The government was wise to withdraw its timetable motion last night. It would have lost it.It won the main motion easily, but it is a case of I feel like I lose when I win.
The reality of the Lords Reform Bill is simple. The Coalition has no majority for it, because so many Conservatives oppose it. To get a bill through the government has to amend its proposals so that Labour continue to vote for it as they did last night, or amend it so Conservatives will back it.
Labour’s likely price for supporting the Bill is a referendum, to allow the public to be the final judges of the reform. The government seems reluctant to grant this, despite saying that Lords reform is popular with the public.
The 91 Conservatives who voted against the current proposals last night do not have a united view of what would be better. They are united merely in saying that the current proposals are not right. Some dislike the voting system chosen for the proposed elected peers, some dislike the 15 year single term, some dislike the whole idea of elected members in the second house. Many prefer Lord Steel’s proposals. They would like to slim the upper house with new rules on attendance, on appointment term limits and similar improvements.
By removing the timetable motion the government wisely acknowledged that it needs to seek a wider consensus to carry reforms through both houses. The Conservative manifesto made clear it wanted elections to Westminster to be first past the post, and made clear that a consensus had to be found before there could be any question of Lords legislation. The Conservative Manifesto did not promise to legislate for Lords reform, and ruled out the chosen voting system in the current Bill. That is why many Conservative MPs are struggling with these proposals.