The Guardian reported yesterday a letter sent by 9 Tory ex-cabinet ministers (and David Steele...why?) to Cameron, demanding that he scupper Nick Clegg's plans for making the completely undemocratic chamber into a marginally less undemocratic one.
Despite Cameron promising a three line whip (vote this way or you're finished while I'm leader), it is thought that between 50 and 100 Tories are prepared to bet that Cameron won't be around for long enough to interfere much with their climb up the slimey pole.
Clegg's plans for the second chamber are far from perfect, in that they involved a house of 450 (when the USA manages with 100 and in theory we should manage with 8); then they are to be elected for 15 years, which massively reduces their democratic legitimacy; the plans still leave 20% of membership to be appointed by patronage (lickspittles bought for favours), and strangely, in a largely secular country, places being reserved for 20+ bishops from England's established church.
So, many faults there, but a step in the right direction, remembering that at present there are around 900 members most of whom, once appointed, are there for life, elevated to the aristocracy and given anachronistic titles and styles; there are 92 members who owe their seats to the fact that they were born to rule (albeit that they now have to be elected from among their own hereditary titled elite), and that there are bishops from the Church of England. Two of the 92 "hereditaries" are genuinely hereditary; their sons will take over when they go to the upper, upper chamber: the Duke of Norfolk who as Marshall of England organises state occasions, and Viscount Cholmondeley, the lord great chamberlain!
Many Tory MPs and peers say that Lords reform will disturb the delicate constitutional balance, without bringing benefit to the way the country is run (however much it needs it). (Of course what they really mean is that they have a strong personal interest in the status quo of around £300 a day for doing very little.)
This letter comes from "grandees" most of whose names mean little or nothing to me. I do recognise, however, good old reactionaries like Norman Tebbit, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth, the last of which seems so resistant to change that you wonder how long he wears his socks before reaching for another identical pair from the sock drawer.
It puts Cameron in an difficult position, torn between his agreement with Clegg to support this measure (and secure the future of the coalition, without which he would be sunk) and retaining the loyalty of a large section of his backbenchers, already tearing themselves apart over Europe.
It raises many interesting questions. Should there be a referendum? Or would that, like the voting systems one, be a choice of two options, neither of which anyone really wants? How long could Cameron keep the Tories in government without the Liberals? Still he's off to chilax at Wimbledon this afternoon, so that's alright then!