So, if the Guardian is to be be believed, David Cameron is about to drop Lords Reform because there is no way to get it past the right wingers in his party who all stood for election in a manifesto that included changes to the Upper Chamber. If David Cameron isn’t a bit scared that Peter Bone and Nadine Dorries have the upper hand in his party at the moment, then I’d be very surprised.
As a Liberal Democrat, I’m gutted that it looks like one of our major constitutional reforms, backed in some form by all parties in 2010 and therefore endorsed by the electorate, looks like it’s dead in the water. When we’ve come up against a silly Tory plan we really can’t live with, we’ve at least behaved like adults within the Coalition and made changes for the better.It’s clear that we’ve succeeded, given the depth of the hostility towards us that openly emanates from the Tory backbenches.
David Cameron has abjectly failed to show that he leads a modern party. His true colours have come out. I doubt he was ever that keen on Lords Reform anyway, certainly not enough to put any effort into getting it through. His leadership looks weak and as under siege from the right as John Major’s was – and he has far less in the way of political skill than his predecessor. It’s not pretty. Bone, Dorries et al will be all pumped now and looking to scupper other Coalition measures they don’t like, with equal civil marriage no doubt top of their list.
The Labour Party have chosen the path of unprincipled opportunism. They could still change their mind and decide to back the programme motion which would allow the legislation to proceed. I can’t see it, though. They see their mission as one to destabilise the coalition and if that means voting against things they say they believe in, then so be it. Be clear, it’s not about protecting the people of Britain from cuts because they would have pretty much done all the same things. We know Darling talked about raising VAT and for every £8 the Coalition has cut, Labour would have cut £7. It’s about showing that Coalition doesn’t work so that they and the Tories can go back to the bad old days of keeping all the power to themselves. Labour are supposed to be progressive, but they’re hardly putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to enacting constitutional reform. I wrote a few weeks ago about how Paddy Ashdown led the Liberal Democrats into the lobbies for the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 when they could have brought Major’s government down. Yes, we might want to harbour dreams that it could have led to a Labour/Lib Dem coalition with John Smith asn PM, but we can’t be certain of that. The divisive election campaign that followed might have led to a withdrawal from Europe that would have been disastrous for people’s livelihoods. At elast we were true to ourselves and what we believe in. Then and now, we act like grown ups, for the good of the country.
So, what should happen now? We should definitely sulk for a bit. We are quite definitely on the side of the Angels here and we have been wronged by people we’d made an Agreement with. We’ve stuck by that agrreement, endorsed by a Special Conference of our Party, when at times we would have rathered not, when it was clearly not in our electoral interests to do so.As Willie Rennie said after the local elections, any idea that we were ever in this for ourselves is clearly nonsense.
But sulking won’t get us very far. So the other possibility is revenge. Do we scupper the boundary changes that we really don’t want? I am not so sure.
If we have the chance to demand change, it has to be change that means something to ordinary people, not change that would give us a better chance of retaining nmore seats. What would be on my list? Well, first, scupper Theresa May’s appalling family immigration rule changes. UK citizens should have the right to have their spouses live with them in this country regardless of income. End of. The web snooping stuff can join Lords Reform in the legislative bin, too. Let’s not even waste the Committee’s time. Bin this illiberal nonsense now.
What other prizes could we exact? Because of the Liberal Democrats, the wealthiest are now paying more tax, but not enough. Let’s look again at the Mansion Tax, build a case for it in the country. Let’s get a real campaign going. The wealthiest are not yet paying their fair share and we need to look at this again.
We have to resist any Tory moves to give a sub-inflation rise in benefits and the minimum wage. We held our nerve and insisted on the full whack last year and we have to do the same again.
And we must absolutely not give any ground on equal marriage. In fact, we might want to take it further and follow Scotland’s example and allow those religious bodies who want to carry out same sex marriage ceremonies to do so.
We must look again at mental health, an area Nick Clegg has done so much to break down stigma and make sure people have access to the right therapies. Let’s look at where we could add to that, to really improve the quality of people’s lives, particularly in light of the study this week that showed that people with Depression, stress and anxiety have a higher risk of premature death from heart attacks and strokes.
So, yes, we can allow ourselves some anger. We need to make sure that the blame for the failure of Lords reform is equally shared between both conservative parties. We need to remind people for years that we wanted democratic change, the others blocked it. We must not allow this to break the Coalition, though, which is still the best possible Government for this country at the present time. We need to continue to behave like the honourable grown ups we are within the Government but we must be more robust about saying no constructively, emphatically and publicly.
Nick Clegg needs to take Cameron on a bit more, particularly on post 2015 policy ideas. They are fair game.
Of course, it’s not too late to reform the Lords. All the Labour party has to do is to say it supports the Programme Motion and we can get on with having a nationwide debate about it. If we have to agree to a refrendum in the process, I’m prepared to go with it. Will Ed Miliband’s party have the courage of its convictions to do that? Even if he does, the Tories will still have broken the Coalition Agreement and we need to make sure that they are seen to give us something in return.