Marriage has already been redefined, its time the law catches up

just-married-gay-marriageIn today’s equal marriage debate, everyone’s favourite conservative foghorn Nadine Dorries, argued against the equal marriage bill because it does not contain a provision for adultery. She believes if a marriage contract does not contain a fidelity clause it cannot be a real marriage.

Now, putting aside how galling it is to be lectured on marital morality from someone accused of being a homewrecker, Dorries interpretation of what marriage is, is laughably out of date.

Ever since the Divorce Reform Act in 1969, it became possible for couples to go their separate ways without having to demonstrate infidelity (or even fake it in the most absurd circumstances), marriage has slowly evolved into a much more fluid entity.

In truth, despite what some backbenchers and the Coalition For Marriage say, the definition of marriage, like other British ‘institutions’, has never been static.

As Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, explained effectively in the Commons today, marriage has always been a socially developed institution with religious overtones occasionally attached. Nearly every human conurbation in history has had some sort of ceremony destined to recognise not coital or romantic union. Whether its polygamous or monogamous, whether its gay or straight, whether its for life or until the ink on the divorce papers are dry was irrelevant.

Time passes, but from the Ancient world into the Christian medieval world, marriage was never viewed as a sacrament ordained by the church. Indeed, in the eyes of the Catholic Church it still isn’t. Villeins, yeomen and the everymen and women of medieval England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, could be married by their local lord in a civil cermony that had little to do with their local church.

It was only during the Protestant Reformation that marriage became a sacrament in the eyes of the Church as way to distinguish themselves from Catholicism and prevent the build up of monasteries swimming in wealth and cut off from the rest of the world. Up until 1753 you didn’t even need a formal ceremony to be declared married. This is the status quo favored by ‘traditionalists’ but it was effectively ended by the Civil Marriages Act in 1836 which allowed civil services in registry offices.

In 1858, divorce was allowed via legal process rather than the 300 divorces which were granted through act of parliament. This was around the time when ‘marrying for love’ became in vogue for Victorian Britain. Eventually, this led to nascent women’s rights with the Married Women’s Act of 1882 which allowed women to own their own property.

This paved the way for women’s rights and the suffragette movement. When they were granted the right to vote on equal terms to men in 1929, the reform of marriage really started. This culminated in 1991 when rape in marriage was finally recognised a crime.

This brief history of marriage shows there is no ‘default setting’ for the institution. The only constant of marriage is that it is whatever the participants want to be with the according legal rights. Whether is a purely economic transaction, a gesture of platonic companionship or romantic union, a married couple decide the parameters of what is and is not acceptable in their marriage.

The adultery principle is therefore not valid. Every marriage is different. Some are open, some are closed. Some are destined for children, some are not. The purpose of a marriage  is to build a secure, happy home. If that includes two men, two women or multiple men and women so be it. Comedian Sharon Horgan recently had a programme on Channel 4 about modern marriages. Some were weird, some were traditional but all of them seemed, at least on the surface, to be working.

Who says marriage has to be for life? Who says marriage can only be for two people at a time? Who says marriage should be for children? Marriage is a legal and an expression of love; beyond that everything else is semantics.

Therefore there is no grounds for the delusion it is only between a man and a woman.

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An odd wind blows through Eastleigh

ChrisHuhneRichardIII
Image Courtesy of Peter Brookes at the Times

Guido Fawkes was gleefully rubbing his hands together yesterday as Chris Huhne surveyed the burning wreckage of his ministerial career, his home life and probably his personal freedom.

While the remains of one would-be king were being exhumed from Leicester social services’ car park, another is watching his career committed to the ground.

A driving licence! A driving licence! My kingdom for a driving licence it would seem.

However, in the 24 hours since Huhne changed his plea the focus has moved from him to his constituency and the uphill battle for political soul of the nation. Or something like that.

Comparing the Eastleigh by-election to the Battle of the Bosworth Field might be slightly over doing it as far as shoehorned political metaphors go but as the battle extinguished the Yorkist claim to the throne in all but name, so could this election prove decisive for the Liberal Democrats.

This is, in real terms, the first time they’ve been properly tested in more than a year. Forget the by-elections where they didn’t take it seriously and lost their deposit. In Rotherham, they only campaigned in one council ward because they were hoping to concentrate their resources to get a council seat further down the line. This, of course, rather backfired but it wasn’t the crushing defeat everyone else imagined.

Over the past year we have seen an unusual number of by-elections but the Lib Dems have not really been challenged until they are faced with a seat they could actually win. Eastleigh, despite being historically Tory, should be a Lib Dem slam dunk. With Huhne and David Chigley before him the seat has rested in the party’s hands for nearly 20 years. They control the council and the attitude of the local people on Channel 4 News last night suggested Eastleigh is about as indentured Lib Dem as any one seat could be.

However, with the Liberal Democrats current, continued, unpopularity and only a majority of 4000, they’ll have their work cut out for them.

Eastleigh could also just be the test piece for each political party that Corby wasn’t as they try to prove themselves as the party which will win the next election.

Liberal Democrats: They need a win. The Liberal Democrats’ supporters are deserting them in droves and they are fighting like cats and dogs with their coalition partners. The atmosphere amongst grassroots has become a case of counting down the days till they can get out of Government. Contrary to popular opinion, the Liberal Democrats are not likely to be finished as a political force at the next election. But they will be severely wounded and face substantial losses to the parliamentary party they need to steal themselves against. If they lose Eastleigh it may be a step too far.

Given the current situation, the grassroots could live with losing a few Lib Dem-Labour marginals. But to lose a seat like this would should dent any faith in the leadership there is left. The gallows humour currently flying around the party could turn into all out revolt. Much like the Conservative Party cannot possibly win the next election while they are still cleaved in half over Europe and gay marriage, the Liberal Democrats cannot afford to go into the next election preaching their faith in Nick Clegg when they openly don’t believe in him themselves.

Conservatives: Eastleigh is winnable for the Tories. Despite losing control 19 years ago, the seat is historically Tory even if it is in a relatively working class area. However it is going to take some real effort. Many commentators are saying the Conservatives need to put up a charismatic, big hitter- someone who could possibly be tipped for a ministerial post somewhere down the line rather than a local grandee that has paid their dues. However, the danger is Eastleigh won’t want another Louise Mensch. Marginals like Corby and Eastleigh thrive with a charismatic MP who actually cares about their local area rather than someone using it as a stepping stone to greater things. Unfortunately for the Tory party at the moment, they are struggling to find bankable candidates. It seems they are stuck between a rock of lacklustre locals and a hard place of upstart A-Listers. They only way to win would to somehow find a middle ground.

Similarly, gay marriage could be an issue. Nigel Farage’s reluctance to commit to standing there demonstrates even UKIP know they’re no real threat in this particular marginal. While Europe is a relative non-issue amongst the electorate (especially since the announcement of the ‘maybe referendum’), the gay marriage row has made the party look even more out of touch. The Tories will be hit hard by the regular voters who perceive the party as out of step with popular opinion and the local Tory activists who may decide to stay at home in protest.

Labour: This by-election provides a dilemma for the cash strapped party. They will not win, but they could dramatically improve their vote share if they really put the effort in. While they languished far behind in third place at the last election, they can’t afford not to campaign in this election because they still have to beat UKIP to remain credible as the favourite for Number 10 in 2015. With a bit of effort and a good candidate this should not be too difficult. Given the unpopularity of the two Government parties, they could even squeeze second place.

If they were to push ahead of the Tories, or even the Liberal Democrats, it would probably be the best publicity for the Labour message they’ve had since Ed Miliband won the leadership. It would prove they are on the up and Miliband in particular is a credible as a future leader. But, will a cash strapped party want to waste resources on what would be a short term gain? In the long run it may be better to invest properly in their policy review so Ed Miliband’s promises of ‘One Nation Labour’ would not seem so paper thin. A comparative victory in Eastleigh will do nothing to ameliorate their continued lack of vision.

Is Corby really the ‘bellwether constituency’ we think?

The count in Corby last Friday: will it mean anything in 2015?

Tucked away near the Canadian border are two small towns, Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, that do not attract much attention for the majority of the American political cycle. However, on the first Tuesday of November every four years, newspaper reporters, bloggers and TV pundits turn the media spotlight on the 44 residents who dutifully turn out to vote at midnight as predictors of the race across the country.

However, two small towns with less than 100 residents in the Northern most part of America are hardly likely to predict the outcome of such a divided nation as America. The Latino vote was regarded as one of the key deciding factors in the race as it now stands at 16.7 per cent of the electorate. In contrast, the Latino population of New Hampshire as a whole is currently only 2.9 per cent of the state’s electorate. Therefore how can a New England state with a more traditional white anglo saxon protestant (WASP) demographic represent the increasingly diversity in the rest of the country?

There is no such thing as a ‘bellwether state’ in American politics. America is so hopelessly riven apart by class, wealth, race, age and gender it is impossible to make any clear predictions about the outcome of any election (unless you’re Nate Silver). That is why the attempts to find the equivalent British constituency seems so absurd.

In yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband confidently announced that last week’s by-election in Corby was the proof that the public were waiting to return Labour to Number 10 in 2015. Ever since the Labour candidate pulled off an 8000 vote swing in the Corby by-election last week, Labour have been crowing as if they’ve already won the election in two and a half years time.

For instance during, the new Labour MP for Corby, Andy Sawford, who won 17,267 votes or 48 per cent of the vote (turnout out was 45 per cent), said during his victory speech:

‘Make no mistake, since this constituency existed, no party has formed a government without winning here”.

Of course, Corby has returned the subsequently winning party to the House at every election for the past thirty years. However, given it is defined as a swing seat this is hardly surprising. The only times the seat has been won narrowly were in 1987, 1992 and 2010. These election years coincide with the years the Conservative party either took or held onto power by the skin of their teeth. All Corby reflects is what any national poll will tell you is the political mood of the nation.

Rather than acting as a sort of political Cassandra predicting doom for the Conservatives in 2015, the Corby by-election has far more to with how the polls are standing now rather than the exit polls two and a half years from now. Instead of being ‘Britain’s Hart’s Location’, it is just another example of a constituency falling in line with the mood of the general public.

Therefore, there is still all to play for in the second half of parliament. The news that the Conservatives have hired a controversial new campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, who ran both of Boris Johnson’s successful mayoral campaigns, shows they are not given up the fight just yet.

The worse thing the Labour party could do now is get complacent. Although the polls are projecting a small majority or at the very least a Lib-Lab pact if the Tories can get the economy to turn around by May 2015 (after all unemployment is slowly starting to fall), Labour will have a serious fight on their hands.

When the Conservatives were (half) voted into office in 2010, it was because the public longed for a new sense of fairness at the top. After the individualistic, debt laden years under New Labour people were longing for perceived ‘fairness’ after the banking sector was seen to have bankrupted the economy without any consequences.

The public were (almost) sold on Conservatives’ ‘We’re not Labour’ sales pitch in 2010 but they are going to need more to believe in Labour than their current offering ‘We’re not the Tories’, especially if the economy improves. Their victory in Corby was simply short term exasperation with the long term plans of government.

Nor will be signal the end of the Liberal Democrat party. Although, they are still being hammered in the polls and managed to lose their deposit in Corby (in 2010 they did not lose there deposit in any of the 650 seats they contested) but at the opposite end of the country in my very own Rossett council ward of Harrogate they managed the biggest council election swing since 2010.

Now here’s the thing about Rossett: its the Toriest ward, in the Toriest town in the Toriest part of Northern England. During the 2001 election, the first one we had since we moved here, the then councillor called on my Marxist mother during the day and assumed she didn’t understand how the election worked because she said she’d never vote Tory.

Suffice to say, up until last week it was pretty Tory. Now it has its very first Liberal Democrat councillor after a 25 per cent swing. And although UKIP did better than they usually did (127 compared to the Lib Dem’s 897 and the Conservative’s 704), the Labour vote fell by a third from approximately 300 to 106.

This is partly because it was a very local issue driven campaign (and the Conservative candidate was, somewhat snobbishly, dismissed because she live on the other side of town) and the Liberal Democrat’s aggressive courting of the Labour vote.

So what do the results of these by-elections mean for the fate of the next general election in 2015? Probably nothing. Whether its Corby or Dixville Notch the political classes are determined to see signs at every turn. All these results have demonstrated is how confused and divided the electorate is.

It is easy to look for a road map that will tell us want’s ahead but it is ultimately pointless.  We cannot keep wasting our time  analysing the political situation in present instead of looking to the future for the fresh ideas and new leaders that will get us out of the political doldrums.

The great governmental omnishambles

George Osborne and Andrew Mitchell with Sir John Parker, chair of Anglo-American plc in happier terms before the reshuffle when Mitchell was development secretary.

At a fringe event during the Conservative party conference recently, former secretary of state for Wales, Cheryl Gillan said that in order for the party to win the general election in 2015 they needed to restore their reputation for competence.

She said the frequent and painful U-turns and political embarrassments such as the ‘pasty tax’ fiasco and the First trains financial fiasco undermined the Conservatives traditional reputation for order and competence compared with the ideological chaos and woolly headedness of the left.

However, if she told her MPs what she told the grass roots party members in the meeting, then it has obviously fallen on deaf ears.

Since plebgate, the furore over former chief whip Andrew Mitchell allegedly shouting and swearing at a Downing Street police officer who did not allow him access to the street on his bicycle, which was bubbling away throughout the conference season their record has read more like an episode of the Thick of It than the actions of members of the G7.

First there was the surprise announcement from the Prime Minister that the government were planning to force energy companies to put all customers on their cheapest tariff available, a move widely regarded as unworkable and anti-competitive.

Then, his already unpopular Chancellor George Osborne, added fuel to the fire by first dismissing the green lobby as the “environmental Taliban” and then instigated what Twitter called the “great train snobbery” by accidentally sitting in a first class train carriage with a standard class ticket and refusing to move.

What should have been a small piece of gossip for lobby journalists to pass around Westminster soon mushroomed into a minor political scandal thanks to an ITV news reporter, Rachel Townsend who happen to be on the same train and the modern, news hungry and slightly giddy force of hundreds of political journalists, bored and on Twitter on a Friday afternoon.

In the aftermath of Osborne’s ticket trauma, Mitchell was forced to fall on his sword by announcing his resignation despite being given the support of the Prime Minister and the 1922 committee of backbench Tories early in the week. They had previously derided calls for his dismissal as an attempt by the policing lobby to embarrass the government in shelving there cuts to the force.

George Osborne is not the first person to accidental get on a train with the wrong ticket and Andrew Mitchell is certainly not the first person to lose their temper with a police officer (although the typical person faces up to a £1000 fine for doing so in normal circumstances) but the in which they did it has provoked the ire of the public in the exact way the party’s press team was trying to avoid.

The long suffering Conservative party press team and their supporters in the right wing press have been at pains to re brand the Conservative party as a new, nicer antidote to the ‘nasty party’ of years past ever since the comparatively progressive David Cameron became party leader in 2005.

However the effect of their welfare cuts and their supposed assault on access to further and higher education through cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance and the tuition fee rise has made the public turn away from their tentative (and effectively half hearted, given the election result) support for the Conservatives in 2010 and 2011 now that they the economy appears to be tanking once again with only millionaires appearing to benefit.

While instances of police abuse and fare dodging are not enough on their own to do much damage to the Conservative party image, the class snobbery that has tainted both episodes in a way the rest of the political establishment will not let them forget for awhile. This is especially bad when Ed Miliband and the left wing have controlled the media cycle for the past six months.

In the modern political era calling someone a ‘pleb’ and telling them to ‘mind their place’ is unforgivable (and would have been in poor taste fifty years ago anyway. Refusing to sit in standard class is slightly less of a PR disaster but in this current economic climate, for the man who is supposedly in charge of managing the UK economy it is especially insensitive.

So it looks like the upper class ‘nasty party’ will continue to dog the government until the next election (as Labour will never let them forget it). However, this tag does necessarily spell election defeat in times of economic hardship as the British public is always looking for a scapegoat to blame.

Right before they entered government, Cameron and the conservatives successfully changed the political narrative from the recession being cause by a global financial crisis that was exacerbated by the dangerously reckless actions of the world’s financial industries to a simple problem of spending too much of the government on public sector pensions.

And for at least a year, it worked. So did the proposed cap on child benefit and job seeker’s allowance. These were direct appeals to their middle englander voter base who have traditionally felt put upon by the UK’s tax system.

However, their cuts have become a narrative of ideological bullying of the most vulnerable members of society, particularly the obviously disabled, whilst the richest get away with tax dodging.

Now that the media cycle is against them, their only recourse is their traditional reputation for competence. The Conservatives, and stereotypically the right in general, have always been seen as the party that is strong and steady and not prone to internal chaos unlike New Labour under Blair and Brown.

Regardless of whether they agree with their policies or not, the Conservatives’ reputation as a strong leader is what the public want to believe in, in times of economic and social instability- therefore their constant U-turning and attempts to please will do nothing but ensure that Labour gets a majority in 2015, regardless of whether the economy improves or not.

After all, comparisons to John Major’s government between 1992-97 have been made frequently over the past few months, by 1997 the economy was in rude health but the Conservatives reputation was in tatters.

Cabinet reshuffles and looming election wipeouts

The Coalition Cabinet in the early days of 2010 before the axe started to fall. © The Daily Telegraph

Giving a speech at the 2009 EU elections results night, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan delivered an eye catching plea for Gordon Brown to resign and call a general election. He had allegedly lost the ‘moral mandate’ and Hannan highlighted the farce of the political situation at the time by quoting popular children’s poet, Dr Seuss.

Three years on from this time when the strong, confident Conservatives were looking down their noses with glee as Labour slowly unravelled from within you cannot help but be amused by the irony of the upcoming, unprovoked cabinet reshuffle that is expected in the coming weeks. Or indeed, the news that the Liberal Democrat power base could be wiped out at the next election.

Every day the news seems to report another body blow to the Coalition as the Conservatives are still languishing eight points behind Labour  and the Liberal Democrats are even further behind on a paltry 10 points, only two points ahead of the UK Independence Party. According to YouGov (where the figures come from) if the election was held today Labour would win with a majority of 96.

To make the situation worse, the government has given up the pretence that they all still get along as George Osborne and Nick Clegg lock horns over Clegg’s comments to the Guardian that the rich should pay more tax.

With this government stuck in the quagmire less than halfway through its parliamentary term, its no wonder that the public mood is at dangerously low levels. David Cameron has to act now to break the spell and restore what little faith the country still has in him.

This reshuffle is designed as a shot in the arm for Cameron’s government; to root out naysayers and saboteurs and get the Coalition back on to track to Cameron’s grand plan: getting a majority in 2015.

Of course, the difficulty in this that Cameron is being torn in different directions by three groups with conflicting aims, none of are particularly interested in whether he gets to keep his job.

Cameron’s decision to shelve House of Lords reform may have been a concession to restore party unity but the result is this current deadlock. To friend and foe alike it made him look weak; it was a betrayal of the promises to the people and the Coalition partners that got them into this increasingly kamikaze government in the first place and to his enemies among the backbench of his own party.

Backbenchers have been grumbling over Cameron’s untraditional (for a Conservative) stance on Europe and gay marriage and are unhappy with the party entering into a coalition in the first place. Now that conference season is upon us, rising stars are looking to make their mark on the party and the press with headline grabbing speeches and the respective parties will be looking to consolidate with a policy agenda for the coming year.

Therefore now is the time for Cameron to quell the opposition to his agenda, or indeed his leadership. When he kowtowed to the backbench over Lords reform he demonstrated that he would back down if the party dug their heels in hard enough. Meanwhile MPs like Brian Binley are telling Cameron to mend relationships within the Tory party and stop behaving as the ‘Chambermaid’ for the Liberal Democrats and remind them who the senior partner in the Coalition is.

He is under increasing pressure to promote more right wing members to the Front Bench and get rid of some of the more unpopular figures; Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is reportedly facing the chop despite his claims that he is ‘totally laid back’ about the pending reshuffle. However, regardless of the change to the ideological line up of the Conservative side of the bench, Cameron is honour bound by the terms of the coalition agreement to keep five Liberal Democrats in the cabinet. So Business Secretary and Liberal Democrat hero, Vince Cable and  Minister for Scotland Danny Alexander look set to keep their jobs.

The Liberal Democrats have very different concerns when it comes to this reshuffle. Contrary to backbench opinion, the public feel there is little or no discernible yellow influence on the blue cabinet and that Clegg and his cronies simply decided to sell the young, the old and the ‘squeezed middle’ down the river in order to get a name in the political history books and possible a seat in the House of Lords one day.

Nearly every single one of the causes Nick Clegg championed when he gave the David Cameron the keys to number 10 have been dismantled or postponed and nearly every Lib Dem is getting restless. Since the defeat of Lords Reform, Clegg has declared open season on any and all Conservative policies he doesn’t like, including threatening to sabotage boundary change plans and criticising the Tory’s supposedly lenient tax policy. He needs to prove to his party (and the public) that he still has a backbone to prevent electoral ruin at the election. This uphill battle means he will continue to be a thorn in Cameron’s side and will not allowed his more popular ministers, like Cable, to feel the weight of the axe.

Then the third, and most important, group that Cameron needs to placate are the voters. When the election was held in May 2010 people (if not a majority of people) believed that if the Conservatives could cut the gross overspending by Labour, the economy would right itself and the country could go back to dancing on clouds and rainbows again. Fast forward two years and the economy has actually got worse now that we are in a double dip recession and the ‘deficit reducing’ government had to borrow money to plug a deficit in a month that is normally always supposed to run a surplus. Understandably the people are angry as they are losing their jobs and the props designed to support them when they do are being kicked out from under them. Meanwhile the Conservatives ring fence the rights of corporations and wealthy individuals such as their (politically foolish) announcement that they were going to criminalise squatting when thousands are already facing losing their homes.

One causality of reshuffle that is frequently called for his Chancellor, George Osborne. Having lost the support of several economists who had backed his deficit reduction plan at the beginning of his term, Osborne is increasingly becoming the target for people’s dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and his personal approval ratings have dipped lower than supposed Public Enemy Number One, Nick Clegg.

However, as Cameron’s best friend in government, Osborne is likely to survive. He may be the face of the ideology but Cameron is as much an architect of the economy as he is and there would be little gain from his removal. Whilst approval may take a slight upswing if he were replaced with the favourite, Vince Cable, it would not be worth the resulting destruction of Cameron’s power base within the party. Furthermore, Cable’s appointment may create a small respite for the economy as increased confidence in the Chancellor begets increased confidence in the economy which in turn begets growth; it is unlikely to have much long term effect if Cable is forced to pursue the same or similar policies to Osborne.

The whole situation is a political deadlock and it will be interesting to see if Cameron can get out of it, or at the very least keep his party together. Whatever happens in the long term public opinion is unlikely to be rosy. We can only wonder if any Labour MEP will be quoting Dr Seuss at Cameron come the European elections in 2014.

House of Lords reform and the coalition’s house of cards

A Broken Marriage? Cameron and Clegg
A Broken Marriage? Cameron and Clegg

In years to come, when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sits down with his ghost writer to pen his memoir reflecting on his time in power, he will undoubtedly remember the past few days. Its the kitchen sink moment, the hanging out the washing line reflection; the realisation that the marriage is over and there is nothing more you can do.

The people around him have known for a while, there are already rumbling over a potential leadership challenge from the left wing of the party led by Vince Cable. Given the way the Lib Dems have seemed to shed its leader every few years since the resignation of Charles Kennedy in 2006, Nick Clegg has done well to survive at the helm, especially since the beginning of the coalition in 2010.

The question is however, not how he survived this long, its whether he’ll survive in future. The ever controversial Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who has never shy about her contempt for the so-called ‘Posh boys’ of Westminster, said he and his counterpart David Cameron probably won’t last until the next election. However, this is probably premature as the Coalition is still unlikely to fall for at least another year or so.

The only thing that has died is any notion that this government is anything more than a marriage of convenience that is only sustained by the fear of reprisal from the masses in the event of an early election. Of course, this comes as no surprise to the majority of the country but the Cabinet can no longer pretend to play happy families when husband and wife are so openly attacking each other.

Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem ministers’ threatened revolt over boundary changes that would favour a would be Conservative MP is reminiscent of a wounded animal striking out fruitlessly in the hope of doing some damage. They stand to gain little from their revolt, this act will do little to regain the public’s respect or indeed trust, and will only destroy what little tolerance the Conservative back bench have left for them.

Clegg’s little act of spite will no doubt be an attempt to win back a small part of the respect of his party and prove himself as more than just Cameron’s lap dog. Whether or not it’ll do anything to earn back his party’s trust remains to be seen, but he still has a long way to go before he can hope to start earning the country’s forgiveness.

So what serious change will come about in both parties as a result of their respective scheming this week? Although Cameron’s failure to fight for Lords Reform has demonstrated he’s afraid of his own back bench which will do him no good when he tries to push through any more progressive legislation (a notable example being the Marriage Equality Act)designed to modernise the party’s image, he is not likely to face a leadership challenge. Whilst he may not be popular within his own party, their only remotely popular figure with the public is currently running London.

Furthermore, for all his faults, Cameron’s position on the Left of the party (relatively speaking) is what enabled them to (almost) get back into power in 2010. The years in the wilderness during the glory days of New Labour were compounded by the view that the Conservative party, and its then leaders; William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, were stuck in the mud and often just plain old. The ‘Soft Tory’ brand created by Cameron after his election to Party Leader in 2005 detoxified the Conservatives’ image as the party that helped Thatcher run amok in the eighties, the party of privilege and ducks houses, the party that favours the old and rich over the young and poor.

Cameron may not have been able to win them an election, but they still need him to prevent them from a crushing defeat.

So what about Cameron’s partner-in-crime? Clegg has fallen a long way since his brief (and more than a little premature, I thought, even at the time) crowning as the ‘British Obama’ by the Guardian back during the election campaign. From his position now as the biggest turn coat in British politics many would presume that his position is under threat from the increasingly mutinous members of his own party. However he is still likely to hang on till the next election simply because no other major politician is going to want to become the face of the coalition and man the sinking ship. Whatever happens, the Liberal Democrats are still likely to be crucified at the next election so the ordinary members will be looking to their own position. They hope they can convince their constituents that they are different from their party by making as much as noise as possible now and hoping things get a bit better if they wait until May 2015.

The biggest danger Clegg wants to look for is that the more left leaning Lib Dems that may even resort to crossing the floor and becoming part of the Labour party. Although this is a drastic measure, (the last Lib Dem MP to do was Paul Marsden in 2005 who returned to Labour having left in 2001 over the war in Afghanistan) because it means you sacrifice your local party base in your local constituency (those in safe seats wouldn’t dream of it for instance) but for those facing a challenge from Labour, especially in the student constituencies, it may be worth the risk. Clegg has to be careful of losing its MPs to the other side of the floor because every MP lost is a chip away at the slim majority the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats share. If one or two Lib Dems desert, Cameron may view it as a wave and see no point remaining in a harmful coalition when it can’t even guarantee him a majority.

Currently both Conservative and Liberal Democrats cards are balancing against each other, it only takes one to fall and the whole house of cards grumbles.

Putting The House In Order: Lords Reform Off The Menu Once Again

House of Lords Reform: A Historic Problem

Nowadays, if ever, a promise in an electoral manifesto is seldom worth the paper it is printed on.

The slow but steady inch back of the Conservative party’s assurances to their beleaguered coalition partners continued apace yesterday with the news that House of Lords reform had been postponed and the scheduled debate on reforming the upper house to half its current size with 80% of its members being elected. Despite the fact that it was one of the few consensus points between the three major political parties, House of Lords reform is more than likely to be dead in the water at least until the next election.

One of the key oppositions to it espoused by the right wing press and many of the oppositional MPs is that the coalition government should be focusing on fixing the economic situation. However, as the government are doing such a bang up job of tearing up any ‘green shoots’ of recovery to plug the drain of ‘the deficit’ and eliminating any fair or sensible approaches to education, paid employment and distribution of income with a rampant and destructive glee it may have been wise to give them a new, more positive project to focus on.

The Daily Telegraph claims that public demand for reform is lacking. However polling data released by YouGov suggests that although only 18% of those polls believed Lords reform was priority, 52% thought it was a good idea and only 20% believed the work well as it was and should be left alone.

This shows that there is a substantial if slightly lukewarm clamour for reform even if the Conservative backbenchers do not like it. One of the main oppositional points to an elected house of lords is that it become a largely an extension of the House of Commons and, according to another YouGov poll released this weekend, 64% of those polled believed that MPs were without politics or ethics. Thus the prospect of more politicians filling the upper house fills them with dread rather than optimism about the potential of democracy.
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