A myth is being formed that the three main political parties in the UK were in agreement over how the Lords should be reformed before the last general election. They were not.
Agreeing that the Lords need reforming is to claim to be a progressive. It can mean anything to anyone. So, as ever, the devil is in the details.
Nick Clegg appears to have stumbled on a solution that has so far eluded academics for generations. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.
That a cabinet of self-proclaimed right-wingers and left-of-centre MPs raised no questions about this paper when it came to cabinet is astounding. Some of the Tories must be secretly hoping this is the final issue that breaks the coalition and frees the right to slash and burn what is left of the welfare state. Yet we are the ones accused of party politics.
Sticking to a principled position that Lords reform is a serious matter and a core belief for many on the left, but requires more debate that a shaky government dare give it is not to stand in the way of reform. It will help ensure reform that we can be proud of, that will last and which will set the tone for the next 100 years.
Being emotionally blackmailed by Unlock Democracy and lectured by Jeremy Browne MP into electing a set of faceless party hacks and failed PPCs to almost meaningless constituencies is not what the three parties had in mind when drafting their 2010 manifestos. Labour is not the last stand of elitism: when the top rate of tax is cut and hospitals are left to administration when banks are bailed out, his government is.
The campaign to reform the Lords has a genuine momentum, and there is a will among (probably) a majority of sitting MPs to make lasting change. All we need is the time to ensure that the people who are paid to look after the constitution can examine the detail and ensure we aren’t just throwing a deflated Clegg a lifeline. That is not the point of Lords reform, but it is the point of publishing this bill.
Labour are right to want to reform the Lords. We are right to want to do it in a way that makes clear the rights, responsibilities and power the upper house should have. Despite the bunting a lot of us would like to have an elected head of state and to end the influence of Bishops in our legislature. That isn’t on the table, nor will it be.
We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about doing more when in power; we had other priorities, more pressing. We also shouldn’t see this as the last chance to get what we want. Something is not better than nothing when it is this important.