Sunday 17 April 2011

How Clegg's Lords triumph would be settled on Tory terms

“We will establish a committee to bring forward plans for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation”
- Coalition Agreement, May 2010.

David Cameron is worried about Nick Clegg, as the Sunday Telegraph reports.

Strategists at 10 Downing Street are drawing up plans for a raft of policy announcements in the weeks following May 5 which can be claimed as Lib Dem "wins" if Mr Clegg suffers reverses in both ballots.

The centrepiece of the policy drive would be plans for a reformed House of Lords, with 80 per cent of its members elected for single "terms" of 15 years.

Crucially for Mr Clegg, they would be elected under a proportional representation (PR) system, although exactly how this would operate would not be known for months, if not years.

That last point is certainly news to anybody who didn't hear about the Coalition Agreement a year ago. And the headline Peers 'to be elected by PR' in sop to Nick Clegg, is likely to generate a lot of ill informed comment.

The more eye-catching line in the piece is that the sensiblist and well informed party activist and blogger Mark Pack already thinks it helpful to pre-emptively issuing a dreaded pre-May 5th vote of confidence to his embattled party leader.

If such a firm proposal was made, Mr Clegg's position would be greatly strengthened. Mark Pack, editor of Lib Dem Voice, the leading website for party activists, said: "If you see House of Lords reform, under a PR system, unveiled soon afterwards, this will provide an immediate reason for Nick's leadership to continue long term."

This may well shore up Nick Clegg's leadership with his party, as Pack argues. But there is less to the deal than meets the eye.

Firstly, that Lords reform is likely to be accelerated if the AV vote goes no was easy to predict. The Guardian reported me telling a Fabian fringe meeting last Autumn: "Katwala said of proposals for an elected House of Lords: "The coalition have got to have some baubles on the Lib Dem tree. If they lose the AV referendum [on electoral reform], the Tories will give them the House of Lords very quickly.)" It would be good to have some progress on the issue, but politically this is more survival strategy than triumph.


Secondly, it is just silly to call a Lords elected by PR a "sop to Clegg".

PR elections has also been the position of the Tory Leader of the House of Commons George Young for many years, long before the Coalition government.

It surprised nobody when PR was stipulated in the Coalition Agreement. This has been a staple assumption of all serious Parliamentary or party debates on Lords reform for many years that any elected element would be by some form of PR. Without this, there would be no prospect of making reform happen.

A good example was the cross-party 2004 proposal which were put forward by George Young and Ken Clarke, along with Robin Cook and Tony Wright for Labour, and LibDem Paul Tyler.

The primary argument for a majoritarian lower house system (such as first-past-the-post, AV or the Jenkins' AV+ which is a majoritarian/PR hybrid) is that it helps voters choose between governments.

Nobody can claim that this applies to elections which do not select an administration, and a second chamber whose on-going confidence is not needed to support one.

So very few people seriously argue for a majoritarian system for the Upper House, and certainly nobody with a serious interest in the politics of making reform happen.

Those who would favour that instead support keeping the appointed House (like Tom Harris) or, in some cases, abolition and unicameralism. (An anti-"deadlock" argument for a majoritarian upper house because a PR second house must not be able to check a majority government is - logically - an argument for unicameralism, and against the checks and balances of a second chamber).


Thirdly, Clegg would have had to trade in a significant LibDem concession. An 80% elected second chamber would give Cameron the policy he was in favour of long before this Coalition.

If you check out how members of this Cabinet voted on the Lords in 2007, it becomes clear that this is a clear LibDem concession to the Conservatives, rather than a Tory concession to the LibDems (particularly as so many Tories were already on the LibDem side of the argument). Indeed, the Clegg deal would have moved the Cabinet backwards from support for a fully elected Lords, as the full list below of Cabinet votes on Lords reform previously shows.

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

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

Again, that the Coalition would go for an 80% elected Lords, retaining a substantial appointed element, was predictable. This blog suggested, on May 23rd 2010 when the Coalition was just nine days old, that despite Nick Clegg publicly stating "I think it should be a wholly elected House" he was already happy to hedge on 80%. I wrote that Clegg's comments to Andrew Marr "gave a strong steer that there is already an agreement between the Conservative and LibDem frontbenches that they will go for the "mainly elected" option.

Those voting figures suggest that, had the LibDems remained outside of the government, they would have been in a very good position to demand that a Tory minority government prioritise Lords reform - as part of a 'supply and confidence' agreement.

They may even have got some concessions in George Osborne's budgets too.


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%


MatGB said...

Blogger just ate my long comment that had a nice reasoned argument.

Short version. Voting record is not a measure of preference if the vote was on a proposal you had no say in.

Labour Govt put forward some proposals and some options. Of those options, 100% elected was best and is what I would have voted for. It's not what I'd have wanted, but I had no say in that.

I've always favoured a partially appointed chamber (preferably with other sources of members as well as direct election as well), but this is being written largely by Clegg to get Tory backing.

Ergo the options being put forward will be closer to what he and others would actually want.

(I've given up arguing for 30/30/30/10 Sortion/Bundesrat indirect/Interest Groups/Appointees, everyone looked at me as if I was bonkers)

Here's hoping Blogger lets me post this--you'll get a personal blog using a decent bit of software when you switch jobs, right?

Mark Pack said...

Interesting tally on the Cabinet member front, but the line of the Labour Party is also very important in any hypothetical "what if" scenario.

And seeing how little Labour did on Lords reform after the initial burst on hereditaries, combined with the number of Labour figures who are opposed to elections for the Lords, makes me very sceptical that Labour would deliver votes for reform in Parliament.

So getting David Cameron committed to 80% elected is much better than a hope that Labour will finally, after years of dragging its feet, get round to backing reform. Better to have a firm commitment to 80% than an aspiration for 100% which never arrives. (Harold Wilson's Lords reform proposals still have a powerful lesson; those who opposed them then for not going far enough haven't exactly been vindicated by the subsequent 50 years of no major reform.)

What would convince me otherwise? Seeing large numbers of Labour peers commit in public to voting for 100% reform and no filibustering. Perhaps a petition for you to run... :-)

Sunder Katwala said...

Mark, MatGB

Thanks for comments.

There is a fair point about the salience of the issue.

If Labour did what you said, I imagine some LDs would tell us we were being tactical, and going for 100% as a scuppering issue!

But the PR was always something that would happen if there were any elections, whoever finally moved on the issue, while the 80% or 100% (while perhaps a non-miserable compromise worth making) was still on the table, formally, in the Coalition deal, though I felt Clegg signalled clearly last May he was definitely happy at 80%, and suspect that there may have been an agreement about that when the language was put it.

Its difficult to get 100% without getting into the role of the Bishops, which is an ideal tactic for indefinite delay, but whether 80% is the right compromise might remain open
(Of course, the current deal seems to be that if there were a Yes vote, David Cameron won't be talking to his backbenchers about the consititution again. Here, I admire the careful drafting of the Coalition agreement, since the formal pledge is met by establishing a committee to bring forward proposals!)

sanbikinoraion said...

The vote in 2007 was itself an FPTP vote on the future of the Lords, rather than a preferential vote, and I remember it being couched in no uncertain terms at the time as 100% being the obstreperous option that would result in Lords reform progressing the slowest; indeed, despite wide-ranging support in the Commons for 100% elected Lords, the Labour government indeed made no progress whatsoever on such legislation. In that sense, 100% was very much the delaying option so they were right!

At any rate, it's disingenuous to cast that vote then as meaning what you say it did.

Sunder Katwala said...


Your interpretation/memory is seriously flawed. Indeed it is wrong on the core fact, and makes little sense as analysis.

1. It was not a first past the post vote between options at all. It was a series of yes/no votes on the different options. As you can see, there are votes for 80% and for 100%, and for 100% and against 80%, and for 100% and against 80%

2. If 100% was very much the delaying option, why did Clegg, Cable, etc vote for it?

Were they voting for delay? Of course not.

3. There was much discussion of insincere voting for 100%. There was much less of such voting.

The aim of people wanting to do that would have been to defeat 80% and 60%, support 100% and support unelected.

Can you explain how anybody voting for 100% and for 80% is being insincere in their vote? These are sincere votes of people who want a fully elected chamber, and who don't want to scupper 80% on a best enemy the good principle. That is 10 of the Cabinet.

Only Pickles and Hunt vote for 100% and against 80%. And it is perfectly possible to be doing that sincerely, as well as to do it tactically.I don't have any insight into their specific votes, but this can't change the facts of the post.

David Lindsay said...

Jim Callaghan once threatened to resign as Labour Leader rather than accept Tony Benn’s policy of abolishing the House of Lords. As that House was constituted in 1980.

Yet the Coalition is preparing to replace that House with a new second chamber elected by means of regional party lists. When rightly obstructing the attempt to reduce accountability by reducing the number of MPs but not of Ministers, Their Lordships demonstrated that Labour, the Crossbenchers and assorted others outnumbered the two Coalition parties. Whereas an elected second chamber would have a Conservative-Lib Dem majority on a permanent basis. A Labour skew in the current electoral arrangement is, so to speak, an urban myth; the real problem is that the poor no longer vote, since they no longer have anyone to vote for. But in any case, a redrawing now would make absolutely no difference, since the same trend towards de-urbanisation will continue between now and the next General Election.

Thank goodness that there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between, on the one hand, what has always been the anti-parliamentary New Left and, on the other hand, the sociologically indistinguishable New Right’s arrival at hatred of Parliament as the natural conclusion of its hatred of the State. From that union, together with the SDP’s misguided Alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class’s desire to abolish the House of Lords.

For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor. More significantly, and despite the very hard efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, both from the party machines and from the way of all flesh. The future composition of the House might be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current Life Peer, at least who attends very or fairly regularly, to name an heir, by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate. That heir would become a Peer upon his or her nominator’s death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.

Meanwhile, what of the 26 Anglican bishops whose position, very tellingly in view of how secular Britain allegedly now is, is never seriously challenged by anyone? How about 12 full-time, fixed-term parliamentary voices of the United Kingdom’s Christian heritage, whom the media could easily and usefully dub “Apostles”? Plus 12 full-time, fixed-term parliamentary voices of moral and spiritual values generally? Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top 12 elected at the end. Casual vacancies would be filled by bringing in number 13 and so on. This would be more than fair. No one seriously disputes that Britain is far more than 50 per cent Christian. That, after all, is why no one ever seriously challenges the presence of Christian voices, as such, in our legislature.

The question is the best way of ensuring that that voice is heard. Just as the question is the best way of perpetuating the second chamber’s breadth, especially its political breadth. Turning it into a bolthole for all those Lib Dem Minsters who are about to lose their Commons seats is not the way to go about that.

Old Politics said...

So very few people seriously argue for a majoritarian system for the Upper House, and certainly nobody with a serious interest in the politics of making reform happen.

Of course, this is bound up with the Referendum. You're right that it should come as no surprise, but I supect it will be "sped up" as a consolation prize in the event of a "No" vote.

But in the event of a "Yes" vote, it becomes more important than ever to settle the argument of whether AV leads to more coalitions - as I believe it does, though I appreciate others feel differently.

If you have a coalition in the Commons, then in 99 cases out of 100, a House of Lords elected by PR, particularly lagging long-single-term PR is also going to be majoritarian.

MatGB said...

OP--the plan was always that Lords reform would be on the Statute books in plenty of time for the next election, as the first tranch of "Senators" is to be elected then.

Constitutional stuff has been given to Clegg, he did boundaries and AV this year, next up was always going to be Lords, timing made that inevitable, no speeding up was needed.

Sunder, I got a comment notification from a David Lindsey that isn't displaying currently, this is in reply to parts of his (long) comment.

"Yet the Coalition is preparing to replace that House with a new second chamber elected by means of regional party lists"

Factually untrue, Tories hate closed list PR even more than Lib Dems do, the plan is, and always was, for elections to be run using STV (also known as the British Proportional System, as used for the Australian Senate).

"an elected second chamber would have a Conservative-Lib Dem majority on a permanent basis."

Only if the two parties are in agreement. Currently, they are, but that's never going to be permanent, too many Lib Dem voters, not to mention members, would never stand for it.

If it did appear that the coalition was becoming permanent, expect the Green vote to skyrocket as a large number of voters (and members) defect.

Or something more interesting, like the Cooperative disaffiliating from Labour and running its own candidates, on the policy platform, I'd join, but I won't join Labour itself.

The idea that a democratic chamber locks in an anti-anything majority permanently is palpably false, it relies on the voters voting for it. Party structures change, party support and membership is fluid.

Voting systems dictate party structure, as the system changes, expect to see the parties change as well.

David Lindsay said...

"also known as the British Proportional System"

By whom? It is totally foreign on every conceivable level, and making up something like this will not change that fact. I am going to vote Yes to AV, which preserves the single-member constituency link and would nevertheless cause new formations to emerge, more reflective of public opinion at large.

But, apart from giving the entire constituency electorate the final say between each party's two shortlisted potential PPCs (and the entire national electorate the final say between each party's two shortlisted candidates for Leader), I would stop there.

There is no difference in principle between STV and party lists; they both presuppose that voting is essentially not for a person, but for a party, and is conducted on nothing more than a tribal basis, as the experience in Germany or, especially, the Irish Republic illustrates.

A Yes vote to AV would in any case guarantee that nothing further was ever attempted, for fear of a backlash from annoyed or bored voters. STV is "also known as the British Proportional System"? I've heard it all now!

But if it is a parliamentary reflection of the diversity of public opinion that you want, then we already have it, in the House of Lords. The key is how to safeguard that in each succeeding generation. And the best way to do that is now to take the cartel party machines out of the process altogether. Unless you have a better proposal than mine for that, then I stand by it.

MatGB said...

"By whom? It is totally foreign on every conceivable level"

Buy it's creator, a British politician in the 19thC, and by those that used it throughout the Empire and Commonwealth up until late 20th Century.

It's hardly foreign if it was used for elections to the UK PArliament for a chunk of time. It's hardly foregin if it's used within the UK at multiple levels.

"preserves the single-member constituency link"

Biggest mistake Labour ever made, making that the standard in 1947--you seem to not be aware that multi member seats based on historic boundaries like Boroughs and Counties were the norm throughout most of the history of Parliament, it was taking that into account that led to the creation of BPr/STV.

"There is no difference in principle between STV and party lists; they both presuppose that voting is essentially not for a person, but for a party"

I don't know what voting system you're talking about, but it definitely isn't STV, which is all about voting for individuals, strengthens the chances of Independents, weakens the party structure, etc.

One of the biggest critiques I've read of the Irish setup is that it reduces the power of party machines.

Given you seem to be thinking of a completely different voting system, maybe you should read up on the basics of STV?

British Proportional Representation (I was wrong, not system, it's BPR, sorry)

"the best way to do that is now to take the cartel party machines out of the process altogether. Unless you have a better proposal than mine for that"

I have, it's STV with long terms of service. Something I've strongly favoured for quite some time, it's not a coincidence it's now Govt policy.

David Lindsay said...

Oh, well, crème anglaise is not English, sauce hollandaise is not Dutch, and "British Proportional Representation" is not British, which is presumably why no one in Britain has ever heard of it under that name, and indeed hardly in Britain has ever heard of it at all.

Voting in the Irish Republic is so tribal that, at least other than in this completely exceptional year, most TDs who lose their seats do so to members of the same party as themselves. Seriously. STV there has sustained two bitterly rival political parties neither of which has any permanent principle beyond a combination of hatred of the other lot with a long list of things that they both have in common. And I'd love to see anyone argue with a straight face that anything in existence there weakened the power of the party machines.

STV and party lists both presuppose that each party should have a number of seats reflecting how many votes "it" received. In other words, they both presuppose that voting is for a party, not for a person. So there is no difference in principle between the two.

In any case, this will all be academic if there is a Yes vote to AV. It is difficult to imagine which would annoy the voters more, ever being given anything other than what they voted for in 2011, or ever being asked to vote on the matter a second time. So no government would ever confront the voters with either of those irritants.

Vote Yes.