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Tuesday, July 10, 2012 

Time for Clegg to go nuclear.

And so, predictably, almost inevitably, the latest attempt to reform the House of Lords has ended in ignominy. It's difficult to know just who to blame the most, as there are so many candidates, and indeed so many traceable turds laying in this particular political creek. We can start perhaps with Nick Clegg, who just by virtue of being himself was probably enough to doom the whole enterprise. The second reason to poke Nicholas with a stick is that just as on the alternative vote, he and his party have settled on a miserable little compromise. In a desperate attempt to gain something of a legacy, they've settled on the frankly awful proposals for reform from the joint committee, who settled on a hodge podge. The only reason not to have a fully elected second chamber is pure tradition; if there really was a case for any peers to be appointed, then it would make far more sense for there to be a 50/50 split, not 80/20 as they settled on.

The joint committee also, ludicrously, said there should be a referendum. That politicians have been trying to change the Lords for 100 years and have (mostly) failed, with numerous promises in manifestos down the years having fallen by the wayside apparently makes no difference. If there was to be a referendum, then it would be a great opportunity to ask which option the public would favour, rather than just a plain yes or no on the compromise between the parties, but for potato's sake they should just get on with it already. Which brings us to the second guilty party: the dinosaurs on both benches. Angela Eagle claimed it was a victory for parliament, when it was in fact a triumph for conservatism. I don't have any quarrel with wanting to defeat the government come what may, but if you're going to do it then do so on the fact this was a flawed reform, not on the poxy timetable.

Next in line to shoulder the blame then is Labour as a whole. Being in opposition is all about opportunism, but blocking reform in this way makes absolutely no sense. If they were saying that they'd be prepared to work with the Lib Dems if the reform was changed for better, by making the Lords replacement 100% elected, and changing the ludicrous 15-year single terms to something more sensible such as 2 5-year stretches, then refusing to support them now would be fine. By instead insisting there should be a referendum when while in power they repeatedly tried to get it through without a plebiscite makes even more of a mockery of their time in office.

Finally then, we have the Tory leadership. Cameron famously described Lords reform as a "third-term issue", and he's proved it in the way that he's carried on appointing new peers like the place isn't going out of business (see what I did there?). If they had truly wanted to help their coalition partners out, then they could have done hell of a lot more to try and "persuade" the refuseniks on their own benches. Instead they've barely lifted a finger.

Rather than blaming Labour, this ought to finally make it clear to the Lib Dems that their being in the coalition has achieved nothing other than their current 8% rating in the polls. Their two major policies that have been put in place, the supposed pupil premium and the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000 are both self-defeating, in that the pupil premium is not new money and that the threshold gives more to the middle than it does to the bottom. They should forget about withdrawing support for the boundary review, and go nuclear: let the Tories govern as a minority. They can't currently go to the country as the polls are against them, so until that changes they wouldn't have any other option. Doing so might just save the Lib Dems from oblivion. Has Clegg got the guts to finally file for divorce from the Conservatives?

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