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.

Photo: Justin Tallis/Getty Images
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What does our latest poll mean for the Labour leadership race?

Jeremy Corbyn is ahead among councillors - and looks ever more certain to become Labour's next leader. 

This morning the Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University released its last set of polling data of Labour councillors in marginal constituencies’ prior to the election of the new leader.

It’s certainly a limited enough snapshot but in broad terms the data suggests four things. Firstly, that Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership. Perhaps no great shock there at this point. But Corbyn’s slight lead in our poll of only two points or under above Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham masks the fact that he has picked up over 11 per cent of councillors since June - whilst all other candidates have lost support here. Given his reputation as a centraliser, it is remarkable that Corbyn is also neck and neck with Andy Burnham as the candidate councillors believe ‘would be best for local government.’ If he’s just about won over this tough crowd it may indeed be game over.

Secondly, the £3 registered supporter experiment is viewed as a damaging one by many within the party. With almost six in ten councillors thinking it should be ‘scrapped ahead of any future contest’ compared to just over one in four seeing it as a positive, there may well be clamour to reform this model going forward. Whether Corbyn will want to challenge the legitimacy of a reasonable proportion of his backers is one thing, but he would likely have some support in doing so if others were to press the issue.

Thirdly, on whatever mandate Corbyn is elected the good news for him is that key councillors clearly back Corbynomics. His plan to create a regulated and publicly-run service to deliver energy supplies is backed by 78 per cent of councillors who either “strongly agree” or “agree” with the policy, while 77 per cent support nationalising the railway network as soon as practicable. Introducing a 50p top rate of income tax is backed by 79 per cent of councillors, while 73 per cent agree with a “mansion tax” on homes worth over £2million. Most of those individually poll well amongst the electorate, though the 75 per cent of councillors who think scrapping tuition fees would aid the Labour vote in their constituency are out of kilter with the only one in six members of the general public who support that measure.

But lastly, perhaps most crucially, the rub is that less than two in ten councillors surveyed think Jeremy Corbyn will win the 2020 General Election. Even amongst councillors pledging to vote for Corbyn that figure tops out at six in ten.

Our data aside, Corbyn’s medium term challenge will clearly be enormous, as they would be for any new leader. For one, Labour’s current core vote just doesn’t turnout in enough numbers – not only in terms of voting for Labour, but at all. In 2010 and 2015 Labour’s most successful demographics were the semi-/low skilled working class (40 per cent to 31 per cent over the Tories in 2010, 41 per cent to 27 per cent in 2015) and ethnic minorities (60 per cent to 16 per cent in 2010, 65 per cent to 23 per cent in 2015). Turnout for both these groups is at least one in ten less than the national average, and barely bobs over one voter in two generally.  

Instead, in 2015 the most likely people to vote were men over the age of 55 (79 per cent), the middle class (75 per cent), or property owners (77 per cent). And so Jon Cruddas’ reviews’ conclusion that Labour has fallen behind on the average Prospector vote – those who ‘vote pragmatically for whichever party they think will improve their financial circumstances’ – has much resonance. The grey middle class might not be the sexiest of demographics, but they often decide elections. Miliband may have gained 12 per cent more 18-24 year olds (turnout 43 per cent) in 2015 than five years earlier, but the fact that he managed to do 8 per cent worse than Gordon Brown’s 2010 performance with the crucial over 65s (turnout 78 per cent) put the final chisel in the Edstone.

Perhaps if you give young voters a “radical alternative” they really will turn out – though worth recording that turnout amongst under 25s at the ‘real choice’ election of 1979 was the lowest either side of the majority Labour governments of 1966 and 1997 – but there are no guarantees. All this is a challenge for Labour per se however, not just Corbyn.

For the bookies’ favourite himself there are some specific complications. Big ticket policies like People’s Quantitative Easing have been queried by fellow leadership candidates (to declare an interest, while I am a Kendallite, I wrote a report arguing for a much truncated, one-off form of People’s QE in 2012), though it is just about backed by councillors in our survey. Corbyn’s foreign policy choices of threatening to leave NATO (rejected by two thirds of councillors) and scrapping Trident (rejected by a third) are also likely to be controversial. And the sum total of a left leaning agenda – as Ed Miliband discovered – is often less than its constituent parts. If Jeremy Corbyn is going to become the first opposition leader since 1906 to gain a full parliamentary majority whilst pledging to raise the top rate of income tax, he’s got a lot of work to do.

But our survey suggests that he’ll get the time to do it. If our data suggests Corbyn is at present unlikely to be Prime Minister, for all the talk of an early coup against him, he looks in a strong position to at least contest that election. And that remains an astonishing rise.

Richard Carr is a Lecturer in History at the Labour History Research Unit (LHRU), Anglia Ruskin University. The LHRU has today released new polling data on the Labour leadership. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the LHRU, the kind councillors of all parties who took time to answer the survey, or Anglia Ruskin University.

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