Lords reform simple? Never

Sometimes people tell me they don't understand politics. Sometimes it's not hard to see why. Take reform of the House of Lords.

All the main party manifestos backed the idea that those who make our laws should be elected rather than appointed to, or inheriting, the job.

All three party leaders say they are committed to reform.

All say they will order their MPs to back it.

Yet the widespread view in the Westminster village is that it won't happen.

Why? Well, Lords reform has always been defeated by those passionately opposed to change finding a way to vote with those passionately in favour of change but opposed to whatever plan happens to be on the table at the time.

So it was that in 1968 Labour's Michael Foot - who wanted to scrap the Lords altogether - united with the then Tory Enoch Powell - who wanted it to stay just as it was - and led a coalition which defeated change.

So it was in 1998 when the Tory leader of the Lords, Viscount Cranborne, secretly reached a deal with Tony Blair without telling his own leader William Hague. It limited New Labour's "bold" reform to the abolition of places in the Lords for most - but not all - hereditary peers.

So it could be now if anti-reform Tory MPs - of which there are many - vote with pro-reform Labour MPs. There will be many opportunities for them to do so on

  • the timetabling of debates on Lords reform (sounds dull but the first step towards chaos for any government is losing control of its parliamentary timetable and Labour say they will oppose the so-called 'programme motion' which sets the timetable)
  • the need for a referendum (Ed Miliband says it's vital, so too do many Tory rebels)
  • the voting system for the new Lords or Senators (the proposal which almost no-one likes is for a variant of the system used to elect MEPs - a PR list system in which you can pick an individual and not just a party)

So, it's simple really.

The public votes for parties that promise reform of the Lords. Parties are led by people who are in favour of reform. Yet reform may not happen.