Barwell fails to whip up support for unpopular Lords reform

Former MP ANDREW PELLING on how our local MPs chose to vote on the controversial Lords Reform Bill last night

Strict party-liner: Gavin Barwell in parliament

No gumption in evidence last night from four of our local MPs in resisting the flawed options for reform of the House of Lords.

High-profile Conservative MPs such as Angie Bray, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Jesse Norman and Louise Mensch rebelled against their party whip and voted against the government’s House of Lords Reform Bill. Their message to the government was: come back with a better bill.

Meanwhile, Croydon’s Conservatives – Gavin Barwell and Richard Ottaway – dutifully filed into the Aye lobby to vote for the Bill with its awful 15-year terms and lists to be dominated by party patronage. Baron Ottaway of Bletchingley in Surrey (not in Croydon), anyone?

Sutton’s LibDem MPs Tom Brake and Paul Burstow also went into the Aye lobby at second reading.

Labour’s Malcolm Wicks, who is fighting cancer, did not vote. However, he has been outspoken on the subject, attacking the Labour party leadership for indulging in “petty politics”.

Writing to The Guardian, Wicks says: “Labour has campaigned for reform for over 100 years and we should now seize the day to make it a reality. If instead Labour is tempted by short-termism to ‘give Clegg another bloody nose’ it would represent the triumph of petty politics over radical principle.”

Wicks might have sympathy with the berating that the PM gave Ed Miliband today at PMQs for coming to the House intending to vote yes and no on Lords reform.

It would have been a surprise if junior health minister Burstow had bucked the trend and voted against.

Brake’s occasional non-conformism was absent last night, as the Carshalton and Wallington MP – and possible LibDem candidate for the new Croydon Central and St Helier seat at the next election – followed his party leader Nick Clegg this time.

Barwell, as a “PPS”, or a parliamentary private secretary, has made his first move up Westminster’s greasy pole, and with 91 Tory MPs ruling themselves out of immediate preferment from finger-wagging “Call Me Dave” Cameron by voting against the government, we’ll likely see a promotion for Barwell in any upcoming reshuffle as a reward for his unflinching loyalty.

Barwell’s actions look weak compared to the resolution of Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray, who put her judgement above personal ambition. Bray was summarily sacked from her PPS role in the Cabinet Office.

Hereford MP Jesse Norman, who dared to speak out against the Bill from the floor of the House, received the full Flashman treatment from Cameron just outside the lobby – clearly voting against bad Bills is not the sort of thing expected among Old Etonians.

Norman’s Bullingdon boy treatment from Cameron was highlighted at PMQs this lunchtime with the PM described by Ed Miliband as “losing control of his party and his temper”.

Sutton MP Paul Burstow: junior health minister in a government that wants to close A&E department and maternity units in his own borough

In typically misleading style, last night Barwell Tweeted that “some” colleagues were voting against the Bill. In fact “a lot” of his colleagues were voting against.

As well as the 91 Conservative rebels, a further 19 abstained, including ex-Croydon Central MP Sir Paul Beresford. That makes 110 Tory backbenchers who abstained or voted against, and just 80 who voted for.

Conor Burns, another Conservative MP who sacrificed his own career and position as PPS in order to oppose the Bill, said, “I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I voted for this Bill at Second Reading.”

Did our local MPs look themselves in the mirror when they got up this morning?

That so many Tories were unconvinced by the dog’s breakfast that is the current proposal for Lords reform is partly explained by the weak arguments being put forward for the awkward compromise offered up, created from the weaknesses inherent in coalition horse-trading. It was the same last year with the failed referendum on AV: many people might be in favour of electoral reform, but not with the flawed system on offer.

Barwell, a former employee of billionaire Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft, writing on the Lord Ashcroft-owned Conservative Home website, offered an article, “Why Conservative MPs should vote for Lords Reform Bill”. Given the final 110-80 result, it was hardly the most persuasive of articles, though doubtless Barwell will claim credit for swaying all 80 staunch party-liners.

Barwell’s commentary tended to be more a discussion of tactics and an attack on the motives of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tory rebels, pausing to slap himself on the back for “giving free political advice to the Deputy Prime Minister”. There was little mention of principle, democracy, accountability or better government. The people of Croydon are becoming familiar with his style. It’s all about political calculation and party strategy.

Barwell’s attack on other MPs’  motivations may also reflect the poisoned atmosphere in Parliament that will have been the precursor to the Norman/Cameron confrontation and four Tory party whips chasing down Norman to “advise” him to leave the Palace of Westminster for his own safety, because they did not want to be accountable for the actions of one of their colleagues after drink had been taken.

It would be interesting to hear how the MP explains all that to keen Croydon pupils – drawn from Archbishop Tenison’s, Coloma and two Whitgift Foundation private schools, Old Palace and Barwell’s alma mater Trinity  – on a tour of the House today.

The government clearly hopes that the long summer recess will let the ill-will clear but the Conservative whips office, despite its best intentions, has a habit of misunderstanding the mood.

Which does suggests one appointment. Send Barwell to the whips’ office, he’s loyal to a fault.

  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
  • Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Archbishop Tenison's, Coloma, Croydon Central, Croydon North, Croydon South, Education, Gavin Barwell, Malcolm Wicks MP, Old Palace, Paul Burstow MP, Richard Ottaway MP, Schools, Tom Brake MP, Trinity School and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Barwell fails to whip up support for unpopular Lords reform

  1. I am glad that Lords Reform is having a difficult passage. It is
    (1) irrelevant and
    (2) inappropriate.

    The real priorities are
    (1) to end the highly corrupt nature of our political and economic system;
    (2) re-build genuine democratic involvement and accountability;
    (3) reverse the undemocratic stupidity of the Boundary Commission’s re-drawing of Parliamentary constituencies;
    (4) abolish local authority Cabinet government and re-instate the former methods which ensured all Councillors had to take a full part;
    (5) create neighbourhood councils in towns and cities so local people have more say in what happens;
    (6) reverse the pro-developer anti-residents/neighbours nature of the planning system;
    (7) turn the Commons into a Parliament for England; and
    (8) turn the Lords into a Federal Parliament with representatives of the four national Parliaments/Assemblies.

    Almost every day there is new evidence of yet more ways in which the corrupt system operates e.g. the latest news on the Financial Services Authority. At the end of the 18thC and in the early 19thC the political system was attacked by its critics as ‘The Old Corruption’. I have suggested some time ago we should call our system ‘The New Corruption’. – Sean Creighton, Norbury.

  2. Sean’s reply has “hit the nail on the head”. There are much more pressing issues.

    However, if our political elite is determined to burn time on Lords reform, then I’m disappointed that the option of scrapping the Lords completely hasn’t been given a fair hearing. The Nordic countries have just one parliamentary chamber. On all objective measures, democracy works just fine in Scandinavia. In this age of austerity, it seems only fair that our political system should bear its fair share of the financial pain. Scrapping the Lords completely would save big money. Most voters would welcome the “Westminster Village” tightening its belt – just as ordinary people have to do.

    However, as Sean notes, if we must have an upper chamber, then its logical role should be to represent the increasingly federal nature of the UK. Maybe Germany’s Bundesrat would be a good model?

  3. It’s important we clear up the issue of the Lords. The matter’s been hanging around for 101 years. We’re a laughing stock in other countries for having a legislature that’s partly made up of hereditary aristocracy and appointed has-beens.

    As the previous two commenters have said, we need first to determine whether we need a second chamber and, if so, what its role should be, before deciding how it should be made up and elected. Frank Dobson also made this point yesterday in the Commons.

    I used to support a bicameral system, fully elected. However, like Croydonsfuture, I’m increasingly coming round to the view that we don’t need a second chamber. If the second chamber just fulfils the revising function of the present Lords, that is a rather modest role for such expense. If it acquires new powers, it will become a rival to the Commons and might lead to stalemate on some issues.

    If the Lords is simply abolished it’s important that checks and balances are maintained. This could be done by giving more powers to backbench MPs.

    I don’t favour using the second chamber as a federal Parliament. There would have to be very strong reasons for creating yet another layer of government, which I don’t think currently exist.

  4. Thank you, gentlemen, for what has to be some of the most informed and thought-provoking comments on any topic that has ever appeared on this site.

    In an attempt to summarise: the House of Lords is like Trident: if you ain’t going to use it, there’s no use to waste public money on it

  5. The description of the government’s proposal as a “compromise” should be taken as an advantage, not a detraction. The 15-year term is deliberately designed to ensure that the electoral mandate of the members of the House of Lords will be weaker, and more outdated, than that of MPs in the House of Commons. The HoC will thus retain its primacy over the HoL in getting its business through. Being un-re-electable will encourage Senators (if that is what they are called) to be more independent, and not be bullied by the whips.

    It would be better if the Senators were elected by STV rather than by open lists, but it is worth bearing in mind what a mess the House of Lords is in at the moment, after the half-baked first stage of reform under the Blair government, with its imbalance of membership in favour of the South East and London.

  6. mraemiller says:

    I agree with John Loony and David White.

    I’m sorry but Lords Reform is urgent and good on Gavin Barwell for pushing it. You might pick holes in the proposed system but surely any different system has to better than the current one… which is this: the Prime Minister of the day appoints enough Lords to get their legislation through the upper chamber … the next Prime Minister finding the upper chamber is full of opposing Lords appoints enough Lords to get their legislation through the upper chamber … the next Prime Minister finding the upper chamber is full of opposing Lords appoints enough Lords to get their legislation through the upper chamber …… the next Prime Minister finding the upper chamber is full of opposing Lords appoints enough Lords to get their legislation through the upper chamber …… there are now over 900 or something Lords.

    At least when peerages were hereditary there weren’t as many new Lords being created. The whole thing is a cronies’ charter and that is the real reason for never changing anything.

    Anything’s got to be better than Baroness Warsi and Lord Mandelson. It was one thing when it was stuffed with grandees and gentry. Now it is stuffed with the unelectable element of the political class. People who are literally losers. STV, Open Lists, AV (which is of course total evil), AV+ who the hell cares as long as we get some kind of election – which has to be better than NO ELECTIONS EVER!

    We dont know what kind of system we want, we don’t want that kind of system, we like the idea of change but we don’t think this is the right kind of change … the wall of passive agression is as thick as a mountain and as high as 900 egos. It’s time for change. Virtually any change. Soon.

    Even one elected moron would be better than the existing bunch of toadies and losers. At least hereditary peers had their own opinions – even if they were barmy. The current incumbents of the Lords are nothing but the vestages of a system of patronage so corrupt that even Samuel Peyps would have said “I’m sorry but isn’t it time we moved into the 1600s?”

Leave a Reply