Friday 31 December 2010

Would an 80 per cent elected Lords demonstrate LibDem influence?

An 80 per cent elected Lords would not be a LibDem triumph, blogs The Spectator's James Forsyth at the Coffee House.

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.

1 comment:

Emma Burrows said...

While the Tories support an elected Upper House in principle, I gather they're rather hoping to kick the issue into the long grass ("grass as tall as a giraffe", the Guardian quotes one anonymous source as saying). Cameron apparently called it a "third term" issue - meaning something he had no intention of actually implementing any time soon.

So I think it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Lib Dems to blow a little trumpet of their own making if an 80% PR-elected Upper House actually saw the light of day by the end of this Parliament. (Of course, if it's just buried in the lawn somewhere, then it'll be another Tory triumph instead.)