Sorry Nick, nobody really wants to reform the Lords

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 14 April 2011 in Diary
If there is a no vote in the AV referendum, Nick Clegg will find that reforming the House of Lords reform will become harder, not easier

The news is full of ‘tests’ for the Lib Dems at the moment – the local elections, the NHS reforms, the AV referendum. The one that has rather been pushed onto the back burner is the question of House of Lords reform.

Michael Crick reckons that Lords reform could be the consolation prize for the Lib Dems, should they lose out in the AV referendum. Crick describes it as “a fall back reform which could deliver them a far greater prize in the long term than the Alternative Vote”.

However, I must disagree. Although both the Conservative and the Lib Dem election manifestos promised reforms to the upper chamber, as did the coalition agreement, it’s rather been sidelined, and there is very little to suggest that it could be easily resurrected should the referendum go against Clegg.

After their landmark changes in 1998, Labour too struggled to summon the political will to take their reforms any further. There is a very simple reason for this, and it’s laid bare in this survey data, provided for the current issue of Total Politics by ComRes. 

It’s this: no one really wants Lords reform. 66 per cent of Conservative peers  said that the coalition’s proposals for reform would probably or definitely not improve the upper hosue, while 74 per cent of Labour peers responded negatively. Interestingly, 61 per cent of Lib Dem peers were opposed to the idea, which rather puts paid to Michael Crick’s theory that as the Lib Dems stand to benefit from an elected Lords, they are in favour of it.

So, the majority of peers are against it. Well, the turkeys were never likely to vote for Christmas, were they? However, my sense is that the enthusiasm for reform has rapidly dissipated in the Commons as well, particularly on the government benches.

Like Labour before them, the coalition has quickly learned that a more democratic Lords most likely means a more troublesome Lords, with peers less likely to back down in fights over legislation if they feel they owe something to those who elected them.

We’re told to expect a draft of the reform proposals by the end of May. Whether they will get any further than that remains to be seen. If AV is rejected, I doubt very much whether there will be much appetite to follow Nick Clegg on what will be perceived as another fruitless pursuit of constitutional reform.

For more on this subject, look out for Alex Stevenson's assessment of the relationship between the Commons and the Lords in next month's Total Politics

Tags: House of Lords reform, Nick Clegg

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