Monday, 9 July 2012

Why Conservative MPs are right to rebel on House of Lords reform

The telegraph today reported that 70 Tory MPs are leading a rebellion to defeat the Bill. Clearly Cameron is putting his leadership on the line over this issue, at best, in order to appease the junior partners across the cabinet table. Or at worst, because he actually believes an elected House of Lords serves the best interests of the country. Either way it is foolish for any government to attempt constitutional reform without the consent of the public. It is more foolish to do so without first ensuring they are carrying the  party with them.

Cameron conceding House of Lords reform  in the coalition agreement is unforgivable. Constitutional change is something which should kept out of back-door negotiations between the two parties. Democratic institutions must be protected from politicians playing party politics. The legacy of such reforms is permanent and impossible to reverse. Whilst electoral reform was borderline inexcusable, at least it was put to the public, in the form of a referendum, to decide whether or not AV was something the country wanted. The conduct of the Coalition over Lords Reform however, has nothing to spare any integrity.

Clegg was able to justify an expensive referendum for changing the electoral system in 2011, yet doesn’t see fit to put the biggest constitutional change the country has seen in modern times to the vote. This is ludicrous hypocrisy and demonstrates pure political opportunism in order to force through changes to the Upper Chamber which nobody really wants, other than liberal dogmatists, taking advantage of their rare opportunity in government, who hold only a simplistic understanding of democracy.

It is astonishing that Cameron has failed to intervene and stop this proposal going any further. Lords reform is something that nobody is calling for, least of all now. The pursuit of an elected House of Lords is something which is alienating Conservative voters and members. Cameron has failed to gage the mood amongst his own backbenchers who have been put in the undue predicament of putting the Governments unity in jeopardy, and his own premiership on the line.

Government rebellions are never taken lightly in the Conservative Party. This is more the case than ever with the reluctant rebellion of Nicholas Soames, a Tory MP who has only once in his long parliamentary career, voted against his own party. This is indicative of the mood of Tory backbenchers whose patience again is being stretched to the full by Cameron’s leadership. Cameron is playing with fire with his own backbenchers. This is something a leader can only get away with so many times before it comes back to haunt them. Not even Tony Blair was immune. Cameron is clearly not in touch with his own party over this issue if he believes he can come out of this unscathed.

Never before has a government attempted such drastic constitutional reform. Therefore Cameron is on unchartered territory. Whether or not it gets passed remains narrow, but either way, Cameron is surely putting his standing within the party in danger.

Attempting constitutional reform, without being put to the electorate, represents a clear betrayal of the public. Never should a government attempt to change the goalposts over the countries democratic system without the mandate of the British people. Therefore out of principle, all MPs must realise their abuse of power and oppose the Bill.  This is unlikely to be the case, but what upholders of democracy can hope for is a sufficient tory rebellion.