The LibCon coalition government is in danger of getting a reputation for trying to gerry-mander Parliament.
First, it pledges to protect itself from being thrown out of office by proposing the 55% rule, which would overturn the centuries-old process whereby a Government defeated (by one vote not 65 votes) in the House of Commons had to resign.
Now, we are learning more about the proposal to pack the House of Lords with coalition supporters. Last week, I reported that the coalition agreement between the Tories and the LibDems talks about the House of Lords in the following terms:
“In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”
“So this sounds – in the short-term – like a proposal to create 96 new Liberal Democrat peers and 77 new Tory peers (assuming no Labour ex-MPs are appointed to the House and the Crossbench numbers remain the same) so as to reflect the votes secured in the election.”
The Times confirmed this yesterday and speculated that the first wave of appointments would be soon and listed possible nominees.
The LibDems are in an ecstasy of excitement about the possible preferment on offer. Apparently, they have already had “an election” to choose their nominees and LibDem Voice has the top thirty lucky winners – headed by my old friend, controversial Brian Paddick, the former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropoltian Police and LibDem Mayoral candidate for London. However, (and this could only be the LibDems) the validity of this election has already been called into question and other LibDems are describing the names as “odious”.
However, this triumphalist bickering misses the point.
The new coalition already commands 37% of the seats in the House of Lords. This is in practice a working majority, as the non-political Crossbenchers who comprise nearly 30% of the House do not vote as a bloc and turn out less frequently.
The previous Government never had more than 30% of the seats in the Upper House and was regularly defeated by a combination of Conservative and LibDem peers.
It had previously been agreed that following the departure of most of the Hereditary Peers, there should be approximate parity between the two main Parties in the Lords (and, in practice, it took nearly ten years after the election of 1997 for Labour to have the same number of Lords members as the Conservatives) . This was to avoid a situation in which the Government of the day would ever have an automatic majority.
This convention is apparently now to be set aside.
While the House of Lords exists in its present form, its raison d’etre has been its ability from time to time to challenge the Government and make the House of Commons think again about the details of legislation – in a recent session approving 3,000 amendments to Government Bills.
This rigour is too much for the new Coalition – so their response is to pack the House of Lords with their own supporters.
Most people would call that gerry-mandering.
I couldn’t possibly comment.