Conservative grassroots turn against an elected House of Lords
By Tim Montgomerie
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The latest ConservativeHome poll of Tory members found a big swing away from support for an elected House of Lords. In the past we've found opinion very divided. I don't quite understand the reasons for the change but wonder if there is an element of bloody-mindedness; 'we'll oppose the changes because the "yellow b**tards" want them'. One other explanation might be the Liberal Democrat insistence that any upper house elections should be by proportional representation. By 62% to 25% the Tory base opposes that and given the emphatic rejection of AV it does so with good reason. The same proportion - 62% - worry that the House of Commons would lose its authority if the Lords becomes elected. 29% disagree.
- Only 12% think that Lords reform should be a priority for the Coalition. A whopping 85% do not.
- Only 16% support a full-elected Lords. 77% do not. Only 26% support a mainly-elected Lords. 65% do not.
- 70% say the current House of Lords works "ok" and needs only evolutionary changes. 25% disagree.
In terms of evolutionary changes the former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord (David) Steel, sets them out in an article for The Observer that rejects the current Coalition proposals and will have Mr Clegg choking on his muesli:
- "Reduce the numbers in the house by introducing a retirement scheme.
- End the entry into the Lords by heredity through the supposedly temporary and sometimes ludicrous byelections whenever a hereditary peer dies.
- Establish an independent appointments commission for new peerages, ending the "cash for peerages" scandals.
- Automatically expel any peer sentenced to one year or more in prison, as already applies in the Commons."
Lord Steel is not isolated among Liberal Democrat peers. A survey for The Times - reported on the Parliament blog last week - found 46% of Clegg's peers opposed to a mainly-elected Lords.
Tory members certainly think there are weaknesses in the current set up. By 74% to 18% they agree "we need to end the current system where party leaders appoint stooges and cronies to the Lords." Steel's third point, above, might address this concern.
The Conservative grassroots support Church of England Bishops remaining in any reformed House of Lords by two-to-one. But by 58% to 33% they reject "non-Christian faith leaders sitting alongside bishops in a reformed Lords." That seems the wrong judgment to me although I would not tinker with establishment.
If there is a secret to the Lords' success it comes in the response to the statement "debates in the Lords are enriched by the fact that it is made up of people from business, the military, law, science, the arts and the faith communities". 91% agreed with that and just 6% disagreed.