Torture? Not really...


If the Liberal Democrats honestly believe Tory backbenchers will be cowed into supporting the Lords Reform Bill by the threat that they will vote with Labour to stop boundary changes intended to reduce the number of Commons seats, they're sorely mistaken.

The Tory leadership want the changes, because they believe the current boundaries load the electoral dice against a Conservative victory. The Tory footsoldiers, on the other hand, hate the resulting constituency shake-up, which could see quite a few of them out of Parliament, having struggled for years to pass through the pearly gates of Westminster.

Nick Clegg Lib Dem threats over Lords reform may be seen as risible by some Tory backbenches

So the prospect of the Lib Dems opposing the orders to implement the boundary changes, some time next year, is likely to encourage the rebels rather than deter them. And it's the rebels who are the problem, not the leadership who are - by all accounts - making a real, if unenthusiastic, effort to get Lords reform through.

In short, Nick Clegg is casting himself as Cardinal Biggles in the classic Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch: cackling evilly, while failing to realise that his fiendish tortures are nothing of the kind. (Indeed, plenty of his own Lib Dem troops might prefer if the boundary changes were not implemented.)

But much rests on the votes on Lords reform at the end of the second reading debate on Tuesday night. With Labour pledged to support the bill at second reading, there should be no danger of defeat there.

Even so, the list of Conservative and Labour opponents will be studied with interest in their respective whips offices as they ponder the prospects for later encounters.

The first will be the vote on the programme, or timetable motion, immediately after the second reading vote. Here, Labour are pledged to oppose the government and so, we're told, are 100 Tory rebels, including several ministerial bag-carriers. If it's really 100, the government's notional majority of 78 will have melted away. But the expectation is that many of those currently chuntering about the bill will wilt under pressure from the whips.

If they hold firm, there's a good chance the government may not put the programme motion to the vote - with a whip simply shouting "not moved" when the moment comes.

And then, perhaps, the empire will strike back. If the Commons is so keen on unlimited scrutiny of Lords reform, let them have it; postpone the summer recess for a few days and let the debate run through the night….see how they like that.

Many of the new intake have scant experience of the loneliness of long-distance late-night legislating - and a couple of long nights on-call for votes, which might be forced at any moment, might instil a healthy appreciation of the virtues of programming. And if that's not enough, give 'em a miserable September, with day after day of committee stage debate.

The Conservatives' problem is that they have to show willing in order to keep the Lib Dems on board in the coalition. Nick Clegg's party is still bruised by the experience of the AV referendum, when its leader was targeted as a dishonest trimmer by a Conservative-led No campaign, for making a policy compromise with, er, the Conservatives. That has not been forgotten or forgiven and the consequences of what would certainly be seen as a further betrayal, would be toxic indeed. So the Tory whips have to be seen to be applying the thumbscrews, because the Lib Dems will take some convincing that they have not been double-crossed.

But if a combination of legislative grind, and appeals to loyalty and coalition solidarity fail to work, maybe another Monty Python sketch will be invoked to describe Nick Clegg's ambitions for Lords reform and maybe Nick Clegg himself; the one about the dead parrot.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

Week ahead

A certain amount of fag-end legislating, next week, as MPs and peers finish off several bills.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I saw the headline and assumed this piece was a standard BBC defence of jack straw .

    But its only highlighting the fact that Tories and liberals don't agree with everything .

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Why didn't Lords reform go down the route of getting people who know what they are talking about. For example 10 from education (elected and nominated) NHS, unions, religion, social care, military, transport immigration etc. The only criteria for a place is one must have worked say 15 years in that sector.

    What we ae getting is a retirement home for failed and jaded politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    "maybe another Monty Python sketch will be invoked to describe Nick Clegg's ambitions for Lords reform"

    You of course will assume you are reaching heddy heights with your 'wit' with Monty Python comparisons, but perhaps you should consider doing what you are paid to do and present some balanced reporting.

    Your bias is shining through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Is that the same John Reid who, when Health Secretary, patronised the working classes when he described smoking as "one of the few pleasures available to the poor."

    I wouldn't take much notice of what he said about Lords reform.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The nutshell: Former Home Secretary in Tony Blair’s Govt, Lord Reid spoke these fears quite frankly when he said if anyone thinks that you can create a new class of 450 senators, term 3Xs as long as MPs, constituencies 10Xs as big, with no constituency business to do, & that house will not become primary house, you're delusional. It will not only rival the House of Commons; it will supersede it.


Comments 5 of 7



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