Friday, August 03, 2012

Lords reform: Jeremy Hunt may have cost the Conservatives the next election

Because they tend to do well in parts of the country where population is growing and badly in areas where it is shrinking, the redrawing of constituency boundaries helps the Conservatives. Because that redrawing does not happen very often, Conservatives find themselves fighting on a political battlefield that slopes against them.

They feel strongly about this. I have heard Sir John Major complain that the boundaries robbed him of a decisive victory in 1992, with the result that his majority had evaporated by the end of his time in office.

To an extent this is the Conservatives' own fault - Labour ran rings around them at the hearings last time there was a major redrawing of boundaries. And the argument that all local quirks and traditional loyalties must be sacrificed to abstract notions of fairness is an odd one in the mouth of a Conservative, but that is how they feel.

So the Conservatives wrote a radical redrawing of constituency boundaries, with little room for variation in size, written into the Coalition agreement.

This would have given them a much better chance of winning an overall majority at the next election.But it looks as though they will not get it after all.

Because an article in tomorrow's Guardian says:
Nick Clegg is expected to announce next week he has been forced to abandon Lords reform in the face of implacable Conservative backbench opposition that David Cameron has been unable to overcome. 
It is a bitter second blow to Clegg, who has already been forced to swallow abandoning electoral reform for the Commons, leaving the government's democratic reform agenda looking relatively threadbare
The same report points us to an article on the paper's website in which Chris Rennard says:
If the Lords is not to be given more legitimacy, then the case for reducing the number of MPs (and increasing the proportion of the payroll vote in the Commons) will also be weakened.
Quite. And if the Conservatives are going to pick and choose which parts of the Coalition agreement they are to support they can hardly complain if we Liberal Democrats now begin doing the same.

The Conservatives' willingness to throw away the redrawing of constituency boundaries, and thus greatly diminish their chances of a majority at the next election, is odd to say the least.

It strengthens my belief that their backbenches are simply ungovernable. As I have argued before, One of the Coalition parties is not up to government - and it's not the Lib Dems and David Cameron is the new John Major.

Some Conservatives have principled objections to reform of the Lords - or at least the reforms currently proposed. (They are, after all, Conservatives.) Others have no wish to lose the probability of an agreeable retirement job if things go wrong at the next election.

But the argument I heard most often was that the Tory backbenches were furious that the Liberal Democrats had not supported Jeremy Hunt in the Commons vote of no confidence over his conduct during News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB.

It is not so long since a man who let a young subordinate take the rap for his own misconduct would have aroused the ire of the knights of the shires. Now the Tory backbenches hero is a silly man with a silly haircut. And they are prepared to sacrifice their chances at the next election to support him.


Phil Lib said...

It's now clear that the Tories have closed the door on the prospect of House of Lords reform and also bolted the door closed on any notion that the Lib Dems have real influence in the Coalition.

The bickering will begin, the 'tit for tat' rejection of each other's policies will begin, and the Coalition will blunder on until 2015, ineffective and directionless.

Neither party can afford the electoral consequences of disengaging from it.

Mr. Clegg, how naive you have been.

Anonymous said...

The implication is that the Lib Dems agreed to redraw the boundaries in a way that would favour the Tories, as a quid pro quo for PR in the Lords - not because they thought it was intrinsically right (though of course that's why they said they were supporting it).

And that if the Lib Dems are going to be denied PR in the Lords, they are going to reltaliate by withdrawing support for redrawing the boundaries (though I'm still not sure how they will defend that, considering they have been telling us it was the Right Thing To Do).

It conjures up a picture of political parties horse-trading constitutional changes according to what will be to their partisan benefit. Not a very inspiring picture.