After weeks of shadow boxing, ministers are finally publishing their proposals on reforming the House of Lords today. They include an 80 per cent elected chamber, filled with 450 part-time “senators”, elected by regional list.
Tory backbenchers are already up in arms, threatening rebellion and, in the case of some ministerial aides, resignation. Conor Burns, PPS to Owen Paterson, said this morning:
If I lose my job for something that was a mainstream view within the Conservative party within the last parliament, which serving cabinet ministers held as their view, so be it.
Listening to the grumbling of many Tory MPs, you might think they are utterly fed up with the whole issue, and don’t want to waste any more parliamentary time on it. Far from it.
Even though a large section of backbenchers definitely don’t want the House of Lords to become elected, many are thoroughly enjoying watching the coalition have a punch-up over it.
One even suggested to me recently that what they most want to happen is for the legislation to pass, but with one amendment – that the entire bill is dependent on having a referendum.
This is also Labour’s position, but for Tory rebels there is an ulterior motive. A referendum, they say, would be the ideal way to kill off Nick Clegg’s political career. It would be seen as a £100m “Nick Clegg vanity project”, and would be rejected out of hand by voters, who dealth similarly with the AV referendum, they argue. Having failed to get through either AV or Lords reform, Clegg would be crippled in the eyes of his own party and would look self-indulgent in front of an electorate which just wants the government to get on with fixing the economy.
So if a referendum is proposed at some stage during this legislation, don’t be surprised to see some apparent Tory rebels smiling quietly to themselves.