It’s fair to say that Sadiq Khan (and Ed Miliband) both played a blinder – in parliamentary tactic terms – when it comes to Lords Reform. I say that as someone who was critical of the stance they took at the time, and still slightly wishes principal had overcome tactics. Yet it’s hard to argue that seeing boundary changes abandoned isn’t a huge victory for Labour, and a big step forward in the race to return a Labour government.
I still believe that a historic opportunity to reform the upper house has been squandered, but subsequent events have proved that Labour was not the roadblock to reform in any real sense. The 91 Tory rebels have far more sway over policy than the entirety of the PLP (proof positive that being in government is a worthwhile end), and they were the reason – alongside the PM’s lack of spine – that Lords reform collapsed.
That’s not to say that Labour did all they could, because that’s not the case. They could have kept the Lords Reform patient alive for a few weeks or months longer perhaps, but when all is said and done, it was already gone. Sometimes it’s kinder to let something you care about go rather than let it linger with no chance of survival.
As a direct result of the demise of Lords reform, Labour have won the end of boundary changes, and an instant net gain of 20 seats at the next election. Considering how tight the next election could be (and my money is still on “very tight”) 20 seats is likely to be the difference between success and failure. It was Nick’s decision, but Miliband and Khan manoeuvred him into the position whilst making him think it was his idea. Remind me never to play either man at poker or chess…
So Labour’s chances of winning the next election are increased – significantly – by recent events. But should Labour win the next election, the route taken to get here should not be forgotten. Lords reform was forced to fall by the wayside in the pursuit of a Labour majority, not by our hand alone, but collateral damage of the actions of all parties. It cannot be shoved to the back of the legislative queue to wait its turn again, only for us to return in five or ten years time and find it locked away in a dusty old cupboard marked “not a priority”.
As a show of good faith to democrats and constitutional reformers who had seen their hopes of a reformed and fully elected upper house dashed time and time again, Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband should commit to full and comprehensive Lords reform by a future Labour government. But not just as a manifesto commitment – we know how cheap manifesto ink on Lords reform is.
Instead, Labour should commit to making Lords reform a first term priority for a Labour government, and guaranteeing action on it within three years of the next election.
That way we can be sure that when Khan says “Labour remains fully committed to Lords reform” it’s backed up by more than just aspirations. It’s backed up by a public commitment to early action that the party can be held to.