Aftermath of Parliamentary Bill


This is an article I wrote for another blogsite (labourlist) but thought it may also be of interest here:

After around two dozen days of debate and scrutiny, the AV Bill, or Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill to give it its proper title, finally became law late last night. So where does it leave us? And was it worth the ill temper and loss of sleep?

On the face of it the government got its way. There will be a referendum on a new voting system for the commons, using the Alternative Vote, on May 5th when 84% of the country will be voting any way. The Boundary Commission will come up with boundaries for new constituencies, with 50 fewer MPs as a result, in time for the next general election; and they will do the same every parliament. Constituencies will be of broadly equal size with a few exceptions.

The changes won through the trench warfare in the Lords appear to be at the margins despite some humiliating defeats for the government. There will be some right for the public to be heard at local hearings about their new constituencies. The Isle of Wight joins the Western Isles and Orkney & Shetland as an exception, in their case with two MPs. But the inflexibility and potential electoral damage to the Labour Party remains.

Looked at in isolation it looks like we won some battles but not the war.

What has it taught us?

It needed the government to pack the Lords with new peers to get it through. The Bill to get rid of 50 elected MPs needed 53 new political peers to come in during the passage of the Bill, of which only 10 were Labour.

It was clear yesterday that, even with a fairly determined effort from the cross benches combining with Labour, the government can win the big votes in the Lords. By just one vote they defeated the independent Lord Pannick because the Libdem and Tory whips got their numbers in. Despite a record Labour turnout and almost three times as many cross benchers with him than against, Pannick could not win.

This means that the revising nature of the Lords as a check on the government in the Commons is now very much weaker.

The government was defeated by 62 votes earlier, but that was thanks to 28 government rebels voting against the whip and others abstaining. It appears that on the big votes at the end of flagship bills that is the only way to win. Whilst many Tory grandees voted against their party for the first time, and will therefore find it easier to do so again, it is hard not to conclude very serious implications. The consequence is that, unlike when Labour was in power, the government doesn’t have to negotiate to get their legislation through. In turn that means a much weaker parliament, inferior legislation, and less reason to have a second chamber at all.

The government also seriously thought about time limits for debate. The cross benchers intervened to prevent it with Lord Pannick’s compromise. This allowed the marathon committee stage to finish on the basis of a perceived deal. What the leader of the Lords, Tom Strathclyde, promised the Lords as a package of concessions turn out to be next to nothing. The cross benches were let down and this may count against them when pushing through unpopular bills like the wounded Public Bodies Bill, the ill prepared Localism Bill, and the shocking Health & Social Care Bill.

Whilst we have shown what Labour peers can do, we must not think we can use the same tactics of talking through night again in a hurry. Having contemplated time limits the government will threaten the same again, and then the Lords will lose much that defines its difference from the commons. And Labour must hang on to our rebellious and cross bench friends not lose them.

For the government there will be other consequences.

The commons government whips now face a big challenge. The cuts are yet to really bite. Everyone expects the government’s popularity to decline further, especially as the u-turns continue to expose arrogant incompetence. Government MPs would in normal circumstances be wanting to spend more time away from parliament to nurse bruised constituents. Now they will also be away fighting each other for selection to a diminishing number of safe seats. The coalition compromises are already creating discipline problems that will now get a lot worse.

And then there are the consequences of the referendum result.

A No result will be popular with the Tories but a disaster for Clegg’s leadership. He will then have little to show his party activists as reward for fronting so many toxic decisions.

A Yes result will be very unpopular with Tory backbenchers who don’t like the price of coalition and feel taken for granted by David Cameron. They will want more policy from the Thatcher playbook and will not be persuaded that they need to allow Clegg some victories. It will be an interesting time for the whips on both sides.

So whilst it was a long battle in the trenches of the Lords, and whilst we didn’t get most of what we wanted, it still maybe that the Parliamentary Bill has consequences way beyond its significance as a piece of constitutional reform.

20 comments for “Aftermath of Parliamentary Bill

  1. Lord Blagger
    17/02/2011 at 7:25 pm

    But the inflexibility and potential electoral damage to the Labour Party remains.


    And you don’t care about damage to other parties from the current set up?

    No, Thought that was the case

  2. Carl.H
    17/02/2011 at 8:16 pm

    On the Lords, I think it’s fair to say the only plans the Government now have for it is annulment by way of election or abolishment.

    On the Government, David thinks he’ll be remembered like Thatcher as admired if hated, no he’s just hated for being arrogant. Using Ian Dumbcan Smith’s masterplan for the salvation of the Universe well reform of welfare and all things financial. At a different time it may have been a bold effort but in a time of deep deficit where Government have decided letting the poor get poorer and homeless is a reasonable solution it’s just plain idiocy.

    The Government salutes the arabic peoples on the streets screaming for change yet at the same time planning law to stop our people(the Unions) doing the same. The Arabic people are tired of corruption and the rich getting richer – sounds rather like the Banks and Parliament doesn’t it. When it bites, and it will under Government plans, then the student uprising here will seem a minor incident.

    The Government are manipulating Parliament into something they can control. The Lords I fear is lost but that started occurring when in misunderstanding they gave up powers, or it was taken from them. They let themselves be convinced somehow that a Government acting autonomously was the will of the electorate giving it legitamacy.

    The fact that a few members of the Conservative Lords managed to get an amendment for the Isle of Wight against all logic simply shows how bent the system is. We want to be equal except in my town which will be more equal !

    Labour picked the right ideas just the wrong brother, right now he needs to grow a pair and get rid of the Balls sitting next to him, he’s smarmy and disliked.

    The Tories will be against AV- Labour need do nothing, the public will vote for it out of spite, especially as it will be biting by May.

    • maude elwes
      18/02/2011 at 11:19 am

      Carl H: How could the voter do anything other than despise them? They were all in that ‘nasty party’ that took our young men to war on a lie. A lie to give Blair a nice back hander from the US government he’d sucked up to, in the most humiliating and disgraceful manner. How is he not paying for his crime against the people and taking those who now want to lead again, with the same loser policies, with him?

      Those policies were not right at all, they are authoritarian and tyranical. They simply told the electorate a string of untruths to get their cross at the ballot box.

      I agree, this government has it in for the poor and the disabled in particular. What they are coming up with is, once again, a US aping of its worst dimensions.

      The tragedy here is, they know how to restart the economy and turn it into a remarkable recovery. What did Germany do in the thirties and forget the Hitler detour. The German people turned a staggeringly poverty ridden economy around in a couple of years. And did it again after the fall of the Berlin wall. And look at it again now.

      If you find the German example distateful you can always look at the American Dream continent and check out Franklyn Roosevelt. What did he do after the country was on its knees? Massive Federal investment in jobs and infrastructure. Support of the poor and, voila, recovery.

      And this country’s leaders are telling us they don’t have any examples. Or, the poor are to blame. Not the tycoons stealing the Public fund, but those who cannot walk, or, speak or stand. They are the beasts to blame for our demise. Not greed, not an outrageously oversized top heavy country of billionaires, but those who are blind to the realities of what is going on here.

      This is the change we need, the change of attitude. Duncan Smith is a man of great wealth. He is looking for a cheaper way to run his estate. With tied lackies and free appretices, sleeping under the table, eating scraps in the kitchens, Dickensian style.

      They knew well before they started, quantative easing would bring rampant inflation. And here they are, pretending it’s a surprise.

  3. tory boy
    18/02/2011 at 12:50 am

    Perhaps if you paid more attention to the abuse of the House’s procedures by the Labour party, which seriously jeopardised the respect and the ability of the house to do its job, instead of trying to make out that labour did nothing wrong during deliberations on the bill.

    When will you learn you LOST the election and cannot always get your way. On U turns well at least the coalition can show they are a listening government, the Blair government never did, Blair would go on how he would not listen as he had no reverse gear. Look at the number of people who protested against ID cards, Iraq, Tuition fees, and the 10 p tax on pensioners, you never acted on people’s concerns, talk about an out of touch government!!

    • maide elwes
      20/02/2011 at 11:52 am

      @Tory Boy, lets add to your list: Failing schools with inept teachers and Politically Correct form filling. And the strangest of all syndromes, the idea that private independant schools should take in a third of students from the, considered by them, underclass, in order to give them a chance to be educated. But, at the same time, denying those schools, who, in the main, stayed with the conventional English teaching, once in all our schools, as having an achievable level of attainment by those kids who are ‘not middle class.’

      We all know this is ludicrous and hypocritical, yet they go after the same policies time and time again, because, they were indoctrinated into the theory from birth. Even fish learn after a specific period of time, that they cannot escape the glass bowl.

      What a joke these people are. And more than that, they believe the public don’t know it’s a dichotomy, as they chase from place to place desperate to find a decent teaching centre, in the hope their kid, at very least, will learn to read and write their names.

      You can only surmise they don’t want an educated population. That the denial is akin to Pol Pot and his like. If you get rid of the enemy of the middle classes then there will be a renewal. And what is the renewal? Another middle class. So, the answer there then, is to lower the standard of higher education, in order that even those who manage to find their way through the maze, can say they have a degree that shows they are capable of tossing burgers. For jobs are all of yesterday.

      Then we could raise surveillance. All of us on camera day and night. Orwells 1984. And the cry that ‘you only dislike this if you have something to hide.’ Oh, yes. And how do they take to such scrutiny? It was this that exposed their fiddling of expenses. What do you want to bet they will change the law which will not include themselves as victims.

      Follow that up with the sewer like hospitals where the old and sick are facing euthanasia when they have no relatives to help them. Isn’t this another Orwellian nightmare they managed to bring into society without letting us know beforehand. Just in case we ask them to give us our own ‘Israel’ in order to flee from the Pharoah style tyranny they imposed on us all.

      And then of course, the open door immigration policy, to reduce the level of salaries that should have kept pace with the cost of living. Pursued under a policy of bringing us into a ‘multicultural’ society in order to promote Globalisation. Which, we know, is a corporate design so that billionaires can procure more of the ecomnomic pie than they already do.

      All was apprarent with Brown’s first reaction of ‘Bigot’ to the women who tried to tell him her homelife had changed out of all proportion. To the extent she didn’t feel she was living in the UK any more.

      Yes, I could write a dissertation on this. But I am sure you follow the gist. With this written, lets add the fact that Tories did nothing but go along with it. Even to the point of war. So I don’t think you can crow Mr Boy. Do you?

  4. Twm O'r Nant
    21/02/2011 at 12:46 pm

    Trench warfare, battles, and wars, are evidently on the noble peer’s conscience, going by his allusions above.

    If the Single chamber advocates of the Lab/lib dem parties can get together once AV has been decided, and get at least 600 of the sycophants and good club hangers on, OUT of the noble place altogether, then they will be doing something worthwhile.

    Meanwhile the money grubbers and materialists of both parties and neither, will continue to earn some dosh by breathing hot air, but no fire at all, in a public place

  5. anthony_miller
    21/02/2011 at 1:05 pm

    “It needed the government to pack the Lords with new peers to get it through. The Bill to get rid of 50 elected MPs needed 53 new political peers to come in during the passage of the Bill, of which only 10 were Labour.”

    This seems to be the solution of every government Labour or Tory. If you take it to its logical conclusion it seems to me that one day everyone will be a peer. I am a party member and I believe in God, can I have a peerage?

    I think the upper chamber should be appointed by lottery. This is the only method of appointment which means it will actually represent the people without being just another elected chamber or electoral rubber stamp…? Think how much more money the National Lottery would make if one of the booby prizes was becoming a Lord?
    Of course if you should win you should have to turn up or face prison like Jury Service?

    If one wanted a more upmarket type of upper legislature we could link appointments to the Premium Bond system and have Lords picked by ERNIE?

    • Maude Elwes
      22/02/2011 at 2:45 pm

      @ Anthony-Miller: What a great post! You should run for PM. I like your thinking.

  6. Matt
    22/02/2011 at 11:55 am

    A number of randomly allocated seats, from the general public, would be a very healthy development indeed. Seroiusly – just think of the upsurge in political interest in the populace when, for example, the local bin-man became a peer. Of course it will never happen. Too scary a prospect for the powers-that-be.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      23/02/2011 at 10:26 am

      Using Ian Dumbcan Smith’s masterplan for the salvation of the Universe

      I am sure that is not the right spelling for Mr Smith, but he certainly took my nomination to be Tory leader seriously.

      There must be former bin men in the house of Lords, but none on active service, I should say. They might not even be Trade Union peers.

      • Maude Elwes
        23/02/2011 at 2:21 pm

        Well, I know there is a cruise line waiter. However, he is yet another failed politician. Only there as he backed the boys who were in the game of betrayal.

      • MilesJSD
        26/02/2011 at 11:50 pm

        Names can and often do contain what-the-person-does, their trade whatever.

        Therefore a better name for a fictional Sir Fred Goodwin (for instance) could be Cur Scaredee Badloser;

        but “Dumbcan” does suggest either a career more suited to reading-aloud-from-the-statute-book-concealed-beneath-the-judge’s-seat than to a constructively-creative parliamentary-ministry one; or simply an unimaginative and tongue-tied twerp; or it could even indicate the person has no need to prattle, s/he is simply a silently-successful do-er (can = able).

        2350St260211. JSDM.

  7. Matt
    23/02/2011 at 1:16 pm

    An interesting claim, Twm O’r Nant, I must say it seems highly unlikely to me .. see also: taxi drivers, hairdressers, brickies and so and so forth.

    In any case, I want to watch people who are CURRENTLY binmen etc having their say in the legislature, not people who are even more convinced of their ‘greatness and goodness’ because they used to do some humble things, but are now wearing a nice suit … My word, how those kind of people prattle on and on … Exactly the person you don’t want to get stuck in a corner with at a party …

    • Carl.H
      23/02/2011 at 4:17 pm

      Does Hansard have a dictionary of expletives for brickies, taxi drivers etc.

      Mind judging by BBC tv programmes for children (see example) they’ll need more than that for the next generation.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      27/02/2011 at 9:05 am

      I want to watch people who are CURRENTLY binmen etc having their say in the legislature,

      Dream on, or should I say nightmare?

      The style of language of a binman would not be adequate for the purposes of legislature, with respect…..!

      • Matt
        06/03/2011 at 1:30 pm

        That is simply not true.

      • Matt
        06/03/2011 at 1:39 pm

        @ Twm O’r Nant

        That is simply not true. There is a wealth of un-tapped eloquence among the working classes, at least among those who follow politics – and those would be the people who took seats. Anyone can master the basic do’s and don’ts of a debate/forum, very quickly.

        The only thing these people would not be proficient in is the art of professional jargon and evasion-of-the-issue.

        Funnily enough, I support the inclusion of such people in our legislature for much the same reason as I support the inclusion of hereditary peers … ie, they are not deemed to be the ‘right sort’ of people nowadays.

        We’ve had quite enough of the ‘right sort’ already, thanks all the same.

  8. Matt
    23/02/2011 at 4:38 pm

    Carl H –

    I will overlook the trace of snobbery in your question, and say, yes, of course, there is a well-established list of un-parliamentary language. Everybody understands and respects the need for that.

    By the way, David Cameron is a regular offender against the rule of not addressing other members of the chamber directly.

    • Carl.H
      24/02/2011 at 10:29 am

      Matt, snobbery ? You’re aving a tin-bath mate. It’s a first though, never been accused of that.

      There may well be a list of un-parliamentary words but if hypocrite is one of the banned words what chance has a mechanic or brickie got ? At least the ones I know.

      Everybody understands and respects the need for that.

      I would state you are far from correct with this.

  9. Matt
    24/02/2011 at 4:17 pm

    Fair enough, Carl H … I withdraw my insinuation.

    I suspect you appreciate already that charges of hypocrisy are part of a much wider problem, ie, a sense of disconnection between the powerful and the ‘plebs’ … which I was trying, ever so gently, to redress.

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