Guillotine the Lords!

Prescott and his mob in the House of Lords must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom.

No one won the 2010 general election, but one thing is certain: Labour definitely lost. It would appear, however, that the hobnail-booted, ermine-wearing bovver boys in the House of Lords didn't get the memo. Perhaps it's because they can't vote! They do not seem to pause to consider the irony of an unelected chamber holding up proposals to modernise the electoral system.

Instead, Labour's lords believe they can carry on as they did when in government, as if nothing happened last year. Not even Ed Miliband can control their wrecking-ball tactics on AV legislation – something Miliband personally supports, unlike Tony Blair, who had no time for it, or Gordon Brown, whose deathbed conversion convinced nobody.

Labour's wrecking-ball tactics, however, might end up smashing the House of Lords instead. Perhaps this is "Lord" Prescott's brilliant and ingenious kamikaze strategy to destroy from within the House of Lords, though I suspect not.

The result of all this: we must introduce a guillotine on the debate in the Lords. As Gary Gibbon says:

The government has got the Lords' clerks to draft the equivalent of the nuclear weapon – a timetable motion, a guillotine by any other name.

For those of us who believe that Labour should have fulfilled its endless manifesto promises long ago and reformed the place, this is not a big deal.

But, for many in the Lords, this changes the very nature of what the upper house is there for, and moves it from being an "amending" to a "legislating" body. This is causing concern among the crossbenchers and some of the Lib Dem Peers, especially the lawyers among them.

So, how else will this stalemate be resolved?

The Lib Dem Voice editor, Mark Pack, points out that Lords Tyler and Rennard on the Lib Dem side have been working to ensure there are compromises.

The two changes are ones that the Liberal Democrat peers Paul Tyler and Chris Rennard have been pushing for, namely giving greater consideration to existing constituency boundaries and to ward boundaries.

It is likely that this will not be enough for Labour, however – especially for peers like John Prescott who are so adamantly opposed to a change in the voting system in the first place. Surely this is the moment for Ed Miliband to step in and drive forward something he believes in?

This bill has now been discussed for 14 days and nights – more than just about any other in the House of Lords' history. Two lords have been hospitalised from exhaustion. This is no civilised way to scrutinise legislation. It is time for the business managers to call their bluff. Go for the guillotine. Manage the timetable so that nothing else is discussed between now and mid-February.

Prescott and his mob must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom from an unelected post. He should have thought of that when he dragged his heels on reforming the place for the past 13 years.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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