Politics: House of Lords: Middle England gets to focus on reforms

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The Independent Online
THEY WORK wonders for baked bean sales, ailing TV shows and US presidential campaigns. That most modern of marketing devices, the focus group, is now to be used to test the public's fondness for one of Britain's most ancient institutions, the House of Lords.

Tory peers have decided to adopt the technique beloved of Blairite spinmeisters to fight the Government's plans to reform the second chamber.

Viscount Cranborne, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, and one of the hereditary peers under threat from Labour's proposals, revealed yesterday that the focus group had been running since the summer. To take the temperature of Middle England, the Tories' marketing consultants visit a Midlands town every six weeks to chat to a group of eight. All are life- long Tory voters who switched to Labour for the first time at the last election and most of them are unhappy about the Government's plans, the research has found.

"I wanted to know if there was any chance of making this a `Dog and Duck' issue," Lord Cranborne said, referring to the fictional pub beloved of marketing gurus. The groups are being funded by the Tory peers rather than Conservative Central Office, and Lord Cranborne revealed their existence as he called on the Government to clarify its White Paper on Lords reform.

He declared that the new chamber would be nothing other than a glorified quango unless specific commitments were given on the rights of life peers, their terms of office and powers to change legislation.

Exactly how the patrons of the Dog and Duck feel about crossbenchers, the Neill Committee and the Parliament Act, remains a mystery.

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