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.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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