Keir Starmer warned by Labour peers not to waste political capital on Lords reform

Policy could distract party from pushing through other urgent measures, leader is told

Keir Starmer has been warned by Labour peers that he risks getting bogged down in a “constitutional quagmire” that will prevent him completing other urgent domestic reforms if he pushes ahead with plans to scrap the House of Lords in the first term of a Labour government.

Several senior Labour figures in the Lords have privately questioned the Labour leader’s commitment to drive through proposals to replace the Lords with an elected second chamber in his first term, warning that he could use up huge amounts of “political capital” on an issue that few voters mention on the doorstep.

The Observer revealed a fortnight ago that Starmer had told peers he wanted to move to an elected second chamber and strip politicians of the power to make appointments to the Lords, as part of sweeping first-term changes aimed at restoring voters’ faith in politics. This was confirmed by party officials.

But the issue has caused disquiet in the party and led some to urge caution. Last night, aides to Starmer denied that there were tensions between Starmer and the former party leader Gordon Brown, who will on Monday publish a review of the constitution that he hopes will be adopted in large part by the party.

Brown’s report will recommend moving to an elected second chamber to help restore faith in the political system. It will also include plans for radical devolution of powers to the regions in “the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster ever”. There will also be plans to restore faith in politics through a new system to govern ethics.

But some at high levels of the party have cautioned against a manifesto commitment to drive through Lords reform as soon as a Labour comes to power, were it to win the next general election. Previous attempts to reform the Lords, such as in the early years of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, have ended in failure and deadlock.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown’s report will recommend moving to an elected second chamber. Photograph: Nicholas. T Ansell/PA

One Labour peer with influence said: “I would not say it is a backlash, more that he has been made aware of the reality that he could use up a lot of political capital at the expense of other domestic reforms if he goes too fast on this.”

Another peer said: “It sounds a good idea but, in the past, attempts to reform the Lords have led into a political quagmire.”

In an article for this weekend’s Observer, Starmer, while not mentioning the House of Lords, promises to pursue a wide range of reforms to restore trust in politics and politicians. He writes: “Tomorrow, we will begin to set out exactly how the next Labour government will meet that challenge.

“The proposals published by Gordon Brown and the Commission on the UK’s Future will set the path for the biggest ever transfer of control from Westminster back to the British people. It means that at the next election, Labour will stand on a promise of new powers for towns, cities, regions and nations to reignite our economy, while scrapping unaccountable ones in Westminster to restore trust in our politics.

“This is a matter of personal conviction for me. I have always believed that the people best placed to decide what works in Stirling, Sunderland or Swansea are the people there. If we expect these places to drive growth we must first hand them the keys. But as well as bringing people closer to decision making, I want to change the very idea of who our politics serves. The way this Tory government keeps blithely putting up taxes, while endlessly pearl clutching over the prospect of oil companies or non-doms or Eton College paying their fair share leaves working people with one sense: that Britain is being run for someone, but that it isn’t them. That will change.”


Toby Helm

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Keir Starmer: I will abolish House of Lords to ‘restore trust in politics’
Exclusive: Labour leader plans a new elected chamber after accusing successive Tory governments of handing peerages to ‘lackeys and donors’

Michael Savage Policy editor

19, Nov, 2022 @7:30 PM

Article image
Labour plan to reform constitution will end ‘sticking plaster politics’, says Starmer
Proposals, including abolishing House of Lords, aimed at moving power away from London

Peter Walker, Jessica Elgot and Severin Carrell

05, Dec, 2022 @6:49 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer: ‘The hope of a Labour victory has turned into a belief’
In an interview with the Observer, the party’s leader says the battle lines with the Tories are clear – and he’s ready for the challenge

Andrew Rawnsley and Toby Helm

24, Sep, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Reform electoral system or keep losing to Tories, Keir Starmer warned
Pressure grows on Labour to commit to proportional representation as poll reveals two-fifths of people believe their vote has been wasted

Toby Helm

23, May, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Labour unveils plan to overhaul constitution and replace the Lords
Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future also aims to curb influence of wealth and foreign money

Rowena Mason and Libby Brooks

04, Dec, 2022 @10:30 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer unveils green growth plan to counter Liz Truss’s tax cuts
Labour pledges a revolution in green energy to ‘boost jobs and slash emissions

Toby Helm, Andrew Rawnsley and Phillip Inman

24, Sep, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Labour may abolish House of Lords if it wins next election, leaked report reveals
Exclusive: Constitutional review by Gordon Brown also recommends devolving economic powers

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

22, Sep, 2022 @6:30 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer warned not to insist Labour MPs vote for Brexit deal
Leader faces resignations from his front bench in a ‘dangerous moment’ for his authority

Michael Savage & Daniel Boffey in Brussels

29, Nov, 2020 @10:45 AM

Article image
Keir Starmer says he was ‘shocked’ by Diane Abbott’s letter to the Observer
Labour leader ‘could not believe what he was reading’ when he saw letter saying Jewish, Irish and Traveller people not subject to racism

Toby Helm Political Editor

30, Apr, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Labour has a radical new plan, but will Keir Starmer dare stick to it?
Leader wants to ‘return power to where it should be’ but some in his own team are reluctant to expend the political capital

Pippa Crerar Political editor

05, Dec, 2022 @7:23 PM