Humiliating defeat or warning shot?

So the Government has faced its most high profile defeat in this Parliament. The question is – will this be the first of many or a call to action for David Cameron?

Last night, the upper chamber supported amendments which will delay the cuts to tax credits and will also provide full financial redress to those who removal of tax credits hit the hardest. With blame for the defeat being placed squarely on the Chancellor, George Osborne has looked to nullify this quickly by stating he will address the issue in the Autumn Statement next month. However, in the short-term the damage is done and this week will be chalked up as defeat to Osborne.

The opposition in the Lords and within his own party should be viewed more of a warning, rather than as a disaster. In fact, it could have been a lot worse for the Chancellor. If the Government’s secondary legislation had passed in the Lords, it could have faced a defeat in the Commons. This would have resulted in much wider ramifications and a greater loss of face. This defeat is more of reminder to the Chancellor that you should not try to push through rushed policies, especially when the consequences of these policies have a greater impact in the Conservative marginals. Although it stings now, it is unlikely we will talking about this defeat at the next General Election. 

Unless, that is, if the Lords make a habit of this. A Conservative majority government has never been outnumbered in the Lords before, so Lords penchant for defeating the Government is probably making Cameron a little nervous. With some Conservative MPs in constitutional uproar, the Prime Minister wants to capitalise on this ill-feeling and is launching a “rapid review” to limit the powers of the House of Lords over financial issues. This review is an attempt by the Government to remind the Lords who really has their hands on the levers of power. Some Conservatives are even calling for the Prime Minister to appoint 100 new Conservative peers to give their party a majority. However, this is very much a nuclear option as it raises fundamental questions about democracy.  Both the Government and Lords have fired warning shots; it will be interesting to see who keeps their heads down.

Douglas McIlroy

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search