Does House of Lords reform affect Conservative election hopes?
Author: Jack Maizels
Published on May 18, 2012
Various Conservative backbenchers have recently made a connection between their party’s poor performance in the local elections on 5 May and the government’s efforts to introduce elections to the House of Lords, arguing that it should not be a priority in the midst of the country’s financial problems. We take a look at whether the attempt to reform the Lords has actually caused a dent in the Conservatives’ electability.
This graph shows the main parties’ opinion poll ratings from the start of the coalition in May 2010 to the recent local elections in May 2012. It is clear that from their post-2010 election high, the Conservatives’ polling figures have suffered a dramatic slump of late. To explore the potential causes of this, we have collated the major events from March onwards and compared them to where Lords reform fits in:
i) 2 March, David Cameron admits to riding horse belonging to Rebekah Brooks
ii) 21 March, George Osborne announces his 2012 Budget
iii) 25 March, Treasurer Peter Cruddas embroils Tories in cash-for-access scandal
iv) 28 March, Francis Maude recommends storing petrol, anticipating a fuel crisis
v) 1 April, the unpopular Health and Social Care Bill becomes law
vi) 18 April, Theresa May causes confusion over Abu Qatada’s deportation
vii) 23 April, the Joint Committee on Lords Reform publishes its report
viii) 24 April, James Murdoch’s Leveson evidence gets Jeremy Hunt into hot water
ix) 25 April, news breaks that the UK has entered a double-dip recession
For the first 2 months of the year, the Conservatives were enjoying the boost that followed from David Cameron’s veto of the EU treaty in December 2011. The average figure for the Tories in these months was a healthy 38.98%, higher than their 2010 general election vote. There is then a slight decline in the first 2 weeks of March, the mean slipping down to 37.42%, possibly due to Cameron’s links to Rebekah Brooks.
However, from the 19 March, when leaks from George Osborne’s 2012 Budget reached the press, Conservative polling was down to around 34%. This drop continued during the cash-for-access scandal, the fuel crisis and the NHS Bill becoming law. Theresa May’s confusion over Abu Qatada’s deportation added to the government’s woes, before the Joint Committee on Lords Reform published its report, by which point the Conservatives were consistently polling around 32%. James Murdoch’s Leveson evidence and the UK slipping back into recession provided further blows to the Conservatives, shortly before the UK went to the polls and produced a projected Conservative vote of 31%.
Clearly, the Conservatives’ problems were set in long before the Joint Committee’s report was published, the only recent event of major significance in terms of Lords reform. UK Polling Report’s analysis also looks at David Cameron’s low approval ratings, the various unpopular aspects of the Budget and the combined effect of multiple negative stories as possible explanations, but Lords reform was not suggested as a reason.
Unfortunately, these Conservative backbenchers are simply avoiding substantive debate on Lords reform, trying to convey that it is unpopular. However, a recent poll carried out for Unlock Democracy showed that just 5% are in favour of the status quo, compared to 69% supporting elections in the Lords. Another more recent poll shows that 50% want the Government to continue with reform, compared to just 26% who think they shouldn’t. The reality is, keeping unelected lawmakers and continuing political patronage are arguments opponents of reform know they cannot afford to be seen to support.