The Tories' power grab in the Lords

The only reason the government has to increase its share of peers is to make it easier to ram legisl

Government legislation has run into trouble in the Lords. The Lords rejected proposals to cut support for young disabled people and those living with cancer. They voted to reject proposals to charge single mothers for using the Child Support Agency. And the government's disastrous Health and Society Care Bill was defeated.

The response from the government has been to draw up plans to stuff the House of Lords with new peers to enable them to ram legislation through the Lords much the way they do in the Commons. They have no case to do so.

Margaret Thatcher didn't have to worry about getting her legislation through Parliament. Massive majorities in the Commons were buttressed by comfortable majorities in the House of Lords. The House of Lords is composed of peers taking a party whip (about 70 per cent of the total) and cross benchers (those taking no party whip who vote less often).

The presence of hereditary peers in the Thatcher/Major years meant two thirds of the peers taking a party whip were Conservative. Overall 43-45 per cent of the peers in the Lords were Conservatives between 1979 and 1997. Given many cross benchers don't vote it was little surprise that of the 2859 divisions in the House of Lords between 1979 and 1997 the Conservatives lost just 8.4 per cent. By contrast, between 1997 and 2010 - the 13 years of Labour government - the Lords defeated the government on 528 of 1704 occasions 31 per cenmt of the time. Why the difference?

Because during 13 years of Labour government the number of Labour peers in the House of Lords (once the hereditaries left) increased from 29.1 per cent to 30.8 per cent. In 13 years of a Labour government the party which saw the biggest increase in its share of peers was in fact the Liberal Democrats whose numbers increased by almost 50 per cent Today the government combined share of peers in the House of Lords is 39 per cent - a third more than Labour had at any point during its 13 years in power.

The only reason the government has to increase its share of peers is to make it easier to ram legislation through. We should not be surprised at this shameless power grab from a government that plans to use changes to Parliamentary constituency boundaries and to the way households register to vote to strengthen its grip on power.

In the House of Commons, I challenged the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, to rule out rigging the composition of the Lords to further favour the government he failed to do so. David Cameron's big idea - the Big Society - turned out to be a flop. It would appeared that the Tories' big idea, after 13 years in opposition, is to grab as much power as possible and hold on to it. It is a dangerous and depressing development for the health of our democracy.

Angela Eagle is the shadow leader of the House of Commons.

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Why Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.