“Delivering this is going to be very difficult” – Tory peer Strathclyde’s verdict on Lords reform

by Stephen Tall on June 18, 2011

Let’s start with the good news — Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords is a self-styled “long-term supporter” of reform of the Upper House. Now for the bad news — he’s pessimistic that the Coalition will actualy deliver elected senators by 2015, the deadline set by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Here’s what m’Lord Strathclyde (who inherited a seat from his grandfather at the age of 25) has to say in an interview in today’s Financial Times:

“To me the dream scenario would be?.?.?.?getting [a parliamentary bill] in place by the end of the next session and then going forward to the elections in 2015. Now, I’m not such a Panglossian optimist to believe that that is in fact what’s going to happen. It’s much more complicated than that: there are some very serious constitutional issues that need to be taken into account, and that’s the point of parliamentary debate. Parliament may say no. We may be overwhelmed with other legislation, who knows.”

Lord Strathclyde’s latest intervention will earn him few friends among the Lib Dems. As the FT notes, it ‘will cement suspicions in the Clegg camp about the strength of his commitment to the deputy prime minister’s agenda. Relations between the two sides are tense, with Lib Dems privately expressing irritation this week that the peer appeared on the BBC’s Politics Show to discuss reform without informing his coalition colleagues.’

Unfortunately, it’s not just the dominant establishment/conservative forces in the Tory and Labour ranks with which Nick Clegg has to contend: a recent Times poll suggested even Lib Dem peers were split between those in favour of Lords reform — a cause which has been proudly espoused in party manifestos for decades — and those who are agin it. As Stuart Bonar commented on this site at the time:

To say I am disappointed by these numbers is an understatement. Whilst a keen supporter of minority rights, I will say that as far as I am concerned the 46% of Lib Dem peers who oppose even a “mainly” elected upper chamber shame our party. The clue is in the name; we are the Liberal Democrats.

The Voice’s Mark Pack — who examined the Coalition’s Lords proposals when they were announced last month, and concluded “Overall these plans are good” — has launched an activists’ group, ‘Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform’, to keep up the pressure for the party to make the most of its time in government and drive forward a policy which will have a real, lasting legacy.

It is gathering signatures on its Facebook page — www.facebook.com/LordsReform — and will be submitting a motion to the party’s autumn conference. So don’t simply get angry at those Tory/Labour/Lib Dem/Crossbencher lords and baronesses standing in the way of progress, get even by campaigning for the UK to embrace democracy at last!