In a pickle

IT is not just the referendum on electoral reform that is posing challenges for the coalition as Labour's unelected peers attempt to block legislation paving the way for a nationwide poll on May 5.

Like Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader who is becoming one of the coalition's most prominent dissenters, Opposition peers believe that they have a permanent right to veto.

Indeed, some would argue that Labour's peers, and the likes of Mr Hughes, are having undue influence as the Government tries to make politics per se more accountable, more transparent and more efficient. Their almost default opposition sometimes becomes counter-productive as Ministers overlook genuine, and legitimate, concerns.

One such example is the extent to which Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is changing the rules over plans to introduce directly-elected mayors in four Yorkshire cities – Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Wakefield.

Having promised to hold a referendum in the for cities, the Government now proposes that the leaders of the council concerned assume executive mayoral powers before the policy is put to a public vote.

This is not what the Conservatives outlined at the outset of the process. They promised residents a referendum and that Ministers would accept the will of the people. Now Mr Pickles appears to be circumventing this by putting the policy in place before a poll, presumably because he has little confidence that he will win at present. He also appears to have learned little from Doncaster's unfortunate experience of elected mayors.

Such mistakes must never be repeated in Doncaster – or elsewhere. On this basis, Mr Hughes may, for once, be right.