A two-week standoff in the House of Lords between Labour and the coalition over a constitutional reform bill was partially resolved today when ministers agreed to a key opposition demand on shrinking the House of Commons.Labour still want further concessions. Notably:
Labour agreed to abandon a filibustering campaign, which had forced peers to sleep on camp beds in committee rooms during overnight sessions, after the government announced that it would allow limited public inquiries when parliamentary constituencies are redrawn.
Vary the size of the new parlimentary constituencies by 10% above or below the electoral quota size of around 76,000 voters. This would mean that constituencies could vary in size from 83,600 voters to 68,400 voters. Under the government's plans, constituencies can only be varied in size by 5% either way of the 76,000 quota.This latter concession would be more important and more reasonable in that it would make it possible to make constituency sizes more uniform without giving rise to the local anomalies - part of the Isle of Wight being included in a mainland constituency, the prospect of a constituency crossing the Devon and Cornwall border - that are so exercising people.
The Conservatives want to do away with public inquiries because in the 1990s they confirmed their reputation as the stupid party by allowing Labour to run rings around them when they were held. As a result the constituency boundaries on which the 1997 election was fought were substantially favourable to Labour and this is one of the reasons that they won such a landslide.
Liberal Democrats tend to be fond of public inquiries, but it has to be admitted that there is something spurious about them when it comes to constituency boundaries. Because, when a new set of boundaries are proposed within a county are proposed the parties scrutinise them to see if they are more of less favourable to them than the status quo.
If a party likes the look of the new boundaries then it tends to keep quiet. If it does not like the new boundaries it will look for pretexts upon which it can argue that they sunder historic or cultural ties.
So a short-term victory for Labour peers. But the tactics they employed to win it have strengthened the case for reforming the Lords. By behaving just like the MPs many of them were until recently, they have destroyed the argument that the upper house is qualitatively different from the Commons. And if they insist on behaving like MPs, why should they not be elected like MPs?
Some say the first dinosaurs were destroyed by a meteorite. This new crop will be destroyed by their own misguided tactics.