Effective opposition?

While most of the unusual attention paid to the House of Lords this week focused on for the important tax-credit debates on Monday – in which Labour failed to support us in killing off Osborne’s cuts – there was another ‘fatal motion’ in my name the following day.

With support from Tom Brake, Chris Rennard, William Wallace and Tony Greaves, I moved to stop the Conservatives deleting 1.9 million entries from the electoral register, against the express advice of the Electoral Commission. The Government is dead set on ending the transitionary period – carefully negotiated in the Coalition – for the change from household to individual electoral registration.

By using an order-making power to bring forward the end-date for the transition, the Government calculates that the 2016 boundary review will produce fewer urban, Conservative-hostile constituencies because most of the people they are taking off are in densely populated areas. In Hackney, 23% will be deleted.

We came very, very close to stopping this nakedly partisan gerrymander, but – in something of a theme for the week – Labour flunked it.  They tabled an inconsequential but supportive amendment to my motion, and we won that vote 267 content, 257 not content = Government Defeated.  Then just a few minutes later on the second vote, on my motion, the Government scored a narrow win. 246 content, 257 not content = Government Win.

What went wrong?  Why the 21 drop in the vote against the Government, in just few minutes?  The principal reason would seem to be the departure of 12 Labour Peers, resulting in a government majority of 11. Where and why did they go?  Confused, reluctant to support another “fatal motion” in the wake of Osborne’s sabre rattling about clipping the Lords’ wings? Or merely tribal, resistant to voting for a Liberal Democrat initiative?   If it was the latter this was a spectacular own goal, since Labour will be much the hardest hit by this Tory sleight of hand.

However, there was also a drop in support from Crossbench Peers (18 to 14), amongst the “Others” (including Lord Owen) (10 to 6) and even (inexplicably) Liberal Democrat Peers (81 to 79).  The relative turnout of the Parties was 70% for Labour, 77% Lib Dem and a record 89% for the Tories, even excluding the Lord Lloyd Webber who had presumably by then flown back to New York.  The array of Conservative Peers included many we hadn’t seen for several months, such was the strong self-interest the Tories had in carrying the day.

This deliberate reversal of the official advice from the independent and authoritative Electoral Commission could now skew the result of the London, Scottish and Welsh elections in May 2016, twist the outcome of the EU Referendum if it comes as quickly as some expect and will certainly distort the constituency boundary review for 2020 …. all in the Tories favour.

And it could have been stopped – but for the fact Labour plainly don’t even know how to be an Opposition, still less a Government.

You can read my speech here, along with the rest of the debate.

 

Paul Tyler is the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues

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