Many of the more right-of-centre newspapers are declaring that the government calling time on Lords Reform is a victory for Cameron personally. Iain Martin’s piece summarises this thesis:
I would argue the precise opposite. I think the whole episode has been a disaster for Cameron and damaging to the Conservative party overall, albeit in a minor way, at least when you take the fact that their only even vaguely electable possible leader has been politically debased out of the equation.
A question that has hung around the neck of Cameron since the near miss of the 2010 election is this: would the Tories have got a parliamentary majority by being more right wing, traditionally Conservative or was the Cameroonian “detoxification” process just not carried far enough to sway swing voters? This is an important yet tricky question to answer because a) it’s entirely in the realm of the theoretical and b) it calls every aspect of Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative party into question.
Cameron became leader of the Tories at a time when the world economy was riding a wave that a lot of learned people hypothesised would go on forever. After the crash of 2007 however, the world changed. The idea amongst Tories that they would accept a Blair Mark II became less tolerable.
As happens always during times of crisis, the Tories as a centre-right party were bound to move, almost unconsciously, to the right. This made Cameron’s project tricky. As luck would have it, he was handed a golden opportunity with the arrival of the Coalition: he could complete his modernising project, stealing the centre ground from Labour while using the Lib Dems as cover with the right of his party. Instead, he has missed that opportunity completely and thus handed Labour the impetus for a victory in 2015 with a series of unforced errors.
The idea that Cameron can simply divorce himself from the Coalition and indeed his whole modernising project is the fantasy of a coterie of right wing journalists. By taking the Lords Reform Bill as far as he did (he is Prime Minister when all is said and done), and then dropping it when his backbenchers threw their toys out of the pram, demonstrates nothing more clearly than his inability to control his own party. Add to that the rumour that some of the rebels might get handed PPS jobs and Cameron’s message to his backbenchers appears to be clear: if there’s some legislation I put forward you don’t like too much, go ahead and vote it down, no worries. Perhaps there’s a government job in there somewhere for you.
Another side of the whole Lords Reform episode is that it has made Ed Miliband look like a genius to the Parliamentary Labour Party. A lot of them would have been insistent on voting against the Second Reading as it looked like their only chance of getting rid of boundary changes. Instead, Labour voted for the Bill and the boundaries still got dropped, causing champagne corks to hit the roof at Labour HQ.
Ed now looks like some sort of political guru, all because Cameron couldn’t control his own party or banked on the idea that somehow when you suffer a loss that comes with a wink and a nod then it’s not really loss. Unfortunately for David Cameron, when it’s your government a loss really is a loss. And whatever he feels about Lords Reform, and I suspect it’s not very much one way or the other, the days of reckoning for him are just ahead as Tory backbenchers have been given a green light to do whatever they like in the days ahead.