Coffee House

Pushing the boundaries

4 August 2012

The conventional wisdom about the consequences of the failure of Lords reform is that the Liberal Democrats will wreak their revenge for the Conservatives’ ‘breach of contract’ by scuppering the boundary changes. Over the past few months, the party has taken great pains to link the two reforms, and now that it is clear that the first will not go through, all focus is on the second.

There is much that still needs to become clear about how this will work; the biggest question of all being how Lib Dem ministers can vote against the changes without being sacked. But don’t expect the whole party to troop through the ‘no’ lobby on this issue.

I was surprised yesterday by a conversation I had with a senior Liberal Democrat MP, who told me that the party should allow the boundary review to go through the Commons to safeguard the coalition. The MP said:

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‘I we get into the position of saying that ‘we will vote for X only if you vote for Y, or we will not vote for X only because you did not vote or Y, then the days of the coalition would be numbered. Remember that the purpose of the coalition was to restore economic stability.’

He pointed out that it would be all very well to dispense with the boundary changes were the UK seeing growth of two or three per cent, but last week’s 0.7 per cent drop in GDP shows that there is still much work to do on this. The coalition’s purpose has not yet been fulfilled.

He added:

‘I suspect that the electorate would be pretty unforgiving if they find themselves in the midst of a general election caused by the inability of the coalition parties to keep their promises in the coalition agreement when the principle purpose of that agreement is stability of the economy has not been achieved. The purpose of this coalition is economic stability: we have not achieved that. If the coalition were not founded in these circumstances it would be different.’

So this would mean the Liberal Democrats essentially taking the failure of Lords reform on the chin for the good of the economy. In the eyes of voters, it would be a noble sacrifice, but it would also make party management a nightmare for David Cameron, as his MPs would now believe that the Conservatives could break other promises in the Coalition agreement without any real consequences from their partners, save a bit of hand-wringing from the likes of Simon Hughes and Tim Farron in various media outlets in the run-up to a vote. Even if the majority of the Lib Dem party decides to give the Tories a bit of a hard time in the lobbies, there won’t be unity in their revenge.

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Show comments
  • John Moss

    The Coalition Agreement does not promise a Bill on Lords Reform. It promises to establish a commission to bring forward proposals and seek consensus. This is in stark contrast with the commitment to a Bill on AV and Boundary Changes, whipped in both houses.

    If you want more background on this, read 22 Days in May, by David Laws. Lords Reform is hardly mentioned, yet the deal to link the AV Referendum with the Boundary Review is clear and clearly accepted by the Lib-Dems.

    They cannot re-write history, especially when it is written down!

    • FF42

      I don’t think that’s the case. The actual text is:

      “We agree to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. ”

      That’s a pretty clear commitment to present a bill in the House of Commons for a proportionally elected House of Lords as a policy of the Coalition.

      The question is whether each party is obliged by the Coalition Agreement to vote for Coalition Policy. And secondly, are the leadership responsible for how their backbenchers vote? What happens if the leadership commits but their backbenchers don’t? I think that’s the background to Isabel’s article.

  • j7sue

    There’s no commitment to boundary changes either in the coalition agreement ”
    We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum” It doesn’t say anything about voting for the boundary change provisions. So if one side can legalistically weasel out of its commitments, so can the other.

  • Pete

    The Lib Dems have Stockholm Syndrome.

  • 2trueblue

    The Lib Dems have got a very good deal right now…… they are in power. They ought to grow up and get on with getting us out of the mire we are in. If they play their part in successfully getting the country back on its feet then they can demand some improvement in their arrangements. Right now they are far too verbal and need to learn to ‘shut up and put up’. This is the thing about playing your part, it means exactly that, getting on with it. Frankly we have not moved forward at all, far too many people think they are the event, rather than just part of the event. Like everything, you have to be in it to win it. Look to our young Olympians for an example of how to behave. Our MPs could learn a thing or two.

  • derekemery

    “The purpose of this coalition is economic stability: we have not achieved that.”

    It sounds as though some still believe they can achieve it before the next election. How likely is that with the Eurozone going slowly but surely and relentlessly down the tubes?


    “senior liberal democrat MP”?

    I spy Mr David Laws- about as representative of mainstream LD opinion as is Tony Blair of Labour opinion or Ken Clarke of Tory opinion.

    Either the coalition fractures or the LDs do when the ministers (orange book or not) hug Dave close to keep the sticking plaster desperately in place. Very unedifying.

    It is a terrible position to be in- but they only have themselves to blame with their half baked ‘negotiation’ of the coalition “agreement”. Hang on: Laws was the senior ‘negotiator’ wasn’t he….??!!

  • Daniel Maris

    There’s no need for constituency boundary changes all the time. All we have to do is set a marker for average constituency size and then those MPs represent say 10% less the average will get a 0.9 vote in the commons and those that represent 10% more will get a 1.1 vote. With electronic voting (as used in most assemblies in the world) this is done very easily. If it makes the jobs of the whips harder, so much the better.

    • Cogito Ergosum

      Even easier, just give them a number of votes equal to the number on the electoral register of their constituency. One might almost describe this as a block-voting system.

      • PeterfromMaidstone

        Unfortunately the electoral roll is compromised and corrupted. It contains a great many non-British citizens which destablises our democracy already.

        • Daniel Maris

          True. That needs to be reformed as well.

  • PeterfromMaidstone

    I was speaking to a senior Lib-Dem this morning, I won’t mention any names, and he said to me that although his party needed to sound full of righteous anger about losing the changes to the House of Lords, he wasn’t himself too bothered and would prefer to have a full term enjoying the benefits of Government than cause the Coalition to collapse and have to subsist on the plaudits of his colleagues while in opposition. He insisted that there was still plenty of scope for finding a well-rewarded place in the House of Lords for senior Lib-Dems who didn’t rock the boat too much, although he said that the changes proposed would have made it much easier for a great many more Lib-Dems to enjoy such a lifestyle.

    Like I said, I won’t many any names, but trust me, he really did tell me all this.

    • Noa

      Absolutely right Peter.

      Without attribution this post reports mere tittle-tattle. We see daily the divisions of this ego led Coalition, as it fails miserably to deliver even its limited stated objectives.

      • tele_machus

        The vicar was lambasting James yesterday for tittle tattle.
        I respect you too much Noa to advise continued association

    • tele_machus

      Well chum we all have connections and mine close to the Shadow Cabinet said something akin except not quite so polite.
      Those Libdem B**tards will not pull the plug, they value their future Lords Sinecures too much

      • Austin Barry

        My connections in the local pub tell me that the Coalition is a hybrid nonsense of self-seeking, self-regarding Onanists – or something like that. It’s hard to disagree.

  • PeterfromMaidstone

    It seems that the Spectator is routinely preventing people from posting, even if the content of their posts is not offensive in any way. Does the Spectator no longer believe in even occassionally free speech?

  • maurice12brady

    This senior ‘lib-dem’ you talked to — If you want anybody to believe this crap you publish — NAME THEM!! This unaccountable briefing is utterly discredited & bereft of any veracity! To comment on his/her (see, without disclosure of identity it’s nonsense) observance — ‘economic recovery’ is fcuked & beyond the ministrations of these miscreants — But jobs in Europe & industry plus a padded pension await after a full parliament! Glaring self-interest YOU never comment upon.

  • DJT

    The LibDems should be given a hard time for opposing equal sized constituencies. Why do they favour unfair representation etc etc? Instead they are being allowed to play the victim….oooo poor LibDems bullied by nasty right-wing Tory backbenchers and lost their chance to get the Lords “reformed” can’t blame them for kicking back at the boundaries…och bless. Since the LDs favour proportional voting they ought to vote for this small step towards it. And if they don’t those nasty Tories should rip them apart for favouring unfair, undemocratic constituencies.

  • Paul

    “it would also make party management a nightmare for David Cameron, as his MPs would now believe that the Conservatives could break other promises in the Coalition agreement”
    Break “other” promises? The Conservatives haven’t broken their word on this – Lords reform proposals were brought forward: the fact they were unpalatable to a large number of MPs is irrelevant in terms of the Coalition agreement, which didn’t say “The Conservatives will vote for any proposals Clegg advances.”

    • tele_machus

      Well said Paul.
      I trust the LibDems heed this.
      It sounds from Isabel’s excellent post that they will

      • Austin Barry

        Odd. People seem to dislike tele_machus comments even when they’re quite sane and arise from his more lucid moments. I guess his record of serial inanity precedes him.

  • AnotherDaveB

    Lords reform was not ‘promised in the coalition agreement.’

    “We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

    • Nicholas

      The coalition agreement promised many things, including:-

      We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.We will introduce a Freedom Bill.We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.We will restore rights to non-violent protest.We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.We will further regulate CCTV.We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
      Has this government acted in the spirit of that promise? How does the Communications Data Bill sit within the spirit of this promise?

      • AnotherDaveB

        The odd thing is, they could say they still believe those things, just by admitting the Communications and Data Bill is EU legislation.

        They want to pretend they’re in control, so they don’t.

      • Slim Jim

        Let’s not forget that the ECHR removed our right to remain silent when charged with an offence under the Road Traffic Act. Apparently they didn’t consider it an abuse of government power.

  • Nicholas

    Those looking for any kind of conservative salvation from these two chancers are going to be sadly disappointed. One is the reincarnation of Heath and the other is the reincarnation of Heath with a bit of charisma and a bit of sly.

    • CJ

      Well said (written).

      Cameron is indeed the heir to Heath.

    • Ron Todd

      Which one has charisma?

      • Nicholas

        I posted this here in error. It should be in the previous thread on Dave and Boris! I’ll leave you to decide who’s who.

    • tele_machus

      Did you misread the post or just look at the 2 photographs
      However if you are talking of charisma, I will reiterate part of my post on the
      2/8/12 1233 thread:
      I’m thinking of someone with intellectual credentials-Maybe someone who got an Oxford First ahead of our PM and bid not join any exclusive drinking club at University
      Someone with a sound economic background but with an exposure to journalism to help him handle the media.
      Someone who has experience is educating our young minds.
      Someone who has family responsibility and who has had responsibility for families.
      Someone who in the face of the baying hoardes including the IMF is willing to shoulder the fiscal risk of a dynamic programme to get us out of the economic doldrums
      If the coalition truly want to save the economy they should make way

      • Nicholas

        Is there an echo in here?

      • Radford_NG

        5 Aug c.3.25am. BST.That would be Ed Miliband?(I just looked him up to check). How disappointing:surly there must be someone else in Labour?At least Conservatives have got Philip Davies (Shipley) who turned a small majority into one of 10,000 after being the first Cons.MP. to come out of the Euro-closet and,hence,gain the active support of UKIP.

        • tele_machus

          No not Miliband, try the first sentence again

      • UlyssesReturns

        Are you perchance referring to the vile ex-public schoolboy muttering idiot who dressed up in a Nazi uniform whilst at Oxford?

        • tele_machus

          Only a muttering idiot in the eyes of the worst prime minister since Eden

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