In 1997 the Labour Party manifesto outlined that under a Labour government the House of Lords would be reformed so that “the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute…“. It was not until after the 2001 General Election that a public consulation on Lords Reform took place. Over 1,000 people took part and there was much debate sparked in Parliament. However, even after all this buzz there were no concrete measures taken to reform the House of Lords. Even when a vote was put to Parliament in 2003, the Commons and the Lords voted to ensure that any Peers would be Appointed and not directly Elected. To show how overdue Lords Reform is you only need to recognise how long it has been talked about. Even as far as back as 1911, under the Parliament Act, the Liberal Party underlined a need for reform and that the Second Chamber itself should be “constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis“. Although it was noted that such changes could not be achieved with any great immediacy, would I not be right in saying that 100 years is more than long enough for the sort of reform talked about by the Liberals in 1911?
Without stating the obvious, it does not take much of a mind to realise that the political landscape is very different to 1997, let alone 1911. But if now is not the best opportunity for Lords Reform, that actually shakes up Parliament, then when is? Public trust in politics is not in great shape and we need to give the electorate a lifeline to show that finally the men and women behind the suits that stand on a platform of “democracy” are actually listening. The Coalition agreement is the first step. It outlines that there are intentions to work towards a mainly, or wholly, elected Upper Chamber. My take is that although there is a desire to see a fully elected House of Lords, we should not turn away from the opportunity to see a “mainly” elected Upper Chamber. As Nick said recently, 80% is better than 0%. It must not be ignored that there will be great opposition to this. Even when looking at the 1997 Labour manifesto, on the issue of Lords reform, the party had to reitterate that they were opposed to abolishing the monarchy! To think that such ridiculous claims have to be refuted, it is worrying that Lords Reforms may well be halted by ludicrous arguments and the overhanging worry that the Lords themselves may oppose such moves. But this is no reason to back down. If the case is put clearly and loudly, the people will unite behind this. The Prime Minister is said to have given his backing so it seems that there is only a matter of time. Quite frankly, we owe it to the electorate if we wish to uphold the foundations of a liberal democracy.
So the Feltham & Heston by-election is finally over and we can all stop speculating. What happens now is the typical spin you expect with by-election results. Labour are very careful in ensuring that the message they intend on delivering is that the result was a damning judgement on the Coalition and the path they are taking in Government. The Tories however are trying their best to underplay the fact they made no ground in the seat, even though it may be the sort of seat they need to win in 2015 if they want to secure a majority. Finally the Lib Dems and UKIP can both breathe a sigh of relief after both parties retained their deposits, especially the Lib Dems who were tipped to finish fourth. I think this is the best opportunity for me to congratulate Roger Crouch, the Lib Dem candidate, on his efforts. It was never going to be an easy contest but he showed that he wanted to work relentless for the constituents and proved many critics wrong who predicted the party would finish dismally behind UKIP.
My own personal take on this by-election is probably a little different to the Tory and Labour view. I think Labour should be relieved that they cemented Feltham & Heston as a Labour safe seat, but the low turnout of 28.8% makes it harder for the party to affirm the result as a message of condemnation to the Government. The Tories, like I said before, should be disheartened by the fact that they made no ground, even though this sort of seat is one they need to win back if they wish to reach a majority number of seats in 2015.
Now although the by-election showed no particular effect from the newly formed post-Veto ground of British politics, tomorrows Sunday Telegraph/ICM poll certainly does. The poll shows a two point rise for the Conservatives (40%), a two percent drop for Labour (34%) and the Lib Dems sticking on 14%. ICM are renowned for their consistent method and proved, in 2010, that they were one of the most accurate pollsters in predicting the outcome of the General Election result. The poll adds yet another blow to the Labour camp, but more worryingly, to Ed Miliband who has received a lot of criticism lately for not capitalising on Cameron’s EU-veto and for performing poorly in this weeks Prime Minister’s Questions. It can only raise more doubts over Ed’s ability to lead the Labour party into the next General Election and to present them as a party ready to govern, with him as Prime Minister. The Conservatives will be looking to capitalise the poll lead as a confirmation that the British public view Cameron’s veto as standing up for Britain against the EU. What may be worrying however is that the poll also found that 59% of people expect a referendum on Britain’s EU membership at some point between now and by the end of the next Parliament. Although many Tory voters are Eurosceptic, the Prime Minister has made it clear that he thinks Britain’s best intentions are served within the EU and not out; thus providing yet more opportunities for UKIP to capitalise on the worries of the voters. The Liberal Democrats can take comfort in the fact that their ratings have not been affected by Cameron’s recent moves within the EU, but with 25% of voters opposing a referendum the party really needs to make ground on pro-EU voters who may react a little more hostile towards the recent moves by David Cameron.
So whatever conclusions you make from recent events it is clear that all three major parties need to really consider how to overcome the recent downfalls, whatever they may be. Labour need to sort out their ever present problems with the leadership, the Tories need to ensure they sustain their lead whilst the Lib Dems need to make sure they start to make ground on lost voters and ensure they win the PR war on the big issues like the EU.