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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 06:52 GMT
Lords live to fight another day
The House of Lords
Reform of the House of Lords will have to wait yet again

He may have been defeated, but Tony Blair will be delighted at the outcome of the vote on Lords reform.

The farcical outcome means he can now kick the entire embarrassing distraction into the long grass.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
There is no consensus on any of the options in the House of Commons

Mr Blair's spokesman

Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, could be forgiven for being astonished and dismayed that, after all the talk, MPs defeated every one of the eight options in front of them - leaving the issue in an utter shambles.

And it would be a brave or foolhardy punter who would now bet on it being resolved before the next general election.

As one Labour backbencher declared, presumably tongue-in-cheek: "We can now dump this mess and leave it to the next Tory government to sort out."

Free vote

Mr Blair will also take some pleasure from the fact that Leader of the House Robin Cook's call for a fully elected chamber was also defeated - albeit by a significantly smaller majority.

Mr Cook had openly and enthusiastically opposed Mr Blair's option and, even though this was a free vote, no prime minister likes that sort of criticism.

So now, the whole issue can be kicked out to a committee charged with the task of coming up with yet another proposal, or set of proposals.

Like fox hunting, Lords reform has become more trouble than it is worth, and the prime minister already has enough on his plate.

He can argue he has met his manifesto commitment to reform the upper house - even though most voters may have expected something more radical, or even a decision.

And he can, in effect, shrug off all responsibility for what happens to it now.

Sleep on it

Frankly, if he never hears to words "Lords reform" ever again he will probably be a happy man.

Leader of the Commons Robin Cook
Cook lost out too
It has even been suggested that his decision to announce that he favoured a fully appointed chamber was spurred by a desire to muddy the waters.

And it may have worked. Some MPs will certainly have used their free vote to back their leader, making it even more difficult to get a clear cut result.

Unsurprisingly, the turkeys in the Lords did not vote for Christmas but decided that, in future, they should be appointed rather than elected.

Mr Cook probably summed up the overall mood at the end of the pantomime when he declared the best plan would be for MPs to go home an have a good night's sleep before making any further moves on this particular policy.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
House of Lords
How should it be reformed?
See also:

04 Feb 03 | Politics
04 Feb 03 | Politics
29 Jan 03 | Politics
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