James Forsyth James Forsyth

Three reasons Labour wants to talk about Lords reform

(Getty Images)

There are reasons why Labour wants to talk about constitutional reform despite all the other challenges facing the country. First, there is no financial cost to it. At the moment, Labour is severely hemmed in by the fact that it doesn’t want to make new spending commitments as it knows the Tories will immediately ask how they will be paid for. Political reform is one area where Labour can be radical without it costing anything.

Second, it punches a Tory bruise. As Gordon Brown said this morning, Labour knows that Boris Johnson’s resignation honours will push the issue back up the agenda and make the current arrangements hard to defend. Few Tory ministers will look forward to backing the sheer number of names on Johnson’s list – let alone some of those who are reported to be on it. Equally hard to justify would be a set of resignation honours from Liz Truss. There are few voters who are likely to be outraged by the idea of reform in the Lords. (That, though, is very different from how many see the issue as a priority.) Indeed, the issue allows Starmer to depict himself as someone cleaning house and clearing up the political system.

It allows Starmer to depict himself as someone cleaning house and clearing up the political system

A final attraction of the policy is that it makes it easier for Labour to portray itself as the head of a progressive movement. If the Tories close the gap on Labour in the polls, this could become important: any kind of arrangement with the Liberal Democrats would have to include political reform.  

Now, talking about abolishing the House of Lords is the easy bit. Any government that actually wanted to do it would have to be prepared to see its entire legislative agenda held up by the issue; this is why, from Tony Blair’s premiership to the coalition government, plans for Lords reform have ended up being diluted or ditched.

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