Leading article: It's time to stop playing poker with Lords reform

Such purity of aspiration at the election is replaced with crude calculation

Share
Related Topics

An unedifying game of political poker is being played out over Nick Clegg's proposals to reform the House of Lords. Until yesterday, the Conservative and Labour parties were playing their cards in public. As a result of the interview in The Independent with Mr Clegg's outgoing senior aide, Richard Reeves, the Liberal Democrats have joined the table too. Mr Reeves warned Conservative MPs that they would not get their constituency boundary changes, worth about 20 seats to David Cameron's party, if they blocked Lords reform.

Next week MPs will vote on Mr Clegg's proposals and, equally importantly, on the amount of parliamentary time available for scrutiny. An innocent spectator of the poker game on the eve of this pivotal moment would be surprised to discover that all three players went into the last election pledged to reform the Lords.

Such purity of aspiration at the election is replaced now with crude, expedient calculation. Mr Cameron supports the reforms not because he is keen on them, but in order to keep the Coalition together – and more specifically to ensure that the Liberal Democrats do indeed back the boundary changes that will benefit his party. Some Conservative MPs appear ready to oppose the reforms on the grounds that they are furious with the Liberal Democrats for various reasons that have no connection with the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, the Labour leadership has decided to vote for the reforms, but to oppose the limited amount of parliamentary time available to scrutinise them, an act of contrivance that allows Ed Miliband and others to affect support while almost certainly killing off the chance of elections for a reformed second chamber taking place on schedule in 2015.

Now the Liberal Democrats play their card in public. Mr Reeves's threat to the Conservatives is a potent one. Mr Cameron might need those additional 20 or so seats in a close election.

All of them should step back and focus on the issue at stake. That includes the Liberal Democrats. While understandably worried at the prospect of a revolt among Conservative MPs, they undermine their justified criticisms of the other two parties when they openly link an entirely separate reform, the boundary review, with their plans for Lords reform. The review is one to which they have given their support and should therefore continue to do so instead of threatening to withdraw it, not on the merits of the case, but as a threat to Conservative MPs. Even as a tactic it is unlikely to work, as rebel Tories will regard the warning as a provocation rather than as an inducement to support Mr Clegg's proposals.

Similarly, the two bigger parties should place to one side their parochial multi-layered calculations and focus on the opportunity to reform the non-elected second chamber. The poker game is a diversion from what should be a rare act of consensual politics given that all three parties are pledged to reform the Lords.

MPs will be debating Mr Clegg's proposals on Monday and Tuesday. One way or another they have been debating House of Lords reform for more than 100 years. More specifically, since 1997 there have been endless attempts at reform and committees set up to come up with proposals. Mr Clegg has worked assiduously and consulted widely to ensure that some of the previous issues which caused deadlock have been addressed.

So MPs and their aides can continue playing poker. Or they can ask a simple question: is it justified in a modern democracy for part of the legislature to be non-elected and unaccountable? Most MPs know the answer is no and should therefore support the proposals next week and also the legislative timetable that allows enough time to debate the issue – one which has been scrutinised more intensely than any other in recent times.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor