Peter Hoskin

Clegg’s ermine troubles

Clegg’s ermine troubles
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Turkeys don't vote for Christmas, that much we know. But thanks to the wonders of modern science, we can now poll them on it. Today's Times carries a survey of the 789 peers who are entitled to sit in the Lords — of whom, 310 responded. It's not a huge sample size, but the results, you assume, are representative. 80 per cent oppose a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, including 46 per cent of Lib Dem peers. 81 per cent believe that the Lords works well as it is. And 74 per cent believe that it wouldn't be "constitutionally correct" for the Commons to force through a cull of the unelecteds by deploying the notorious Parliament Act. Of those few peers who do back Lords reform, it's worth noting the self-deprecation of Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall: "I'm eminently replaceable," he tells the Times.

Although the results may be unsurprising, they are also revealing — and not just of how vicious the battle between the coalition and the Lords might be. In further questions, there is the suggestion of where compromise could come. 77 per cent, for instance, support the idea of an independent appointments commission. 72 per cent believe that the remaining 92 heriditaries should not have their positions refilled after their deaths.

But the problem for Nick Clegg is that he can't afford much compromise — and he certainly can't afford to wait for a generation of peers to shuffle into their graves, to claim success. His proposals for reform have already made an underwhelming start. If they are whittled down by Tory backbenchers and the Lords, then the story could just become one of further embarrassment for the Lib Dem leader, rather than triumph. He now has to better explain — perhaps even with support from Cameron — what the problem is with the Lords, and how his proposals fix it. If not, then the Ermined Ones may look less like turkeys, and more like people with a point.