Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Conservatives' defeat on constituency boundaries is entirely their own fault

Today the Liberal Democrats voted with Labour to scupper Conservative hopes of a redrawing of constituency boundaries before the next election. This is widely thought to have greatly reduced the likelihood of a Conservative majority at that election.

This Lib Dem move was a response to the Conservatives' refusal to support progress towards reform of the House of Lords.

When you recall that Lords reform was in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, you realise just how foolish they have been.

Stephen Tall helpfully pulled out the relevant quotes in a Lib Dem Voice post from April of last year:
We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.
And as Stephen points out, reform of the Lords was also in the Coalition Agreement.

I blogged as follows at the time Lords reform was blocked:
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.
I would add now that David Cameron showed an abysmal lack of leadership over Lords reform, obliging Nick Clegg to make all the running on the issue. So the proposals that came forward were Lib Dem proposals - I remember approving them, or something very like them, when I was on the party's Federal Policy Committee a decade ago.

No doubt the Conservatives had rather different Lords reforms in mind. So David Cameron should have negotiated with the Lib Dems over them, arrived at proposals that both parties could support and then led on them himself.

But he lacked the courage to take on his own party, hid behind the Liberal Democrats and as a result now finds it much less likely that he will win (or survive as Conservative leader) the next election.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Frank Little said...

It should not be forgotten that approval to the Lords reform Bill was given by a large majority in the Commons. It can be taken forward at any time given willingness by the front benches to agree on a sensible timetable.

We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber
This was a much more positive statement than the relevant section in the coalition agreement, sadly. It's a pity that many Tories did not live up to it, as their anti-reform speeches in the First Reading debate showed.

Phil said...

Whilst the structure of the Lords is undemocratic, on several occasions, they have been the British people's only defense against the grossly undemocratic party whip system, which is an offense against Parliament.

Frank Little said...

But more and more are there because of party patronage, so the independent element is getting diluted.