Cameron is heading for defeat on Lords reform

70 Tory MPs sign a letter vowing to rebel against the government tomorrow night.

The news that 70 Tory MPs, including four select committee chairmen and three former ministers, have signed a letter (£) vowing to rebel over House of Lords reform means that the government is almost certainly heading for defeat in tomorrow night's vote. Even if the whips manage to talk some MPs round, the rebels only need 51 to defeat the programme motion, which would place a 10-day limit on debate. Labour, which plans to support the bill at its second reading, has also pledged to vote against the timetable motion. As a result, David Cameron is facing his first defeat on government business in the Commons.

With no time limit on debate, the rebels will aim to talk the bill into the ground, something that Downing Street's decision to rule out a referendum will do nothing to discourage. The upshot is that Lords reform is almost certainly doomed.

The key question for the coalition's future is what form the Lib Dem retaliation takes. If Nick Clegg demands the abandonment of the boundary changes, a split is no longer unthinkable.

The full text of the letter is below; the three former ministers who signed are Malcolm Rifkind, David Davis and Peter Lilley.

        Dear Colleague,

We come from all sides of the Conservative Party, and are writing as reformers to express our serious concern at the current proposals to create an elected House of Lords. It threatens to pile a constitutional crisis on top of an economic crisis

Specifically:

  • What is now proposed will undermine the primacy of the Commons, with competing chambers which will lead to legislative gridlock.

  • It will create hundreds of unaccountable new elected politicians at a time when we as a party are committed to reducing the cost of politics; and

  • It will produce a chamber which is less expert, less diverse and significantly more expensive than the present one.

The commitments in our 2010 election manifesto and in the Programme for government - to seek consensus and to bring forward proposals - have been fulfilled. We hope you will support us in giving this Bill the full and unrestricted scrutiny it deserves.

David Cameron is facing his first defeat on government business. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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