Have our politicos looked at last week’s turnout numbers, and thought ‘y’know, we might be a bit cut-off after all’? Reason I ask is because they’re all tripping over themselves today to downplay the significance of Lords reform, and focus the conversation on The Issues That Actually Matter. This, as James said earlier, is what George Osborne has been up to throughout the day. Ed Balls did likewise during an appearance on the Sunday Politics with Andrew Neil. And, most significantly, even Vince Cable echoed their sentiments in his interview on Sky’s Murnaghan Show. ‘We need to just quickly and quietly get on with this,’ he said of reforming the Lords, ‘and concentrate on the core economic issues which… most people are worried about.’
This isn’t to say that Lords reform is off Westminster’s agenda — just that the parties are probably going to talk about it less. In fact, even with them restraining themselves, they’ll probably regard it as extremely politically significant. For the Tories it’s another question of give-and-take within the coalition, and another potential scrap between Dave and his backbenchers. For Labour it’s a question of how much they’re prepared to work with the Lib Dems, perhaps laying the ground for a coalition of their own in future. And for the Lib Dems it’s a question of survival. They believe that they've already been harmed on some of their defining issues: Europe, voting reform, students, etc. They’ll be reluctant to let political reform join that list.
It’s already looking dangerous for Clegg, though. In a speech delivered last December, he made Lords reform sound very much like his priority for this year. He even said that ‘I am sometimes advised not to be too outspoken on this issue. But I’m afraid this is one boat that urgently needs rocking.’ But now all sides are becoming less outspoken on ‘this issue’ — and Clegg himself may have to make do with the sort of referendum that he slammed only two weeks ago. And if that doesn’t go as he would want, then expect the Lib Dems to become a bit less calm than they have been recently.