Where Labour really stands on Lords reform

The party still backs a 100% elected house but this is not a "deal-breaker".

In electing to whip his MPs to support Lords reform, Ed Miliband has taken a bigger political gamble than most appreciate. Labour is not as divided as it was over the Alternative Vote but, for both political and principled reasons, a significant chunk of the party is implacably opposed to reform. I'm told by a Labour source that the "net majority" of those who spoke at yesterday's PLP meeting believed the party should vote against the bill at second reading.

In addition, those in Labour who opposed AV are worried that Lords reform could become "a backdoor way of getting PR in" (a fear shared by Tory MPs).  As I've noted before, one reason why the Lib Dems are so keen to secure an elected chamber is that it could revive the debate around electoral reform. The use of the proportional Single Transferable Vote (the Lib Dems' voting system of choice) to elect the second chamber would allow Nick Clegg to portray the Commons as a less legitimate body and argue for reform to bring it into line with the Lords. Indeed, Lib Dem president Tim Farron has already argued that "Members elected in a different Chamber by the single transferable vote will have greater legitimacy than those elected to the Commons on a system of first-past-the-post" (see p. 14 of the joint committee report on Lords reform).

Finally, while Labour continues to support a fully-elected house, as opposed to one that is part-appointed (in this case, 20 per cent of members), I'm told that the party will not let "the best be the enemy of the good". The issue is not a "deal-breaker".

Ed Miliband has challenged those in his party opposed to Lords reform. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.