lords reform becomes interesting: it could be the issue that splits the coalition. Lord Oakeshott’s
admission of this yesterday has made the newspapers today — but it will come as no surprise to Spectator readers. James Forsyth
drew out these battle lines for his cover story last week, and it’s worth reprising his arguments as the
rest of the press has yet to catch up.
 
Self-preservation is a powerful force in politics. Even if the Lib Dem vote recovers, it’s likely to do so in different constituencies, meaning most Lib Dem MPs are likely to lose their seats. As
Lembit Opik’s music career demonstrates, it’s tough to find work out there. Making it to a
revamped Lords is their best option. And the new upper chamber could be constructed in such a way to make the Lib Dems a deciding factor. Many Tory MPs are baffled as to why Lib Dems care about
constitutional reform so much. But for many Lib Dems, the mission is to rig the voting system so the tail can always wag the dog. If the Lib Dems had a motto, it would be one a line by Dotty in Tom
Stoppard’s play Jumpers: ‘It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s
the counting.’
 
The stakes are higher still. James also reveals that Nick Clegg has threatened to pull the plug on the boundary review (which should give the Tories about 20 more seats) unless Lords reform is
passed. As James says in his piece, this is how business is conducted in the coalition now. They thought it was a rough phase, but now both parties are reconciled to their coalition being one of
threats and recrimination. Liam Fox said on Sunday Politics yesterday that Tories are five-sixths of this coalition. And yet the
government is run 50/50 by a Quad (whose workings were outlined by James’ political
column
a fortnight ago).
 
And the next stage in this drama? A Lords rebellion is now underway. The Tory ringleaders think they can pull off a Euro-scale rebellion of at least 81 MPs. As far as these Tories are concerned, it
is not worth handing the Lib Dems the permanent balance of power in the Lords for staying in the coalition when they have nowhere else to go. On today’s polls, the Lib Dems would go from 57
seats to just 14. Are they really going to call an election now, and end their careers?
 
In James’ piece, he puts 2014 as the more likely date of the next election. Even that may be optimistic: British peacetime history normally shows coalitions lasting two years at most. Ours is
an adversarial politics, our parliament is one which encourages fear and loathing. Increasingly, such traits are coming to characterise the coalition.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
  • Tom

    “But for many Lib Dems, the mission is to rig the voting system so the tail can always wag the dog.”

    Such a ridiculous thing to say, the lib dems only hold the balance of power if people vote for them. I’m very sorry that the public don’t vote the way that you want them to, but that’s just democracy and if you oppose these reforms, that’s what you oppose.

  • dorothy wilson

    Aren’t the LibDems putting the cart before the horse in pushing this? Before any Bill relating to the HoL is presented there should be an independent evaluation of all the issues involved, constitutional and otherwise. Perhaps there should be a Royal Commission to do this.

    After all, wasn’t it Chesterton who said something along the lines that before taking the fence down you should know what is behind it?

  • Tron

    Who the hell is Lord Oakeshott and why is he popping up on my telly all the time?

    Sky and the BBC give him a easy ride to talk socialist clap-trap and threaten Tory MP’s but it is never explained why we should listen to his views on anything.

  • Sir Everard Digby

    I suggest unicameralism is the answer. What purpose does this mismash of has- beens,cheats and placemen actually now serve? If the upper house is going to obstruct the passing of legislation,or be ineffectual,get rid of it.
    After all, a second chamber is not deemed necessary in Scotland,Wales or Northern Ireland,so why here?
    Moving to that model would require a written constitution. Hardly more work than the multiple attempts at ‘reform’ which have already failed. and the legislative review could be completed by committees. It would also avoid having to pay these wastes of space 300 quid a day to turn up.

  • Dimoto

    The fact is, the LibDem party, unlike the other two major parties, is not controlled by it’s Commons members, but by it’s Lords.

    The “DPM” is forever being jerked around by his string-pullers (Oakeshott, Williams, Ashdown, Steele and co.).

    Allowing Clegg to control HOL reform, is to allow a minority cabal in the Lords to manipulate our constitution for their own narrow advantage.

    It stinks.

  • Charlie the Chump

    At last we can see an end to the coalition, it has served its purpose and now the dirty little deals mean it will have bad name for another generation. Good.

    One of the reasons that the EU is so goddam awful at making decisions is that there are so many coalition governments in Europe.

    Minority government with a clear plan is always better than coalition with a make do and mend attitude.

  • S D

    British history does not suggest peacetime coalitions will last two years at most. The two most recent coalitions in peacetime, the 1918-1922 Government of Lloyd George and the 1931-1937 National Government both lasted rather longer – though neither covered themselves in glory and both were basically Conservative. Interestingly Conservative administrations continued to have Liberal National MPs serving, even in the Cabinet (Gwylim Lloyd George – Home Secretary) so a pedant might even, rather disingenuously, argue that the Conservative dominance 1951 – 1964 was also the product of a coalition!

    The former two were real coalitions not just confidence and supply arrangements which, as 1979 Lib-Lab or 1996-7 (Major and Unionists) demonstrate are rather less stable.

  • normanc

    So to sum up, we have a PM living in dread fear of an election and losing the premiership (the only thing he cares about, if appearances are anything to go by), a Lib Dem party living in fear of an election and losing all their seats (and sinecures), a Labour party living in fear of an election while they’re still led by the useless Miliband who no sane person could imagine winning an egg and spoon race, let alone a general election, and a majority of backbenchers living in fear their seats / promotion chances will disappear up in smoke if they don’t toe the party line and slavishly proclaim how much they love the leader.

    Who says democracy is dead in Britain?

  • normanc

    So to sum up, we have a PM living in dread fear of an election and losing the premiership (the only thing he cares about, if appearances are anything to go by), a Lib Dem party living in fear of an election and losing all their seats (and sinecures), a Labour party living in fear of an election while they’re still led by the useless Miliband who no sane person could imagine winning an egg and spoon race, let alone a general election, and a majority of backbenchers living in fear their seats / promotion chances will disappear up in smoke if they don’t toe the party line and slavishly proclaim how much they love the leader.

    Who says democracy is dead in Britain?

  • Publius

    How, precisely, do the LibDems get to “call an election”?

    Quite apart from this, the LibDem Tim Farron’s comments to Peter Oborne on the HOL were terrifyingly ignorant and inept. The LibDems have nothing else in mind than the thuggish wish to smash something they clearly do not understand. Farron made Ed Balls sound finessed and civilised.

  • A Williams

    The reform of the House of Lords is not an issue that should be left to the House of Commons or Lords but should be put to the electorate in a 2 part referendum.

    The first part should ask if the Lords should be reformed, and the second part should provide a list of options that include not just the politician’s favourite options of elected or appointed members, but also have the options of filling the house with members of the electorate chosen by lot as jury members are, or having the professional bodies for doctors, engineers, etc. appoint members or simply to do away with a second house altogether.

  • Russell

    I thought Lord Oakeshott was a labour peer. Oakeshott is rude, arrogant, loud, delusional, and allways interrupts other speakers, a nobody who thinks he is a somebody, a total disgrace who should never be allowed on political discussions.
    Oakeshott represents all the characteristics of a labour politician.
    This abominable man justifies scrapping the House of Lords.

    It is not reform of the Lords that is needed, it is abolition.

  • Nickle

    Self-preservation is a powerful force in politics

    ==============

    Which is why the Lords got a civil servant. David Beamish, to make it a state secret what Uddin, Hanningfield and Taylor have been up to.

    You can check the certificates for yourself here.

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/house_of_lords_correspondance#incoming-251003

  • Jeremy

    Fraser,

    Somebody made a good point on Radio Four this morning – which was that an elected second chamber is going to be perpetually at loggerheads with the first over who really represents ‘The Will Of The People’.

    Britain would appear to be a nation that is hell bent upon self-destruction.

    By all means get rid of the Life Peers – the Kinnocks and the Martins of this world set no example that is worth following; restore the voting rights of the Hereditary Peers (who have history, association with the nation and precedence on their side) and do away with this absurd notion of elections to a second chamber.

    And yes, the ‘Tory rebels’ are right. There is much at stake, and it is worth fighting for.

  • Voter

    What about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act?

  • Nicholas

    I thought that Simon Hoggart had the “new” Lords neatly summed up in this week’s Speccie when he referred to it as:-

    “. . . now full of TV presenters, academics, cockney entrepreneurs and Labour supporters”

    Lib Dem “reform” will just make this worse and rather than a place that represents the democratic will of the people (which we supposedly already have in the Commons) it will just be another lucrative sinecure for the politico-celeb-media elite and meddlers to push us around from.

  • tom jones

    Firstly, I found it shocking that the LibDem peer said the threat on TV for everyone to hear. I realise these kinds of dodgy tit for tat deals go on all the time now, but it’s never been so out in the open before and I don’t think the public will like it one bit. Seemed to be all about party interest from us and the Libdems and shouldn’t we all be worrying about the people? I think LibDem support is hugely underestimated tbh. I’m sure if they left the coalition tomorrow then they’d get some of their old supporters back, “they made a mistake, but Clegg led them into it. New leader and I’ll vote them again.” etc etc. Has Labour embraced LibDem ideologies in the last few months? No, not really. So traditional LibDem voters have gone to them just to give the LibDems a bloody nose.

  • Vulture

    ‘Are they really going to call an Election now and lose their seats?’ asks Fraser.

    No, they are not.

    Which means that Dave can call Cleggie’s bluff. Except that he won’t. He’s such a mass of quivering pink blancmange that he lets even the Lib dems walk all over him.

    It’s up to the Tory MPs to rediscover the location of their spines and put a stop to this nonsense. Can I suggest a few viewings of The Iron Lady to remind them of how good it was when their party had a leader with balls.

  • Keith

    Cameron will blink.

  • Mirtha Tidville

    Put simply..Cameron needs to grow some, forcefully point out to his deputy exactly what the result would be if he called a general election now, and well before any Lords reform, and invite him to go away and shut the FCUK up!!!

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here