I take you back to 2012, when the plans to reform the House of Lords were shelved. Nick Clegg announced that as a result of this, the Lib Dems would vote against the boundary changes as proposed by the Tories. However, this only amounted to a temporary delay: the new boundaries, equalising the constituency sizes and reducing the number of MPs to 600, a move that takes a lot of the current bias towards Labour out of the system, will automatically come into effect in 2018 unless some new piece of legislation gets passed to come up with either an alternate boundary review or stick with the current set of boundaries for yet another election in 2020.
So you’d think that, given all of this, Labour would set out what their plan for an alternate boundary review would look like in their manifesto. But nope, there’s nary a mention. Now, you may be thinking that given the boundaries are such a dry topic to the average voter, why bother to explicitly mention it in the manifesto as you can always just legislate for something that technical anyway, right? Except there’s a little something called the Salisbury Convention that makes what Labour have done more than a little daft.
The Salisbury Convention was introduced under the Atlee government and states that the House of Lords will not oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in the governing party’s manifesto. So all Labour had to do was have a few sentences in the “more power to the people” chapter of their manifesto and this looming catastrophe could have been easily avoided. But they didn’t bother.
This means that the House of Lords can cause havoc with any legislation Labour try to introduce on this in the next parliament. The Tories have a lot more peers now than in 2010, and you can bet they’ll try and recruit a load of crossbenchers to their cause, with what I’d predict as some success. The SNP have no one in the House of Lords at all by convention, so they can’t even lean on them for possible help.
Ultimately, Labour can use the Parliament Act to get it through, but the right-wing press may well have a field day with this, particularly if the Miliband led government is experiencing a rough patch popularity wise. One way to possibly avoid having to resort to using the Parliament Act, come to think of it, is by recruiting the Lib Dems for help in the Lords, where they now have over 100 peers. So another consequence of not putting this in their manifesto is that Labour have just given the Lib Dems some automatic power in the next parliament, regardless of how many seats are lost in the Commons. Thanks, guys, much appreciated.
Will Labour get a new set of boundaries instituted in time to avoid the 2018 cliff edge, should they get into power in a couple of weeks’ time? Probably. But they could have pretty much assured it with a mere sentence or two.