By Tim Montgomerie
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The Times has two very interesting stories this morning. The first concerns plans by members of the 2010 intake to purge the 1922 Committee (£) of its more right-wing elements. ConHome understands that the Chairman of the '22 Graham Brady is probably not in danger but other officers, including Brian Binley and Mark Pritchard, may well be challenged. We will return to this simmering issue on another occasion but the second Times story that appears on the newspaper's front page is perhaps the more interesting one…
Roland Watson, The Times' political editor, reports (£) that a group of Tory peers are ready to disrupt the Coalition's legislative programme if Cameron and Clegg press on with their plans for a largely elected Upper House:
"A group of about 20 Tories has said that it is ready to go on strike, refusing to support any government Bill while doing everything possible to obstruct reform to the upper chamber. Mr Clegg has received a separate warning from 15 Liberal Democrat peers that Lords reform, his party’s constitutional priority, will “gum up completely” Parliament for at least a year."
Lords reform was in the Tory manifesto but David Cameron suggested it would be a third term issue. The Coalition with Nick Clegg has turned it into a first term issue. Advisers to the Lib Dem leader know that reform will be time consuming but they believe that a Lords elected by proportional representation will give the party the balance of power in British politics for many years to come. That same prospect is one of the reasons why Tory MPs and peers are so opposed.
There is also anger that Liberal Democrats are privately telling Number 10 that the Prime Minister can't have reform of Commons boundaries if he doesn't ensure that the first upper house election is held in 2015. Some Conservatives see this as bad faith from Lib Dems. The deal had been that Clegg would get the AV referendum and the Conservatives would get equal sized constituencies. Having seen the bad affect on Lib Dem prospects from the boundary review, advisers to Clegg want to change the terms of the deal.
There are significant voices within Nick Clegg's own party urging him not to spend the rest of this parliament on Lords reform, however. Clegg's predecessor David Steel has proposed that the existing Lords is made smaller by, for example, term limits but that reform should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. His other proposals include an independent Lords appointments body and automatic ejection from the house if a member is sentenced to a year in prison. Martin Kettle in last week's Guardian warned the Lib Dem leader that pursuing an elected Lords would be (i) unlikely to succeed, (ii) would make passage of other Coalition policies more difficult and (iii) would risk the Lib Dems looking like a party remote from the public's bread and butter priorities. Mr Kettle is right on all fronts.
> Next week ConHome will be publishing a seven part series on Lords reform.