Those were the Lords reforms that the Tories promised

John Rentoul

jesse norman226 Those were the Lords reforms that the Tories promisedYou can see why David Cameron got quite “firm” with Jesse Norman (pictured), the Lords reform rebel who thinks that the French Revolution was “one of the greatest disasters ever to befall European civilisation”.

As I say in my article in The Independent on Sunday today, the Prime Minister did not agree with Norman’s view that the Conservative rebels were being “helpful” to him.

But Norman is undaunted. He commented today on Menzies Campbell’s interview with Andrew Marr: “Ming Campbell wrong to keep suggesting that ‪Lords reform‬ legislation is in Coalition Agreement. Just says ‘bring fwd proposals’.”

This is a quirky reading of the Coalition Agreement, with which several of the Tory rebels persist. What would be the point of promising to “bring forward proposals” just so that everyone could say, “nice proposals”, and put them in the bin? Actually, the Tory rebels said “flawed proposals” and voted against them, but the rest of that paragraph of the Coalition Agreement is horribly specific about what the proposals would look like.

The proposals that the coalition promised to “bring forward” were for a “wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation”. Admittedly it did not say it would be the closed regional list form of proportional representation, which is the worst form possible, but the dreaded PR phrase was in there and Tory MPs cannot pretend otherwise. Equally, they made a great fuss about the lack of democratic accountability afforded by 15-year non-renewable terms for members of the upper house. Yet the Coalition Agreement said “it is likely” that the draft Lords reform plan “will advocate single long terms of office”.

This model of Lords reform may be a bad idea, as I have said before, but Conservatives cannot say that they did not know about it and had not signed up to it.

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  • andyholmes

    “What would be the point of promising to “bring forward proposals” just
    so that everyone could say, “nice proposals”, and put them in the bin?”

    What an ironic statement. Isn’t that exactly what Labour did in 1997, over electoral reform of the Commons ?

    They promised a commision, then rigged the terms of reference for the commission, to exclude any existing option other than AV. When Jenkins recommended his own, newly invented voting system, the proposals were summarily binned.

  • susantyler

    The question is wholly legitimate. The fact that you have a beef with the previous government does not negate this. I thought you were claiming the other day not to argue in terms of partisan politics? Ahem. It’s funny; its partisan manichaean argumentation that you have now presented here. ( N.B. the ” It’s”: it is; and the “its” : belonging to the binary argument).

    The cogent argument is that there was a manifesto pledge to introduce some legislation, and it was more than a declaration to merely review. The rebels are not abiding by this agreement as articulated by Jesse Norman. He has lost the plot here.

  • andyholmes

    I don’t argue on a partisan basis.

    It’s a fact that the 1997 Labour manifesto included a commitment to set up a commission to report on a form of electoral reform, to be put to a referendum, but no commitment to legislation.
    Just as the coalition agreement commits to putting forward proposals.
    It was an obvious comparison, as both policies were in the field of electoral reform.

    I don’t accept the primacy of a manifesto. It’s provisions aren’t binding, nor should they be. The prime responsibility of an MP is to represent their constituents. Promoting national party manifesto policies above the opinions of the individual constituents, only reinforces the falsehood of people voting for political parties.

    As to the specific proposals, I’m torn. My heart wants the Lib Dems to take retribution for the deceitful way they acted over the referendum, but my head says they’ve only broken the spirit, not the letter of the agreement.
    The reality is that the Lib Dems have been outmaneuvered at every stage. It gives me no pleasure to say this, even though I don’t support this reform.
    It was difficult enough to accept legitimising the blatant politicisation of the Lords, that started in 1999, when the elections were to be held under STV, the voting system that I champion for the Commons. However elections under party lists are a travesty.

  • Guest

    “Bring forward proposals” and “uncritically accept the first proposals brought forward” are not the same thing, any more than “govern in the interests of the nation” and ” do whatever is expedient for factional advantage” are synonymous.

  • Nick Reid

    The quirky wording “bring forward proposals” was obviously chosen rather than “introduce legislation for an elected House of Lords” for a reason. That being that the Coalition Agreement did NOT oblige the coalition to produce legislation this Parliament.

  • rtj1211

    If the rebels had argued along the lines of ‘this form of reform is a miserable dog’s dinner but we will support reform if you get it right’, this acrimony would not have occurred.

    What they did, quite blatantly, was to set out a stall to stop reform at all costs, using their thugs and rottweilers at the D, personalising, smearing and trashing as they went. Headlines like ‘killing Lords reform off’ reveal this quite clearly.

    Equally, the timing of bringing in a programme motion was wildly injudicious. A programme motion means you have the principle right, you need to stop filibusterers stalling a decent bill. If you have the wrong set up, you get through 2nd reading on the principle of Lords reform, let the Committee take it to pieces and bring in a guillotine to stop filibusterers later.

    This is not the way to perform government and journalists and politicians alike need more than firm rebuke.

    They need to be told in no uncertain terms how to behave or be shown the door.

    They want to play puerile playground bully boy games: fine.

    Go do it at your own expense. Outside the realm of politics.

    Act like grown ups, behave in public like statesmen/women and serve the people you are elected to serve.

    I won’t say please as that would imply I defer to this bunch of trumped up piccaninnies.

    That deference has disappeared over 20 years of strident, tribal, petty squabbling that has brought this country to its knees.

    You lot want respect: EARN IT.

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