Why Tory MPs must support House of Lords reform

We must be seen to give power to the many and take it away from the few.

At the time of writing, we are on the cusp of one of the most important constitutional reform votes in a generation. Some Conservative MPs might claim they have policy objections to the bill. But ultimately, tonight’s vote is a clear choice: either members are for "selection" or for "election" to the second chamber. Either members are for appointments, or they are for devolving power to the people via the ballot box.

Opponents have obsessed over the bill’s detail – the proportional voting system, the 15 year terms, the 80:20 split have dominated proceedings. But in walking through the oppposition lobby tonight, members would be voting against the very principle of democracy and election. They would be denying the bill a future and denying the House an opportunity to refine the bill’s contents at committee stage. If members support the very principle of elections, they should pass this bill.

As a good Conservative, there are many reasons to support the bill. Critics have claimed it is solely a Liberal Democrat agenda. But we cannot blame our coalition partners for much of the philosophy behind the bill. Elected police commissioners and city mayors were Conservative driven policies. Localism, the devolution of power to the electorate and trusting in the people is part of our DNA. If we condemn the European Union for its lack of democracy, why should we deny the public the right to vote for 50 per cent of our parliament?  It is absolutely critical that we, as Conservatives, are seen to be giving power to the many and taking it away from the few.

Opponents of reform seem concerned that the government will struggle to get its legislation through Parliament if there are two elected, functioning Houses. But the House of Commons is not the government, it is separate. Two elected Houses of Parliament would not defeat any government any more than they do in any bicameral systems around the world. And it would be no bad thing if a stronger Parliament deterred the government from passing ill-considered legislation. As good Conservatives, by passing this Bill, we would also achieve the objective of getting government to do less, but better.

Finally, members seem convinced that the case for "selection" lies in the fact political bias would be avoided. But what criteria would be used for selection? Would membership of a political party preclude appointment to the second chamber? We must consider whether people would represent vested interests – the British Medical Association; the National Union of Teachers and the Law Society are already heavily represented - and embed the status quo rather than offer reform and move our democracy forward. Members must be clear that selection can be negative. One of the previous chairmen of The House of Lords Appointments Commission said: "We don’t want hairdressers in the House of Lords." Selection processes will favour only those who are in the right dinner party circuit, who have networked and are well connected, not necessarily the best person for the job.

Perhaps not every aspect of the bill is perfect – some of us might have liked more radical reform – but tonight’s vote offers us an opportunity to take a crucial step forward. It is an opportunity for us to say that we trust the people, and that we are taking away the appointments system from the Prime Minister and giving it to the electorate.

Peers file out of the chamber of the House of Lords. Photograph: Getty Images.

Laura Sandys is the Conservative MP for South Thanet and was an international businesswoman before entering Parliament in 2010.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.