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It’s PR in the Lords, not AV, that could save the skins of Lib Dem MPs

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!


  1. Shaun Cohen says:

    Which is precisely why this chamber should be abolished outright.

  2. Thank goodness that there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between, on the one hand, what has always been the anti-parliamentary New Left and, on the other hand, the sociologically indistinguishable New Right’s arrival at hatred of Parliament as the natural conclusion of its hatred of the State. From that union, together with the SDP’s misguided Alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class’s desire to abolish the House of Lords.

    For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor. More significantly, and despite the very hard efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, both from the party machines and from the way of all flesh.

    The future composition of the House would be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current Life Peer, at least who attends very or fairly regularly, to name an heir, by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate. That heir would become a Peer upon his or her nominator’s death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.

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