House of Lords reform is something all of the major political parties approaches with their own self-interest playing the deciding role in their attitude. Both the Conservatives and Labour need somewhere to send their most favoured donors and give them that warm glow inside that only a peerage can deliver. This is why Labour is very keen on Lords Reform in opposition but tends to become very shy and bashful in government. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile dream of an elected Lords in which they hold the balance of power and therefore can control the Commons in a way they can never hope to achieve by winning control of that House, in that, Nadine Dorries, behaving like the proverbial stopped clock, at least manages to get it right on Conservative Home.
The piece Dorries writes is interesting because it confirms how deeply felt discontent over this issue is within the Conservative Party. Earlier in the week, three ministerial aides resigned in a state of high dudgeon with the leadership. It will obviously continue to be a running sore between Cameron and the Conservative Parliamentary Party if he does press ahead with this but Dorries is wrong that it will be the issue that directly costs Cameron the leadership. The country would not be able to fathom the deposition of Cameron over this issue and therefore the rebels would not be able to count on popular support and understanding. Indeed, there is much in what Sue Marsh says on LabourList; like Sue I strongly suspect Lords Reform does little to arouse the passion of the masses (please note this point for later). So, getting rid of Cameron over this would be highly stupid. However, a referendum on the EU would be a different kettle of fish.
This brings us to our position, which now is to advocate a post-legislative referendum. This can only be seen as a humiliating reversal from a full-scale commitment to an elected Lords and I for one am not inclined to congratulate the Party for advocating a referendum on something it was democratically mandated to do 15 years ago in 1997. Contrary to Mark Ferguson’s view it would not be a ‘easy win’, it is in fact a hard case to make and only appears easy to politicos. Firstly, the nature of the proposed reform to the House of Lords, as the Coalition intends to push it forward, is such that it will probably be rejected. It’s ‘Senate’ is starting to resemble closely the fictional Galactic Senate in Star Wars just after Palpatine has annulled democracy and made the fluffy and democratic Republic into an evil and dictatorial Empire. For example, the suggestion a ‘Senator’ should have a 15 year term is bonkers and totally undemocratic. This would still be a tiny step-forward from what we have but as we saw with the AV Referendum when the change offered is not that tantalising or indeed radical (AV actually managed the amazing feat of being a worse system that FPTP ) the people’s instinct is to reject it on the basis that the devil you know is better and feel much resentment that they have been dragged out to vote in the first place, seeing the referendum as a waste of time and more importantly money, sentiment that the rejectionists easily capitalise on. Also, the temptation to oppose a reform the government is pushing purely to give it a bloody nose will be strong and finally, remember what Sue said, people don’t actually care about this issue an awful lot (whether they should or not is a slightly different issue).
In that light, Mr Miliband’s position, if he is a true reformer at heart, is pretty dumb. In fact, I suspect many Conservative rebels will come round to support his position because it’s a good way of squashing a Commons vote in favour of reform and, as with the AV vote, killing the cause of reform stone dead for at least a generation. It is therefore fair to say that people who are reformers and democrats at heart can only be disheartened by the Labour leaderships about-turn on this issue, once again it has shown that this is not an issue that the political parties are ever likely to resolve because they are too self-interested in the eventual outcome to act in the best interests of democratic change.