17 May 2011

House of Lords reform: no fireworks, not even a party popper

Today’s launch of Lords reform will not be the event it was going to be. A few short months ago Lib Dems might’ve had a Beijing Olympics opening ceremony if they could. Even a few weeks ago you could find Lib Dems saying this would be the start of a triumphant and happy march. The world looks different to Nick Clegg after the AV referendum.

There was of course the popular vote in the referendum and the message that carried. Constitutional change suddenly looked like a niche interest to some eyes. Then there were the Tory tactics in the referendum and Nick Clegg’s naivety about just how hard his Tory Coalition partners would fight constitutional change.

Not so long ago David Cameron sounded in private like a man who was determined to give the Lib Dems’ pet Lords project a fair wind. Now the Tories seem happy to let their backbench constitutional irredentists let loose their passions on this measure.

Then there’s another moment that may well have contributed to Nick Clegg’s down-playing of the reforms, his meeting with his own Lib Dem peers last week.

So, as Rachel Sylvester previews in The Times today, we get a load of options, no specifics, not even a name for the new putative second chamber. A big pull back from what was planned a short while ago.

Senior Lib Dems say they are coming forward with a menu of options because they want to seek consensus across Parliament. But some senior Tories think it just shows the Lib Dem leadership is frit of failure and doesn’t want to be too intimately linked to another constitutional battle that turns into a rout. It also suggests that there isn’t consensus in the Coalition, let alone more widely.

So no fireworks for Lords reform today – not even a party popper.

Thanks to Yesterday In Parliament BBC Radio 4 for reminding us that the House of Lords currently is second in size only to the Chinese People’s Congress amongst legislative assemblies of the world.

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