Clegg backs down on House of Lords reform

Deputy PM fails to secure a fully elected upper house and agrees that the bishops will remain.

Nick Clegg has been outmanoeuvred again, this time on House of Lords reform. The Deputy Prime Minister had hoped to establish a fully elected second chamber, but has settled for (£) one that is 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed. He has also agreed to reserve some places for the Anglican bishops, 26 of whom sit in the house. We will remain the only semi-theocracy in the western world.

The coalition agreement held open the possibility of a fully elected upper house. It said: "We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation."

In response, we can expect Labour, which failed to deliver even a partially elected Lords, to attack Clegg's compromise. Ed Miliband offered a preview of this strategy in his recent speech at the launch of the Labour Yes Campaign.

He said: "We need a reformed, democratic House of Lords. Labour and the Lib Dems called for a fully elected second chamber in our manifesto. I want to keep that promise." Clegg has also agreed to abandon a proposed ban on former ministers and MPs sitting in the Lords.

The Times reports that a "committee of both Houses will be set up before the summer recess to consider the plans and will report next year". Should the Yes camp lose the AV referendum, David Cameron will almost certainly offer Lords reform to Clegg as a consolation prize. But he will have to contend with a Tory party that, with honourable exceptions, remains hostile to reform and, of course, the Lords itself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What will Labour's new awkward squad do next?

What does the future hold for the party's once-rising-stars?

For years, Jeremy Corbyn was John McDonnell’s only friend in Parliament. Now, Corbyn is the twice-elected Labour leader, and McDonnell his shadow chancellor. The crushing leadership election victory has confirmed Corbyn-supporting MPs as the new Labour elite. It has also created a new awkward squad.   

Some MPs – including some vocal critics of Corbyn – are queuing up to get back in the shadow cabinet (one, Sarah Champion, returned during the leadership contest). Chi Onwurah, who spoke out on Corbyn’s management style, never left. But others, most notably the challenger Owen Smith, are resigning themselves to life on the back benches. 

So what is a once-rising-star MP to do? The most obvious choice is to throw yourself into the issue the Corbyn leadership doesn’t want to talk about – Brexit. The most obvious platform to do so on is a select committee. Chuka Umunna has founded Vote Leave Watch, a campaign group, and is running to replace Keith Vaz on the Home Affairs elect committee. Emma Reynolds, a former shadow Europe minister, is running alongside Hilary Benn to sit on the newly-created Brexit committee. 

Then there is the written word - so long as what you write is controversial enough. Rachel Reeves caused a stir when she described control on freedom of movement as “a red line” in Brexit negotiations. Keir Starmer is still planning to publish his long-scheduled immigration report. Alison McGovern embarked on a similar tour of the country

Other MPs have thrown themselves into campaigns, most notably refugee rights. Stella Creasy is working with Alf Dubs on his amendment to protect child refugees. Yvette Cooper chairs Labour's refugee taskforce.

The debate about whether Labour MPs should split altogether is ongoing, but the warnings of history aside, some Corbyn critics believe this is exactly what the leadership would like them to do. Richard Angell, deputy director of Progress, a centrist group, said: “Parts of the Labour project get very frustrated that good people Labour activists are staying in the party.”

One reason to stay in Labour is the promise of a return of shadow cabinet elections, a decision currently languishing with the National Executive Committee. 

But anti-Corbyn MPs may still yet find their ability to influence policies blocked. Even if the decision goes ahead, the Corbyn leadership is understood to be planning a root and branch reform of party institutions, to be announced in the late autumn. If it is consistent with his previous rhetoric, it will hand more power to the pro-Corbyn grassroots members. The members of Labour's new awkward squad have seized on elections as a way to legitimise their voices. But with Corbyn in charge, they might get more democracy than they bargained for.