The importance of the Lords

Baroness Stowell
Baroness Stowell has a tough job on her hands in the next few years

One subtle, but important difference in the House of Lords is where the hundred Lib Dem peers will now sit on the Opposition side…

They've not gone back to their former seats in pre-coaltion days. Instead, they've shifted position slightly, to occupy a strategic space between the Labour peers and the crossbenchers. It's a convenient spot from which to coordinate anti-Government majorities in the Upper House, and exert what little political leverage remains for the Lib Dems in Westminster.

The arithmetic in the Lords certainly suggests that the government will face a hostile majority of peers, quite a lot of the time. But the reality is that that majority will be constrained by the ingrained conventions of the Upper House.

Chief among these is the Salisbury-Addison Convention, the deal struck in 1945, between "Bobbity" Salisbury, the leader of the Conservative peers, (and part of a political dynasty which stretches back to Elizabeth I's Privy Council), and Lord Addison, the old Asquithian minister who then led a tiny band of Labour peers.

Deal struck

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Running for office

It's quite hard to walk 10 feet in Portcullis House, the big new-ish office building that has become the centre of much parliamentary life, without running into an MP running for some office or other.

Would-be Labour leaders, or deputy leaders, would-be deputy speakers, would-be select committee chairs. This morning I was even asked about the likely make-up of one of the most obscure organs of Parliament, the Ecclesiastical Committee.

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What will the new Parliament look like?

The Houses of Parliament

It will seem very strange.

David Cameron will deliver a Queen's Speech. Harriet Harman, as acting Leader of the Labour Party, will respond for the opposition. In due course the leader of the third party will rise - not a Lib Dem, but the SNP's Angus Robertson.

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Turning the tide

Taste the irony: in the final Today in Parliament (Friday 27th, BBC Radio 4, 23.30 GMT) of this parliament, William Hague reflects on the persuasive power of oratory, and how it can visibly swing opinion in the House of Commons.

Today, he was on the receiving end of that phenomenon, as backbench stalwart Charles Walker nailed him, with a quite extraordinary speech.

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Farewell, Speaker Bercow?

What a week - first Clarkson, then Zayn, and now Bercow?

There was a certain tension in the air last night, as Mr Speaker Bercow presided at a farewell dinner for Deputy Speaker Dawn Primarolo; later today she'll probably be presiding over a short Commons debate that might decide whether the Speaker will need a farewell dinner of his own….

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Week ahead

These are strange days in Westminster.

This week's Budget was pretty much the last significant event of the Parliament and the place has emptied out since it was unveiled.

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A giggly farce

Oh dear. The Lib Dems' attempt at a bit of Budget differentiation from their Conservative partners this morning turned into a rather giggly farce.

The wheeze was for Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury to deliver a kind of Lib Dem alternative budget - but it got off to a rocky start, with the Speaker noting pointedly that his permission had not been required, but that the statement had to be ministerial, not personal or party, and delivered on behalf of the government….and the privilege of delivering statements should not be abused for purely party purposes.

Danny Alexander outside the Treasury

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Week ahead

We're really into the last rites now.

The Budget and the ensuing debate on it dominate the week's proceedings in the Commons - but there are some important odds and ends that the business managers seem keen to deal with before Parliament dissolves.

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Will Lord Saatchi try again?

One of the most intriguing parliamentary sagas of the last couple of years has been that of the Medical Innovation Bill, aka the Saatchi Bill.

The Conservative peer, Lord Saatchi, has been pushing for a change in the law to allow doctors more flexibility to depart from standard practice and to administer innovative treatments.

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Cracks in the PAC?

Are end-of-Parliament cracks appearing in the Commons in-house inquisition, the Public Accounts Committee?

For almost five years, the formidable Labour ex-minister Margaret Hodge has duffed up bureaucrats and titans of industry, making real waves with her campaign against tax avoidance, which saw companies like Amazon given a very uncomfortable time, and, on one occasion, a top official from HMRC required to take the oath, when committee members became visibly impatient with his evidence….

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