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By Ben Guerin
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Tory Peers May Need To "Tutor" New Conservative MPs After Election Defeat

The House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, November 2023 (Alamy)

5 min read

Tory peers could end up "tutoring" new MPs if a heavy election defeat results in the party having limited experience in the House of Commons, a Conservative Lord has said.

Lord Philip Norton of Louth, who has been in the Lords since 1998, told PoliticsHome that depending on the size of the Conservative party’s House of Commons contingent following the General Election, that Lords – many of whom have considerable Commons experience – could be “maintaining a voice for the Conservative Party”. 

Meanwhile, another Tory peer suggested there could be a more "radical" approach from right-leaning Conservative peers in a bid to push the wider party to the right after 4 July.

While opinion polls vary in terms of how heavy a defeat awaits Rishi Sunak's party next month, all currently agree that it is going to lose a very large number of seats. The gloomier polls suggest the Tories are on course to fall well below 100 in two-and-a-half weeks' time — which would represent a collapse of historic proportions.

Many of the Conservatives who have stood down from Parliament in the run-up to 4 July, which is close to 80, are some of the party's most experienced MPs when it comes the House of Commons and the work of government ministers. 

Lord Norton, who is also professor of government at the University of Hull, said it's possible that defeat next month could leave the Conservatives with so little experience in the House of Commons that peers may step in to help them get used to Parliament.

“It remains to be seen the size of the parliamentary party in the Commons, and of course not just the numbers, but who it is," he told PoliticsHome.

“Are these fairly experienced parliamentarians or are they predominantly inexperienced? You might be looking to the experienced members of the party in the Lords, many of whom of course are former Cabinet ministers they’ve been in the Commons. 

“There might be an element of tutoring, being useful in that respect and maintaining a voice for the Conservative Party.” 

He pointed to the Liberal Democrats’ loss of seats in the 2015 general election as a similar situation. The party went from 57 seats to eight when former Conservative leader David Cameron won a House of Commons majority nine years ago. 

“It might provide a platform for Conservative views, but at the same time, depending on the parliamentary arithmetic [...] keeping the party modest.” 

The number of high-profile Conservative stepping down at this election — including serving or former cabinet ministers — means this time there could be a longer list of Tory figures who would “usually get priority” for seats in the Lords. The list could be even bigger after polling day, depending on the scale of the likely Tory defeat. 

One peer thought the parliamentary maths could work in such a way after the election that would see "those of a right wing disposition" working closely with colleagues in the Commons in order to shape the debate about the party's future direction in their favour.

"If it swings to the right then the people in the House of Lords who are of a very right-wing disposition will no doubt work closely with the party in the Commons and we will therefore see probably an increase in the radical approach in the House of Lords," they said.

"That will not please other Conservatives who would prefer to be running a centrist sort of operation."

However, it is thought unlikely that Labour leader Keir Starmer, if he becomes prime minister, would be minded to accept a large number of Conservative appointments, given the relative imbalance of the Lords – where the Tories are the largest group – and Labour’s plans to reduce the size of the chamber. 

Labour in its manifesto said it would introduce several reforms to reduce the size of the House of Lords, including an upper age limit of 80. PoliticsHome reported last week a belief that this would force Starmer to appoint several dozen new Labour peers quickly after entering Downing Street, as the upper age limit would disproportionately impact their own current members of the upper chamber. 

Regardless of the mathematics, the Tories PoliticsHome spoke to were clear that the intention would not be use their party's significant numerical advantage in the Lords to block legislation brought forward by a new Labour government.

“In any event, the House defers to the Commons,” Norton said. “I don’t think the Conservative opposition would be trying to defeat a Labour government that had been returned with a mandate.” 

He said that they operate on the principle that the Lords will not reject or add so-called “wrecking amendments” to legislation promised in the government's election manifesto, and that is then extended to other government bills as well. 

“The recognition is that the government is entitled to get its business,” he said. 

Polling expert and Conservative peer Lord Robert Hayward agreed, and thought there would be a “genuine effort to find a solution”.

“The principle has been established already that essentially, if it’s in the manifesto, whether its on the economy or home affairs or education or whatever, the Conservatives in the Lords would not block those things,” he said. “The principle of reviewing and revising in the content of the manifesto is perfectly reasonable.” 

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