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The Lib Dem penalty for a ‘breach of contract’ on the Lords

6 August 2012

In his statement to the press this afternoon in which he confirmed that the Liberal Democrats were throwing the towel in over reform of the House of Lords, Nick Clegg tried to paint his party as the ‘mature one’. He said the coalition agreement was ‘a contract that keeps the coalition parties working together in the national interest’, and added:

‘My party has held to that contract even when it meant voting for things that we found difficult. The Liberal Democrats are proving themselves to be a mature and competent party of government and I am proud that we have met our obligations.’

Later he pointed out that it was not his party that had caused the Lords reforms, and therefore the boundary reforms too, to fail. The images in Clegg’s statement focused less on the idea of the coalition as a marriage that the media is so fond of and more on cold, hard business deals, and the consequences of breaking contractual agreements. ‘When part of a contract is broken,’ he said, ‘It is normal to amend that contract in order then to move on.’

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The Deputy Prime Minister had been discussing whether the Conservatives could muster the numbers necessary for the programme motion on Lords reform to go through for weeks, his aides said. As a compromise, he had offered a referendum on Lords reform that would take place on election day in 2015, and both the reforms to the upper chamber and those to the boundaries being deferred to 2020. Clegg had known for a few days last week before the story made its way into the papers that this would not work. Today he spoke to David Cameron on the phone to confirm the warnings of the past few months: that the Liberal Democrats will be opposing the boundary reforms.

How is this going to work? ‘In a sense, this is a new moment,’ said Mr Clegg. He explained that the Conservatives were keen to push the reforms to a vote, but that the Liberal Democrats wanted to table an amendment which would see the changes to constituencies delayed until after the 2015 election. If that amendment is not accepted, ministers from the Liberal Democrat benches will vote against the reforms, but the line from the party is that they will not be sacked because this is over a breach of contract from the Conservative party. Then the coalition will miraculously move on, seemingly with no hard feelings. They are also trying to push that the coalition is an extraordinary set of circumstances in itself.

It is still difficult to imagine either side of the coalition managing to continue to behave in the ‘mature’ manner that Clegg sketched out this afternoon when it comes to other areas of dissent. David Cameron might struggle to sack a Conservative minister who pushed a non-coalition agenda, while Lib Dem frontbenchers would come under pressure from backbenchers and party members to rebel again on other issues of equal importance.

Clegg is hoping to go to his party conference with some other legislative victory to prove that the Liberal Democrats are still delivering in government. He suggested that this could be going further than the Vickers proposals on banking reform, or on reforming social care or increasing employment opportunities for young people. These would fill the legislative void left by the behemoth Lords Reform Bill. Expect more details on the Liberal Democrat positions on these areas in the weeks running up the autumn conference season.

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  • jsfl

    The answer is simple. Force the Libdems out in the open showing them for the nasty malignancy that they really are by proposing populist actions on say immigration or Energy/ Fuel or Europe or the Human Rights Act and let the kiddiewinks in the Illiberal Undemocratic party skweem their spoilt little heads off and withdraw from the Coalition if they dare.

    Its time Cameron made the the spoilt brats of Yellow Party suffer for their tantrums!

  • ButcombeMan

    Clegg is an interesting character study.

    Surely this statement today and the deceit it involves, stem from his own weakness, he is fighting for his political career. The LibDem knives are out for him. Clegg is a weak individual, utterly devoid of leadership skills. All the slick salesmanship has gone, his hollowness visible to all.

    We all understand he is time-serving until he can get a Euro non-job.

    I will bet he has a handshake like a wet fish and his wife bosses him about.

    Pathetic. He disgusts me.

  • David Ossitt

    “My party has held to that contract even when it meant voting for things that we found difficult.”

    Lying cur.

  • pauldanon

    Mr Cameron should sack rebellious members of his cabinet. Government matters even more than coalition (an informal arrangement with no constitutional standing). If that means an election, plainly forced by the LibDems, so be it. We’ll see how the LibDems fare, and we could even get a majority-government that could tackle the economy.

  • PeterfromMaidstone

    Since it seems very clear that no agreement has been broken, why is it that the MSM seems not to be calling Clegg out on this? Has any member of the MSM told Clegg that he is either stupid or lying?

  • kwh

    The tragedy is that the house of Lords as currently constituted is a gross offence to democracy and good governance. It took a lot of skill to come up with reforms that arguably threaten to make things worse :-(.

    • alexsandr

      Yes the Lords is undemocratic. But do we really want a house controlled by the parties through AV? And full of old failed MP’s all whipped to death.
      we need a house with some independent thinkers to scrutinise away from the party machines. Like the current cross benchers.
      how one organises this and stay ‘democratic’ I don’t know. Mebbe a commission of appointment.

    • David Ossitt

      It takes no skill to be wrong almost 100% of the time, the man, Clegg is a cretin.

  • Gina Dean

    The PM should put it to the Lords to reform themselves, give them a a template as to what is required. Also a timeline to cut down on how many Lords should be there. This is causing a lot of problems, and time being wasted in the lower house. As to having a referendum on this, why waste the money which could be better spent else where. I believe that there has been suggestions about this before. People are not interested in this petty bickering they want to see the economy improve.

  • Gouldus

    If Cameron feels he can’t sack a LibDem Minister for voting against the Government then he won’t be able to sack a Tory either – his back benchers will crucify him – utter chaos will ensue. Clegg needs to be told to grow up.

  • CJ

    Which senior Tory has the balls to call out Clegg on his dishonesty?

  • Andy

    This is actually what the Coalition Agreement says. How exactly have the Conservatives broken the agreement ???
    ‘We agree to 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 motions by December 2010. It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely 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 reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.’

    • alexsandr

      @ slim jim. Have you tried reasoning with a petulant teenager?

    • ButcombeMan

      They have not. Clegg knows that. Hence his deceit.

      It was just a bad and incompetent bill. It could not get through the HoC in that form. That’s it.

      What Clegg does not like, is the very idea of democacy.

      Of course he does not, he loves Europe.

  • Slim Jim

    Clegg’s statement tells us all we need to know about politics and politicians today. Deluded, dishonest, and frustrating. Most readers of this blog know they have been acting as an ideological brake on the Conservatives, and thus they have helped to prolong the agony of a major recession as they are opposing all the sensible solutions to the problems we face. Mature and competent? Sighs…

  • Thomas Paine

    Surely the deal was on the AV referendum, not Lords reform? In which case he is lying through his teeth (again, something of a Liberal specialty).

    In any event the biggest problem with the reforms is that they were juvenile and ill-conceived – utterly amateur in quality – let alone utterly undemocratic. Biggest change in the UK constitution since Devolution, and no referendum? Indefensible even by Clegg and his slimy bunch.

    Truly, they deserve the wipe-out that’s coming to them at the next election.

  • Andy

    As I recall the Boundary Review and House of Lords reform were not tied together. HofL reform and AV were, and that was lost because we, the people, told Clegg to get stuffed.

  • BigAl

    Let’s get the economy sorted out first and then have a general election. Then all parties can put forward their priorities for taxing, spending and cutting. Then we, the electorate, can decide without resorting to student politics when it suits.

  • Bruce, UK

    And the Spine Donor will do what, exactly?

    I know, “not let matters rest there”.

  • Magnolia

    “When part of a contract is broken, it is normal to amend that contract in order then to move on.”
    Yes Mr Clegg, it’s called a divorce.

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