Tory backbenchers are revolting.
No, this is not a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but a four-word summary of last night’s meeting at Westminster of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, where talk of rebellion was in the air. Why? Because nearly a hundred Conservative MPs are opposed to proposals to make Britain’s system of government more democratic.
And standing out from the crowd as a champion of greater democracy was Croydon Central’s own MP, Gavin Barwell, who was said by reports from the meeting to be the only one to support the government proposals to make the House of Lords a more accountable upper chamber.
What’s there not to like? House of Lords reform – making the upper chamber 80 per cent elected with 15-year terms – is set to be the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech, reportedly thanks to a personal undertaking given by Prime Minister “Call Me Dave” Cameron to his coalition partner, Nick Clegg.
More than 90 Conservative MPs signalled their unhappiness with the bill at last night’s meeting, with just our Gav speaking in favour of the policy.
Now this may well be a case of unenlightened self-interest by Barwell. Barwell may not know the cost of a loaf, but he clearly knows which side his bread is buttered.
He has only recently been promoted to the role of Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Greg Clark, the Minister for Decentralisation & Planning. That’s the first move up the greasy pole of government.
Why would Barwell want to jeopardise that progress, especially when there is evidently plenty of chances for further speedy advancement since at least seven other PPSs – all more senior to the Croydon man – may soon be resigning their posts over the House of Lords issue?
Barwell would be entitled to argue that he really does support Lords reform, not least because the policy was in the Conservatives’ 2010 manifesto:
“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.”
Manifesto promises? Not worth the paper they were printed on for many Conservative MPs. The New Statesman reports today: “If all those who said they would rebel carry through their threat, the backlash could surpass that seen over Europe, when 81 Tory rebels defied the party whip. That could place Cameron in the uncomfortable position of relying on Labour to get the bill through, which would further alienate Conservative members. It is also a high-risk strategy: if Ed Miliband’s party decides not to play ball, the government could have an embarrassing defeat on his hands.”
Last week, the government’s majority was reduced to just 25 when there was a vote over the Budget proposal to introduce VAT on static caravans. A rebellion by 90 Tory MPs on Lords reform would represent a massive set-back.
But at least Cameron can count on Gavin Barwell’s support.
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
- Three ministerial aides could quit over Lords reform (telegraph.co.uk)
- Use your loaf, Gav: Barwell’s “Let Them Eat Cake” moment (insidecroydon.com)
- MP Gavin Barwell, statistics and a convenient oversight (insidecroydon.com)