Tuesday, 17 May 2011

In Which Every Party Gains (or should have...)

Here are excerpts from the three main party manifestos for the last election, in no particular order. See if you can work out which is which:

"We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence."
"We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now. We will consult widely on these proposals, and on an open-list proportional representation electoral system for the Second Chamber, before putting them to the people in a referendum."

"Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House."
The answer? The first is the Conservative Manifesto, the second is the Labour Manifesto and the, third curiously, is the Liberal Democrat one. 

There is something slightly odd about the fact that this one of the key policies and long-standing policies of the party be reduced to just 19 words (plus a further 5 in the summary of key priorities) but perhaps this a measure of how straightforward the policy was - simply an elected second chamber with no ifs, buts or further qualification.

The Labour proposals appear to be more thorough but the commitment was to consult on their proposals before putting them to the public in a referendum (along with AV) so this was rather less a cut and dried policy as it would seem at first reading.

Today the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (with the apparent wholehearted backing of the Prime Minster) has published a draft bill and white paper detailing proposed reforms. You can get more details by following the link, and on this BBC News report, but this excerpts summarises the proposals:
"The draft Bill sets out firm proposals, while the White Paper considers alternative options on which the Government remains open-minded.
The Government is committed to a wholly or mainly elected chamber and both options are reflected in what is published today.
The draft Bill illustrates how a reformed House of Lords with 80 per cent of elected members could look, with the remaining 20 per cent appointed independently to sit as cross-benchers. Alongside this, the White Paper sets out the case for a 100 per cent elected chamber."
Overall, what is being proposed is similar to what was in the Labour manifesto but, unfortunately, they have not responded favourably. Instead the progressive agenda is being carried forward by a Conservative/Lib Dem government.

In one respect this would appear not to be a Lib Dem Gain - after all the draft bill is for a majority rather than wholly elected house and every party accepts the need for reform - but the win is House of Lords reform at all. It is the presence of the Lib Dems in the coalition that has driven this forward - without us it may well have been kicked into the long grass or faced the same fate as every previous attempt at reform over the past 100 years.

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