The Lib Dem manifesto committed the party to a fully elected House of Lords. The Tory manifesto talked about a ‘mainly-elected’ second chamber and in 2007 David Cameron voted for ‘the other place’ to be 80 percent elected (interestingly, George Osborne voted for a fully elected Lords). The coalition agreement committed the government to a ‘wholly or mainly elected upper chamber’. So it is hard to see how a Lords that retained a twenty percent appointed element could be portrayed as a major Lib Dem triumph as, according to [Thursday's] Guardian, the coalition wants.
That's right - and the point is surely proved if one looks at the voting records of the current Cabinet in the 2007 vote on Lords reform in which MPs had a free vote on various options.
Brokering Cabinet support for an 80% elected Lords would come close to a lowest common denominator solution. Among MPs who are full members of the Cabinet, there were 12 supporters of a 100% elected Lords, only 6 who maxed out at 80%, and 2 opponents of any elected element.
So to compromise on an 80% elected Lords would be trade off a LibDem policy supported by all six current LibDem Cabinet ministers and which already in the last Parliament - before there was any whiff of a Coalition - also had the support of George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Liam Fox, Eric Pickles, Owen Paterson and Jeremy Hunt, in order to secure a policy which almost every Conservative in the Cabinet (including Lord Strathclyde) already supported on its merits, without the need for a jot of LibDem persuasion.
Though not quite. The specific claim which could be made for LibDem influence is that an 80% solution would involve Clegg demonstrating the ability to persuade both Cheryl Gillan and Andrew Mitchell - the two Cabinet refuseninks on 80% - to drop their support for a fully appointed chamber, as long as he can also persuade Eric Pickles and Jeremy Hunt to drop their opposition to 80% on the grounds that both wanted a fully elected chamber!
How the current Cabinet voted on Lords elections in March 2007
David Cameron (C) - for 80%; against 100%
Nick Clegg (LD) - for 100%, for 80%
William Hague (C) - for 80%, against 100%
George Osborne (C) - for 100%, for 80%
Ken Clarke (C) - for 100%, for 80%
Theresa May (C) - against 100%, for 80%
Liam Fox (C) - for 100%, for 80%
Vince Cable (LD) - for 100%, for 80%
Iain Duncan Smith (C) - against 100%, for 80%
Chris Huhne (LD) - for 100%, for 80%
Andrew Lansley (C) - against 100%, for 80%
Michael Gove (C) [no vote on 100%; no vote on 80%]
Eric Pickles (C) - for 100%; against 80%
Phillip Hammond (C) - against 100%; for 80%
Caroline Spelman (C) - for 100%; for 80%
Andrew Mitchell (C) - against 100; against 80% [for fully appointed]
Owen Paterson (C) - for 100%; for 80%
Michael Moore (LD) - for 100%; for 80%
Cheryl Gillan (C) - against 100%, against 80% [for fully appointed]
Jeremy Hunt (C) - for 100%; against 80%
Danny Alexander (LD) - for 100%; for 80%
Lord Strathclyde (C) - against 100%, for 80% [against fully appointed]
Baroness Warsi (C) - [not a member of the Lords until 2010]
Also attending Cabinet, but not full Cabinet ministers:
Francis Maude (C) - against 100%; for 80%
Oliver Letwin (C) - against 100%; for 80%
David Willetts (C) - against 100%; for 80%
George Young (C) - against 100%, for 80%
Patrick McLoughlin (C) - against 100%; for 80%
Dominic Grieve (C) - against 100%; for 80%
To bring them all behind 80% may demonstrate David Cameron's Tory leadership and influence in managing the expectations of his LibDem collegues.
It is much harder to say it would show LibDem influence inside the Coalition - though united Tory support for 100% elections would do so.
Those voting records make it seem probable that, were the LibDems were outside the Coalition, they would have had a very good chance of securing Commons support for a 100% elected Lords under a Tory government which needed their support for 'supply and confidence'. (For example, by requesting a Commons free vote on 80% or 100%, so as to again secure significant Tory as well as majority Labour support for 100%).
Presumably, a large part of the point of Nick Clegg in the policy area for which he has leadership is to demonstrate that the LibDems inside a Tory-led Coalition are more influential than they would be outside it. But conceding the case for a fully elected Lords in favour of hedging on 80% would be rather more likely to demonstrate the opposite.
The deputy Prime Minister should think again. If he wants to find a workable compromise, making provision for a free vote on 100% and 80% within the government's bill ought to win widespread support.