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Monday, May 16, 2011

Game on for Lords reform

Fears that Nick Clegg would not be backed by the Prime Minister in using the Parliament Act to reform the House of Lords appear to have been dismissed by the Independent on Sunday, which says that the Deputy Prime Minister has found an unlikely ally in the Chancellor of the Exchequer:

This week Mr Clegg will present a draft Bill to Parliament on replacing the House of Lords. However, in the wake of his defeat in the referendum on the voting system, the Lib Dem leader is anxious to avoid seeming obsessed with constitutional matters at a time of deep spending cuts. Instead, two Tory ministers – Mark Harper and Lord Strathclyde – will take to the airwaves to sell the policy.

There is still behind-the-scenes wrangling over what the new upper house will be called, with Clegg allies favouring the retention of the House of Lords over a US-inspired "Senate".

In meetings with peers to persuade them to support their own abolition, Mr Clegg has made it clear that he is prepared to use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through the Lords. Any intervention by Mr Osborne is likely to carry significant weight and will mark a surprise about-turn after Lib Dems publicly criticised his role in the referendum campaign.

Lib Dem party managers are also preparing to turn the issue into a major test of Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party. An internal briefing for staff at the Lib Dem HQ suggests that Mr Miliband is seen as weak and unable to unite his party in favour of reform. "He doesn't pass the 'blink test' – he just doesn't look, in the instant in which people make the judgement, like a potential PM."

Substantial progress on this reform is vital if the Liberal Democrats are to put their constitutional agenda back on track after defeat in the Alternative Vote referendum.
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