Archive for the 'House of Lords' Category


Could it, should it, will it soon be Lord Farage?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016


An intriguing part of PMQs today was May’s response when asked if UKIP leader Nigel Farage will be given a peerage – this starting speculation that he will be. The PM’s response was “such matters are normally never discussed in public”.

But there is a strong case for UKIP should have some peers created for it. The party came top in the 2014 Euros with 27% of the vote and most MEPs. At GE2015 it chalked up 4m+ votes but the only recompense was the CON defector, Douglas Carswell was re-elected.

Farage himself just missed out in Thanet South – an issue that remains highly topical as those who saw Michael Crick’s report on C4 News last night will recall. There has been an ongoing investigation by the Electoral Commission and the police into whether the Tory party’s officially declared expenses in the seat were accurate or not in particular for the lack of inclusion of the costs of basing in Ramsgate some top CON officials.

Crick presented what appeared to be strong evidence evidence that the constituency campaign was led by Nick Timothy – now Theresa May’s top aide.

Giving Farage a peerage might just preempt some of the inevitable outcry if the investigation goes badly for the Tories.

I’m expecting Lord Farage betting markets in the next day or so.

Mike Smithson


The Tories would be in a stronger position over the Lords if at GE2015 they’d attracted more than 36.9% of the vote

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

National vote shares at GE2005 & GE2015 levels do matter

Yesterday afternoon the Cameron biographer, pollster and former Tory treasurer, Lord Ashcroft, made the above perceptive Tweet about the limitations of the current government’s power. While in the 2010-2015 parliament this had been because of the Lib Dem coalition the reality now is that the Cameron government’s main limitation is the House of Lords.

Much has been written about last week’s vote by the upper house to impede George Osborne’s tax credits plan but there hasn’t been much about the challenges a majority government has when it has secured it with a national vote share of 36.9%

This is in sharp contrast to 2005 when Tony Blair’s LAB majority on 35.2% of the national vote sparked off a fair amount of discussion about legitimacy. In England at that election, it will be recalled, the Tories came top on votes but were a 100 English seats short of Labour.

It was in that context ten years ago that the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords declared that they would not be following the Salisbury convention which broadly ensures that election winners can enact specific policies in their manifestos. So it wasn’t surprising that after this May’s election the yellow team the Lords, now 100+ because of all the new peers created by Mr Cameron, announced that it was taking the same view of the Conservative 36.9% national vote share.

The big impact of the general election outcome in the upper house was that all those LD peers moved from government to opposition.

A quirk of first past the post in an increasingly multi party political environment is that the chances of overall majorities with UK vote shares in the mid-30s are much higher. Indeed two of the past three elections have produced such outcomes.

If the Tory vote share in May had been close to 40% or above then there would have been much more pressure on opposition peers not to do as they did. 36.9% wasn’t enough and we will see other clashes in the coming months and years.

National vote shares do matter.

Mike Smithson


Antifrank looks at what now for the House of Lords

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

pic (1)

The possible courses of action

So the House of Lords has opted for confrontation with the government by asserting its right to intervene on financial matters that are not covered by the letter of the Parliament Act 1949. In turn, the government, like King Lear, has threatened that “I will do such things — what they are yet I know not — but they shall be the terrors of the earth”. We’ll see.

It has long been recognised by pretty much everyone at every point on the political spectrum that the House of Lords is in need of reform. It has no democratic legitimacy and with the modern supremacy of life peers, following the Life Peerages Act 1958, it is now dominated by appointees. The rate of appointment has quickened in recent years. No research has been undertaken that I am aware of to determine whether this reflects an improvement in the quality of potential candidates or whether grade inflation has taken hold.

Since the turn of the century, three serious attempts have been made at reforming the House of Lords. In 2003, every single option put to the House of Commons was rejected. In 2007, the House of Commons voted in favour of either a House of Lords that was wholly-elected or where 80% of its members were elected. However, the (almost wholly-appointed) House of Lords voted in favour only of a wholly-appointed House of Lords. This impasse was not resolved.

In 2010, the coalition agreement went into some detail on this question:

“We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.

The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

The proposals were duly put forward, but then Conservative backbenchers scuppered them, being hostile to the idea of single 15 year fixed terms for elected peers. The same problem keeps recurring: despite general agreement that the current state of affairs is unsatisfactory, every attempt at reform of the House of Lords founders on a complete lack of agreement on what should replace it.

There is an underlying question that is rarely addressed: what should the House of Lords be for? At present, it operates as a revising chamber. Under the Parliament Act 1911, the House of Lords can slow down legislation introduced by the House of Commons but it cannot stop it completely if the Commons is determined.

To date the two houses have rarely clashed. The House of Lords has only been overruled on seven occasions and it has given way on a further three occasions when the House of Commons threatened to use its final powers. The Parliament Act has only been invoked once under a Conservative Government (for the War Crimes Act 1991, if you’re interested).

Progressive governments have had to contend with truculent lords more often up till now. This looks likely to change for two reasons. First, the numbers have changed. Historically the Conservatives have controlled the House of Lords. Following 13 years of Labour government to 2010 and the stripping of the rights of the hereditary peers, this is no longer the case. Under the coalition it mattered less because the Lib Dem peers could be added to the Conservative tally. With the Lib Dem peers transferring on 8 May 2015 from the government to the opposition ranks, the Conservatives’ minority status in the House of Lords becomes much more important.

Secondly, both Labour and the Lib Dems look likely to be much more assertive in the House of Lords in this Parliament than previously. The Lib Dems have already signalled that they are breaking with the Salisbury Convention, under which peers do not seek to block legislation that is mentioned in the government manifesto. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn also look likely to be less respectful of conventions in the House of Lords (though Labour lords reaffirmed their observance of it as recently as June). The vote on tax credits confirms that neither party in the Lords is the least bit troubled by the spirit of convention and obligation – the previous statutory instruments voted down by the Lords concerned UN sanctions on Rhodesia as it then was, arrangements for the Mayoral elections in London (two different statutory instruments), supercasinos and changes to legal aid eligibility. The changes to tax credits form an integral part of the government’s budgetary plans and the decision to vote them down represents astepchange in the Lords’ willingness to intervene in matters central to government administration.

This probably reflects their Commons colleagues’ inability to mount effective oppositions. Nature abhors a vacuum and if the Labour party and the Lib Dems in the Commons are going to be ineffectual, others will feel the urge to step into the gap.

Let us assume for now that the Conservatives decide to take action as opposed to bluster: they need to determine what they expect from the House of Lords. There is as yet no sign at all of any serious thinking by the government as to how it should be reformed. MPs recognise uneasily that an increase in democracy in the upper house would lead to an increase in its legitimacy. They do not want to see a rival source of power develop (this approach is no doubt in the interests of MPs though it is not obviously in the interests of the country as a whole). So how can the government preserve the general balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament while clipping the wings of unelected peers?

The straightforward approach, as threatened by anonymous government sources, would be to ennoble vast numbers of Conservative time-servers to rebalance the House of Lords numerically rather than structurally. This would simultaneously look like gerrymandering and venal (and would place a strain on the vetting procedures that would probably result in timebombs of scandal detonating every few months for years to come). It would also risk drawing the monarchy into politics, so it looks like a complete non-starter to me.

If the upper house is to be elected but to have lesser legitimacy, the type of approach of providing for limited electoral accountability proposed by the Lib Dems in the last Parliament and kyboshed by Conservative backbenchers would work theoretically but now not politically. Given that full and regular elections to the upper house would fundamentally upend the balance between the two houses, I doubt whether the government could get them through Parliament even if it tried. Getting rid of the House of Lords completely would be still more controversial and I can’t see it being floated, still less enacted.

So what else might the government do? It might seek to enshrine in legislation the conventions that have operated to date but which now seem to be breaking down, adding new ones in for its own convenience (further restrictions on the Lords’ ability to block statutory instruments may suddenly look tempting). The government seems to be thinking along these lines if press reports since the vote are to be believed.

This form of limitation would be resisted strongly by the House of Lords and would probably need the Parliament Act procedures to be invoked. This type of constitutional change to the role of the House of Lords has a precedent. The Parliament Act 1949 was passed in just this manner. It would be an amusing inversion of the Salisbury Convention, since the Conservative manifesto stated explicitly that reform of the House of Lords was not a priority in this Parliament.

But it would satisfy the need for “something” to be done and it is a “something” that the government would have good prospects of securing. The government’s rage with the House of Lords is no doubt very real. It no doubt is seriously considering what revenge it can take on the vermin in ermine. But it isn’t the first government to look at this problem and it may well not be the last to conclude that it is all just too difficult. The  House of Lords’ days have looked numbered ever since the Parliament Act 1911. That number may still, however, be in the thousands.





The tax credits defeat happened because the Tories are still paying a price for not winning a majority in 2010

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015


The UK politics version “A peerage is for life not just for a parliament”

Whenever I see animal welfare posters like the one above I think of the Coalition agreement of May 11 2010 – the day that David Cameron became PM after reaching an agreement with Nick Clegg and his team.

For in recent days there’s been some comment that the Liberal Democrats are in a very strong position with 100+ peers in the House of Lords – a total that is disproportionate to the 8 MPs they were left with after the general election in the House of Commons.

During the five years of the Coalition the total number of Liberal Democrat peers just about doubled. This was because of the section of the agreement on House of Lords reform.

The idea was that during the last Parliament the upper house would be reformed and made into an elected chamber. In the meantime it was agreed that the proportion of Lords that a party had would be linked to their national vote sshares at the 2010 election.

The thinking at the time was that these new peers would really be temporary appointments whose role would terminate once a new structure had been put into place. After all both coalition partners, in public at least, had committed themselves to creating this.

As we know that all didn’t happen following the commons rebellion by Tory backbenchers in July 2012. The process for extra peers, however, remained, and the yellows saw a huge expansion in their numbers in the House of Lords. They are there for life and not just for a parliament.

Without them the Tories would have escaped unscathed from last night’s voted on Mr Osborne’s tax credits changes.

Mike Smithson


The Lords vote to delay, not kill, Osborne’s tax credits plan

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Reminder: PB gathering Shooting Star Pub, London on Thursday evening from 6.30pm


David Herdson asks: Where are UKIP’s 34 peers?

Friday, July 31st, 2015

An unreformed Lords shouldn’t be a closed shop for the old parties

Sex, money and people in high places all make for a good scandal, as Lord Sewel found out to his cost this last week. And as usually happens when a member of the Lords gets into trouble, the opponents of the institution cite it as an example of the need for reform of it, or even its outright abolition.

Not that there’s a chance of serious reform any time soon. It suits both Conservative and Labour governments to keep a second chamber that doesn’t pose too much of a threat to the first and into which they can parachute placemen and -women. It suits the Lib Dems too to keep their hundred peers in place while their representation in the Commons lies in single figures; a point which may have to the forefront of their thinking when they folded so easily on the subject in the last parliament.

Because the fact is that even more than the Commons, the Lords is a club for the established parties: the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have 539 peers between them; all other parties, just twelve. There are of course more than two hundred non-party peers – crossbenchers, unaligned and bishops – but while that provides diversity in one sense, it does little to reflect changing voting patterns.

The last government in its coalition agreement pledged itself to appoint new peers with the intention of reflecting the previous election. It never quite got there and it was always a bit of a silly objective: were it to be followed rigorously, the see-saw effect of electoral swing combined with the length of peers’ service would see numbers in the Lords expand out of all control. To have been pushing Lib Dem membership up to 23% when their opinion poll rating was marooned in single figures would have looked unjustifiable.

However, that objection can be navigated if we take not the last election as the baseline but an average of the last three, both to mitigate the see-saw effect and on the basis that 15 years is closer (though probably still short) of the average length of a peer’s service. If, to avoid the introduction of flash-in-the-pan parties, we also introduce a 3% UK-wide threshold, or a 10% threshold for the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then on the basis of 550 party peers there’d be the following numbers:

Con 202 (actual 226)
Lab 181 (actual 212)
LD 101 (actual 101)
UKIP 34 (actual 3)
SNP 15 (actual 0 on principle)
DUP 4 (actual 4)
Plaid 3 (actual 2)
Sinn Fein 3 (actual 0 on principle)
SDLP 2 (actual 0)
UUP 2 (actual 2)

The Greens fall below the threshold (the three Green parties within the UK averaged just 1.9% between them over the 2005-15 period) but do have one member of the Lords at present.

Various things stand out on that list: the existing bias to the Tories and Labour (soon to be increased, apparently), the Lib Dems being spot on their ‘quota’, and the near-fair representation of those regional parties which allow their members to participate in the Lords. But by far the most striking is the scale of UKIP’s under-representation.

There may be some justification for this. On the criteria above, UKIP wouldn’t have crossed the qualifying threshold until this last election (their average from 2001-10 was only 2.3%) but even if they were expected to work up to their full allocation over three parliaments, they’d still be entitled to eleven or twelve in this one: four times what they actually have.

The House of Lords has never justified itself on democratic legitimacy but on grounds of effectiveness. Which is all very well but the fact is that democratic arguments are put forward when it suits one politician or another to do so. So would it really hurt to give a voice to the one in eight at the last election who voted for Farage’s party? Who knows – they might even brighten the place up.

David Herdson


Will the Lords euthanize Lansley’s bill?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Is the government about to lose a major reform?

This has not been a good week for the government. The ongoing difficulties of Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, are far from over as the investigation into both his own and his friend Adam Werrity’s conduct continues. This alone will make for a difficult Prime Minister’s Questions. It could be about to get worse.

    The Conservatives went into the last election with plans to empower local providers of many services to enable the providers and clients to shape those services according to local and individual needs, free of the controlling hand of Whitehall. For the NHS, the Health and Social Care bill was the result of that objective.

It has not had a happy passage through parliament. First there was a revolt among Lib Dem activists at their party’s Spring Conference, filtering up to MP’s at Westminster, which prompted a ‘listening exercise’ and substantial rewriting and watering down of the proposals. Then the government tabled a huge number of further amendments as the bill reached the Lords, prompting accusations of inadequate drafting and giving opponents a fine stick with which to beat it.

Those opponents (and perhaps some who agree with it in principle but believe that no bill is better than a badly written bill), will today seek to send it to a special select committee, where progress would be likely to be delayed so long that it would fail. If it does, Lansley and the Tories are unlikely to try for major reform again this parliament – it simply would not be worth the effort for what could be passed.

    It is rare for any government to lose a piece of legislation, never mind such a major one, but then it is unusual for Britain to have a hung parliament and if one consequence of that is that proposed legislation will in future need to be better written and subject to more scrutiny, that’s no bad thing. For Lansley, the only consolation if the bill does fall is that there’s plenty else in the news to drown out the (for him) bad news. On the other hand, if Fox does leave the cabinet one way or another, it would leave him vulnerable in the reshuffle that would ensue.

Mentioning Fox, Ladbrokes’ market asking whether he’ll still be in post at the turn of the year is 4/6 that he will and 11/10 not. It’s really a bet on the nature of what else there is to be revealed, and for how long it will go on, which is too much of a blind guess for my liking.  However, if he does go, it’s more likely to be within the next week than after it.

David Herdson


Could today hasten the end for the House of Lords?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Are peers ready to continue the battle with the commons?

Later this morning, at about 11am, the controversial voting and constituencies bill returns to the upper house after MPs last night overturned the changes that peers had sought to impose.

Do their lordships now acquiesce and approve the bill as agreed in the commons or do they seek to continue the battle. If so they could stop the AV referendum taking place as planned on May 5th?

For the legal time-table means that the bill has to complete its passage though both houses before peers and MPs rise for their half-term recess.

A challenge for the coalition is that following the Labour government’s peer creation programme the red team is the biggest grouping in the upper house. It has the votes although the very sizeable cross-bench segment is likely today to play a key role.

One thing we do know about David Cameron is that he doesn’t like being defied and you could see him instituting his own peer creation programme if the Lords go against him.

All this is against the background of plans to reform the second chamber which the coalition is committed to.

My guess is that the cross-benchers in particular will see the danger of upper house reforms being brought in against the background the the Lords frustrating a key part of the coalition’s programme.

But who knows? The filibuster was unprecedented and maybe peers feel strongly enough to go into battle against the elected commons.

Mike Smithson