Backbenchers scupper Lords reform
One of the bargaining tools used by the Liberal Democrats back in May 2010 was that the Coalition would reform the House of Lords before the end of the elected term.
However, Prime Minister David Cameron is in the process of preparing to announce to the nation that his government will abandon these plans due to not being able to get the measures past the Tory backbenchers.
In response to this move by the PM, senior Liberal Democrats have commented that the moved would have serious ‘consequences’ for the Tory section of the Coalition, with the hint that the Lib Dems will go ahead and block the proposed Parliamentary boundary changes, which would have helped the Conservatives at the next election.
A decision regarding the House of Lords reform was due to be taken by the Coalition in September. However, aides to the Prime Minister concluded it was better to announce the move earlier – during the Olympics - and before the party conference season gets underway.
By doing so, the government hope that this will limit the damage of the U-turn and clear the way for a fresh re-launch planned for the government this Autumn, which will consist of an extensive reshuffle of the junior ministerial ranks, as well as a limited reshuffle of the cabinet.
This move by the Tories to drop the Lords reform has effectively destroyed any plans of the Conservatives to redraw the constituency boundaries, which would have led to a lower number of MPs in the House of Commons.
This would have given the Tories a significant advantage at the next general election but would have limited the Liberal Democrat prospects of more MPs.
Some believe that an announcement could come as early as next week but Liberal Democrat sources down-played this suggestion.
“These are difficult and complex negotiations. I would be very surprised if we are in a position to make an announcement next week”, a spokesperson said.
It is still possible that the government will attempt a more limited reform of the House of Lords – possibly backing a bill by the former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Steel, which is currently going through Parliament.
This would allow peers to retire, ban those who were imprisoned from returning to the red benches and give the authorities tougher powers to suspend members.
It could be amended in the House of Commons – re-introducing clauses dropped in the Lords which removed hereditary peers, placed an absolute cap on numbers and cut the power of patronage in a more independent Appointments Commission.
Could the abandoning of the Lords reform be the final move that rips apart the already emerging cracks of the Coalition government?