News that the abject failure of the Coalition to reach a compromise on Lords reform has brought forth a distinctly typical response from we Lib Dems – dang it, we’re going to make speeches about it!
The motion itself is fairly typical – conference notes, conference resolves, conference calls for, etc. In terms of actual meat, it calls for the coalition to deliver a ‘wholly or predominantly’ elected second chamber, which is gender balanced from the start, and for all Lib Dem members of the House of Lords to support its democratisation. Much of this is designed so that party members can shake an outraged fist in the leadership’s face, and get a few headlines about Clegg’s shaky leadership, etc – the chances of a gender-balanced elected House of Lords by 2015 is up there with the chances of a Lib Dem majority government. Not going to happen.
Yet it’s interesting to read between the lines of the motion and see what was not mentioned – specifically, Lord Steel’s bill that introduces a retirement mechanism into the House of Lords and a system for removing peers convicted of serious crimes, neither of which currently exists. As is discussed here by the Beeb’s Mark D’Arcy, this is rather a Liberal victory, considering the length of time that our party has been agitating for reform. So why not give the bill the party’s backing and get it made into law, so that we can at least come away from the coalition with some reform, rather than the none that we currently have? As Roger Williams MP notes, it keeps the dream alive at least!
Some reject Lord Steel’s bill out of hand, however, not least the unnamed party sources here who suggest that his bill would legitimise the Lords in their current, icky, undemocratic state. I agree with David; his bill undeniably improves the Lords, and if the party doesn’t take his bill on, it will be keeping the Lords as it is. We could take serious steps towards reforming the Lords away from the ‘outrage’ and ‘stain’ that it currently is if we supported Lord Steel’s bill, as small steps as it admittedly contains. Instead, many activists seem happier to perpetually moan about ‘conservatives blocking progress’. Since when is nothing better than something?