Andrew Grice: PM is caught between yellow devil and deep blue ranks on Lords

Inside Westminster

Share
Related Topics

On Monday, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will try to get the Coalition back on track after it hit the buffers on House of Lords reform this week. The Prime Minister and his deputy will make a joint appearance on the safer ground of the economy, as the Government unveils measures to boost jobs and growth. Their message: the Coalition remains committed to its core mission.

The two leaders hope the huge Conservative rebellion over House of Lords reform will fizzle out during the summer recess, which begins on Tuesday. They will be disappointed. The 100-plus Tory opponents of Mr Clegg's plan are already planning how to go in for the kill in September.

Although many Tory rebels have genuine doubts about the reform blueprint, for others the chance to kick Mr Clegg and the Coalition is irresistible. Many Tory backbenchers are in denial about being in coalition because they hate it. The Lords shake-up offers the perfect target. It is Mr Clegg's baby, not fathered by Mr Cameron, who dismissed Lords reform as a "third-term issue" before the last election.

Mr Cameron's failure to deliver enough MPs to push through a timetable motion to ensure the Bill's Commons passage has severely dented its chances of becoming law. "It is effectively dead," said one Liberal Democrat minister. Mr Clegg refuses to throw in the towel – though, like Mr Cameron, he accepts it would pointless to allow the Bill to dominate the Commons for months.

If the Tory rebels can make life difficult for Mr Cameron, then so can the Liberal Democrats. Their threat to derail parliamentary-boundary changes which could give the Tories an advantage at the next election is now official policy. Mr Cameron is caught between the yellow devil and the deep blue ranks on his backbenches. He somehow needs to keep both onside.

The tensions inside the Coalition have obscured Labour's role in the Lords saga. Ed Miliband said on Thursday that the Government should "get on" with the Bill. That was a bit rich, coming from a party which voted for it in principle on Tuesday but also jumped into bed with the Tory rebels to force the Government to abandon the crucial timetable motion.

Such strange alliances are the reason Lords reform has remained unfinished business for the past 100 years. In the 1960s, it was blocked by Michael Foot and Enoch Powell. Even when there is a majority in favour,it is difficult to find a plan around which reformers can unite. Some MPs want to abolish the Lords; others want anything between 20 and 100 per cent of peers elected; others demand a referendum, oppose the 15-year terms or proportional representation, and so on.

The revolt by 91 Tory MPs shows that the government coalition does not necessarily translate into a parliamentary one. Yet it could do if Labour matched its pro-reform rhetoric with deeds. Many Labour MPs either don't back Lords reform or can't resist the temptation to destabilise the Coalition.

The Liberal Democrat threat to the new boundaries will increase the ranks of Labour MPs who want to scupper Lords reform, since keeping the existing parliamentary map would boost Labour's prospects in 2015. "I expected us to be 60-40 against the Lords Bill," said one Labour reform supporter. "It is more like 90-10 against now."

Like Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband has a nightmare in trying to unite a divided party. The Lords is a test of his leadership and progressive credentials.

Some Labour folk say the best chance of securing a modernised Lords would be in a Lib-Lab coalition. Perhaps they want to ensure their party gets the credit. But there might not be a better opportunity than now. And Labour's chances of wooing the Lib Dems in a hung parliament would be reduced if they continue to play their current games. "Labour must not appear to block reform," said Graham Allen, Labour chairman of the Constitutional Reform Select Committee. "Labour has a chance to get back onside by enabling reform – where a party of the centre-left should always be."

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Head of IT Project Management / Programme Manager - London

£65000 - £68000 per annum + Bonus and 26 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Nicola Sturgeon, the anti-Tory who needs the Tories to keep her popular

John Rentoul
The reign of the cupcake may be at an end  

Gluten-free diets reveal more about Western anxieties than they do about the protein

Memphis Barker
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence