Political Scrapbook today reports that Lib Dem losers — Elwyn Watkins, two-time loser in Oldham East, and soon-to-lose leader of Sheffield Council, Paul Scriven — are to be given “ermine parachutes” in the House of Lords. Many more ermine parachutes could of course be available to Lib Dem MPs who lose their seats when the first election to the House of Lords is held. Under the Coalition agreement, the government will shortly “bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.” According to Patrick Hennessy in the Torygraph, this is seen by Cameron as a way of shoring up the position of Deputy Clegg if the referendum goes against AV as seems increasingly likely.
Mark Pack, editor of Lib Dem Voice, leading website for party activists, also thinks this would greatly strengthen Clegg’s position. Describing “the other Parliamentary electoral reform coming along”, he says:
If you see House of Lords reform, under a PR system, unveiled soon afterwards, this will provide an immediate reason for Nick’s leadership to continue long term. PR in national elections is the Lib Dems’ ‘holy grail’. It would go much further than the proposed AV system.
But it’s not only the “political win” that it would appear to give the Lib Dems that matters here, it is the lifeline that new elected peerages could offer MPs who are kicked out by their local electorates.
Elections to the Lords are likely to be based on a national list whether we like it or not. If we are going to have PR elections, the Left may well prefer a system such as STV which would empower electors to chose candidates themselves rather than have them chosen by party leaders. But that isn’t what Cameron and Clegg will need to bolster the Coalition after the referendum and local election results.
The Tories, of course, won’t like what’s proposed for the Lords. Ex-Tory MP, Jerry Hayes says “all hell will break loose”:
As there is no personal link between electors and the elected there is no incentive to fight their cause. There would be no place for men of principle, already on the endangered species list, and no space for mavericks. The House of Lords would regress from a genuinely independent revising chamber to a mere cipher of the political classes.
He compares the prospect with elections to the European Parliament, where Tony Blair imposed a list system to clear out off-message Labour MEPs:
The price for jumping aboard this overpaid and underworked chemin de sauce is to regularly perform a sex act on your party machine. It is a grotesque game of snakes and ladders. And it gives parties supreme power and leverage, far more than the promise of a bauble or the threat of a sexual peccadillo finding its way into the redtops. It is an outrage. A disgrace. A rape of democracy.
But it’s an outrage that will save a few skins!