What Lords Reform has done to the coalition's poll numbers

Two-thirds no longer think of Tories and Lib Dems as a "united team".

Earlier this month. Conservative MPs forced the government to drop a motion which would have limited debate on the House of Lords Reform Bill to 10 days. In so doing, they inflicted a severe blow to the Liberal Democrats’ aspiration of reforming the second chamber. Without a timetable, the Bill could be "talked out" by challengers. The Prime Minister has said he will have "one more try" to secure a limit in September but if unsuccessful, it leaves the prospects for Lords reform on shaky ground.

Is this parliamentary wrangling in tune with the public mood, however? Liberal Democrats would argue that, since it was in all three parties’ manifestos, there is to some extent a public mandate for Lords reform. And yes, IPSOS/Mori's most recent poll on the issues does show that around eight in ten (79%) Britons support the idea of reforming the House of Lords at some point. Support for reform is highest among Liberal Democrats at 87% - unsurprisingly - and lowest among their Coalition partners, Conservative supporters, at 75%. Only around one in six people (16%) say they do not support reforming the House of Lords at all, but even among Conservative voters, this only rises to 21%.

Furthermore, previous studies have shown the public has often thought there could be a better alternative to the current system.  In October 1998, polling showed only 20% thought that the House of Lords should remain exactly as it is. Around 60% preferred some sort of change to its constitution, from removal of all hereditary peers – something the Blair Government did act on to some extent - to replacing the House of Lords with a new second chamber entirely elected by the public.  Although even then, 61% said things should be left as they are until the full detailed package of reforms had been worked out.

Desire for Lords reform fits with broader trends of favouring changes to the way UK politics is conducted. In the wake of the expenses scandal, Ipsos MORI polling showed three in four (75%) believed that the present system of governing Britain needs a lot of improvement with only a quarter (24%) feeling it mainly worked well. In December 2010, just a quarter – 27% - said they were satisfied with the way Parliament works.  Moreover, our Veracity Index has shown trust in parliamentarians on a downward trend since 2008. Clearly, a case can be made for reform of Parliament, including of the House of Lords.

Conservative MPs, however, are also in tune with the public when they say that Lords reform is not a priority for the country in this era of public spending constraints and poor economic growth. Very few think it is a priority according to our new poll (even Liberal Democrat voters). Just 7% of the public overall believe it should be a priority, with 72% saying there are other more important things on which the government should concentrate. What is notable is the steady majority across all age groups and classes who think there are more important things on the government’s plate, and most voters of all parties say even though they support reform it is not an immediate priority – 74% of Liberal Democrats, 74% of Labour voters and 70% of Conservatives.

The June Ipsos MORI Issues Index shows the dominance of the economy over all other issues since 2008, with three-fifths (58%) who mention it as amongst the most important issues facing Britain, and unemployment a clear second. By contrast, constitutional issues are consistently amongst one of the lowest scoring on the index. We would expect these trends to continue, despite the column inches given to Lords reform in recent weeks.

On top of this, there is a prevailing view that the government is dealing with the economic crisis poorly. Only three in ten (28%) say the Coalition is dealing with the economic crisis effectively. This is half of the 59% that had high hopes of the Coalition to deal with the crisis back in May 2010.

Supporters of reform might argue of course, that a government and parliament should be able to tackle more than one issue at any one time and this seems a valid point. The problem with Lords reform is that the public is seeing it through a filter whereby the focus is on the dynamics of the coalition rather than the constitutional issues at stake – not, of course, for the first time.

We can at least partly attribute this to low levels of interest and knowledge about politics and parliamentary process; it is hard to find a priority an issue you have little engagement in. Back in 2007, six in ten said they did not know much about the Westminster Parliament, and it seems unlikely that there is great public interest this time in the intricate details of House of Lords reform. This means that it can be the discussion around the issue in the media as much as the pros and cons of reform itself that the public picks up on. 

Perhaps this is why the most worrying polling figure for the Coalition to come out of this so far is the two-thirds of the public (not to mention a majority of Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters themselves) who tell us they think it is no longer a united team.

Gideon Skinner is head of political research at Ipsos Mori

The palace of Westminster. Photo: Getty Images

Gideon Skinner is Head of Political Research at IpsosMori. He tweets as @GideonSkinner.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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