62% of Lib Dem members agree with Clegg decision to vote down boundary changes over Tories’ Lords reform retreat

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 446 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

What party members say about Tory breach of Coalition Agreement

LDV asked: Within the package of constitutional reforms proposed in the Coalition Agreement was a pledge to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies and re-draw them to ensure each individual’s vote counts roughly equally no matter where they live. It is believed by electoral experts this will benefit the Conservatives and have an adverse impact on the Lib Dems at the next election compared to the current boundaries. Thinking about if House of Lords reform does fall as a result of Conservative MPs refusing to support it, which of these statements is closest to your view:

    12% – If that happens the Lib Dems should pull out of the coalition
    62% – If that happens the Lib Dems should vote down the Parliamentary boundary changes
    17% – If that happens the Lib Dems should remain in the Coalition and continue to support all the measures in the Coalition Agreement, including the boundary changes
    7% – Other
    2% – Don’t know / No opinion

Almost two-thirds (62%) of our sample of Lib Dem members chose the option Nick Clegg chose yesterday — to respond to the Tories’ reneging on the Coalition Agreement over Lords reform by torpedoing the parliamentary boundary changes. A minority, just 12%, voted for the nuclear option of complete withdrawal from the Coalition. I suspect that figure might have been higher if we’d asked it last month, when members’ anger against Tory tactics was at its peak. Interestingly, rather more members – 17% – believed the party should have honoured its side of the Agreement in full no matter the Tory position.

NB: this poll was open from Friday onwards, both before and after the news broke that Nick Clegg would be announcing the end of Lords reform. However, there didn’t seem to be a significant shift in the poll findings in any particular direction as a result.

For the record… Most of you wanted Lords reform Bill to carry on

LDV asked: The Lords Reform Bill has received its 2nd Reading in the House of Commons with a majority of 338 but with 91 Conservative rebel MPs. A plan for a specific timetable (‘timetable motion’) for its further progress was not put to the vote as the government expected to be defeated by a combination of Conservative rebels and the Labour party. What do you think the Liberal Democrats should do now?

    74% – Continue to press for the Bill to go through Parliament
    20% – The Coalition should abandon the Bill
    6% – Don’t know / No opinion

Well, it’s all a bit academic now… but for the record, an overwhelming majority of Lib Dem members — three-quarters of those we surveyed — wanted the party to press ahead with Lords reform even in the face of continuing Tory rebel and Labour opposition. A minority, one-in-five, thought it would be better simply to drop the Bill.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 450 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 6th August.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    24 Comments

    • Lincoln said it first, “turn about is fair play”. If the Tories are not going to deal fairly with us, then there is no incentive to pass their particular pet projects, indeed, to help them gerrymander.

    • David Howarth 7th Aug '12 - 10:41am

      We should vote this down on the point of principle that it is a complete contradiction. The main argument against proportional representation is that we have a constituency based democracy where the electorate have access to their member of parliament. With a growing population on that basis we should have more constituencies and greater access, not less.

    • Cameron whips his MP’s into voting for lords reform, but 1/3 rebel, which combined with wavering Labour support lead Cameron (and various Liberal commentators) to believe that the bill is untenable due to the length of time required to get it through the house and the scope for wrecking amendments.

      Now Nick Clegg announces his MP’s will vote against boundary changes. That’s hardly a proportionate response, the same level of whipping should be applied to both parties, and if backbenchers rebel so be it. They’ve done it before over Tuition Fees, and now Lords Reform, and they’ll do it again over Boundary Changes.

      The key thing is that the coalition government, and the parties that make it up should whip their members along the lines of government policy, with ministers being sacked for voting against. To fail to do this undermines the British constitution and the principle of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet.

      If Nick Clegg fails to whip in line with the government, he’ll be the first to actually break the coalition agreement.

    • Derek Young 7th Aug '12 - 11:57am

      Charles’s analysis may be plausible, but ignores the reality that there are 245 Tory backbenchers but only 35 Lib Dem backbenchers. A rebellion of 90 Tories (joining Labour and minority parties) is enough to defeat the Government; a rebellion only of Lib Dem backbenchers is not. The threat of the sack against all Lib Dem ministers would be counter-productive because it would bring the coalition down; for all the d!ck swinging by Bernard Jenkin et al, Cameron, Osborne and the Tory leadership realise this and do not want to bring that about. Collective responsibility has to operate differently in a coalition and already does so – Ministers of different parties admit that they disagree, which you would never get in a single party government.

    • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 12:04pm

      @David Howarth
      “We should vote this down on the point of principle that it is a complete contradiction.”
      The problem is, Clegg and co. have already voted for it on the point of principle (and ignored all warnings and opposition, etc.).
      All that is left to vote for is the details of how the Boundary Commission has divided up the 600 constituencies that our MPs told them to go and make. And when that is rejected, all the Boundary Commission can go and do is divide up the 600 constituencies differently. Meanwhile we are paying people to do this.

    • Clegg’s PR approach is directly responsible for the accusations that he is unprincipled now coming from the Conservatives. If Clegg and other Lib Dem MPs had just said publicly ‘we don’t agree with every Conservative policy, but coalition is a compromise’ then not only might Clegg have avoided being seen to support measures he opposed before the election, but it would be much less difficult for him to openly admit to the decision to drop the boundary changes simply being a political expediency.

      The public are bored and sick of sophistry and politicians pretending that political decisions are based on principle rather than political necessity. Why can’t Clegg and other Lib Dems here simply be honest about the reason the boundary changes were dropped, rather than to try and retrospectively attach a ideological motivation for a political decision? The public are not stupid, they can accept the reality of politics. What they cannot accept is politicians tying themselves in knots trying to pretend that matters of self-preservation and self-interest are always grounded in the public good rather than the party-political or private good.

    • @Charles

      “If Nick Clegg fails to whip in line with the government, he’ll be the first to actually break the coalition agreement.”

      The coalition agreement when Conservative MPS, who are part of the coalition, refused to vote on a bill that is part of the government. Whether they were whipped or not is ultimately irrelevant, by making it impossible for the bill to go forward, they broke the agreement. Had a fewer number of MPs rebelled and the Lords reform bill been passed, they would not have broken the coalition agreement. The agreement is not about how the respective party’s MPs will be whipped, but what legislation will be passed. Anything else makes the whole notion of a coalition utterly pointless in theory if not in practice.

      Another point to make is that there was a provision in the coalition agreement for Lib Dem MPs to abstain on voting for an increase in tuition fees.

    • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 1:31pm

      @Rankersbo
      In April, Nick Clegg explicitly said they weren’t linked.
      Yesterday he did claim that they are “both part of a package of overall political reform”. I think he is correct (now) insofar as all of the electoral reforms are interrelated, but it really is a point he should have been making two years ago. And I am not convinced it was his position two years ago: I would welcome any quotes or links to put me right on this.

    • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 2:22pm

      @Rankersbo
      “I’m not questioning whether they are linked or not, I’m questioning the logic that says holding up HOLR isn’t a breach of the coelition agreement.”

      Conservatives and their supporters cite the wording of the coalition agreement (my emphasis):
      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.

      They argue, probably correctly in a literal sense, that the CA only obliged them to bring forward proposals, not to vote for them. They would also claim this is quite sensible: why would anybody want to commit themselves to supporting something before knowing what it is? They also argue that Lords Reform was in the same section of the CA as “the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies”, but not explicitly linked in the same way as the AV referendum.

    • Stephen Hesketh 7th Aug '12 - 7:25pm

      Yes, we agree with Nick!
      The Tories generally did their best to wreck the AV vote and now reform of the Lords. Surprise, surprise, we find many Tory back benchers to be somewhat reactionary are not in favour of giving any extended rights to the electorate.
      AV is hardly STV and seats for Bishops, 15 year terms etc is not what most Liberal Democrats (or any other sort of democrat) would regard as proper Lords reform. Forget this dog’s dinner and create a broadly based specific Lords reform coalition ASAP. And for goodness sake lets explain to the public why it matters to them so that Nick Robinson et al are unable to pass it off as just a Clegg-legacy desire.

    • @ Stephen Hesketh – well put! Hear, hear!

    • We should still try for 100% elected 2nd chamber. House of Lords reform is on all 3 parties election manifestos. If Labour chooses to vote with Tory reactionaries against reform they will have to answer to the electorate (and their own supporters).
      The boundary change program is linked to the electoral reform program, the party is correct to now vote boundary changes down on principle, as the Tories got the reform program into this mess by timing the referendum debates so the media would be tied up with the royal wedding .
      Once boundary changes are lost, then it will advance our point for the need of proportional representation at the next general election which is clearly what people really want.

    • Part of the logic of fewer Members of the Commons was that more powers would be devolved to local Councils and Regions, or had we forgotten that? If we are not having more power to Regions (or groups of councils working together) then we need more MPs rather than less, with constituencies based on communities not raw numbers.

    • Peter Watson 8th Aug '12 - 3:25pm

      @Ernest
      “The boundary change program is linked to the electoral reform program, the party is correct to now vote boundary changes down on principle”
      I’m still waiting to see evidence that Clegg et al. did publicly believe that “boundary change program is linked to the electoral reform program” before the last few days – there are plenty of quotes stating the opposite view. And they’ve already voted for the boundary changes on principle, all they can vote against now is the recommendations of an independent committee based upon the principles Lib Dems voted for.

      “We should still try for 100% elected 2nd chamber. House of Lords reform is on all 3 parties election manifestos. If Labour chooses to vote with Tory reactionaries against reform they will have to answer to the electorate (and their own supporters).”
      We could still try for the bill that was originally proposed. It passed its second reading by 462 votes to 124 (91 Tories voted against, maybe 50 abstained, 26 Labour voted against).

      On the face of it, Clegg has decided that Lib Dems should now vote against the implementation of something that they voted for in principle in retaliation for the way tories might behave in the future if he had the bottle to not give up on Lords reform.
      Did I hear someone say strong leadership? Thought not.

    • Malcolm Todd 8th Aug '12 - 4:42pm

      @jbt
      “I see this invented truth is becoming accepted canon. ”

      Well, you know what happens whilst the truth is struggling to get its trousers on…

    • Richard Heathcote 8th Aug '12 - 4:53pm

      “If the Tories are not going to deal fairly with us, then there is no incentive to pass their particular pet projects, indeed, to help them gerrymander.”

      If this is thought of as a gerrymander why on earth was it given backing at any point and not rejected for what it is. Instead I seem to remember a lot of people giving Labour a hard time for mentioning that very point.

    • Apart from the interim appointments to the House of Lords and the AV referendum, all the coalition agreement statements appear to refer to proposals and bringing forward bills, but is quiet on implementation. If anyone is to be silly about it (and some are already) you could claim all these things have been done.

      However, such stuff is futile. What matters is the overall constitutional package and what is bequeathed to the new parliament. Better no change than end up with something that is worse.

      Arguments about the size of constituencies are OK, if rather meaningless under FPTP, but arguments about seats for the Conservatives are irrelevant if they are not considered along side the effects on seats for other parties includint the Lib Dems.

      Lastly, is not Nick Clegg in charge of steering all the constitutional changes through? Surely, Cameron may urge that the boundary changes are implemented, but if the minister in charge, who happens to be leading the other side of the coalition, is not playing ball, what then? Have I missed something? This point does not seem to be considered in the press reactions (not here really).

    • Richard Heathcote – it seems that no-one with influence in the Lib Dems recognised that it was a bit of a gerrymander at the time (or if it was, it could benefit Lib Dems as a party). It was only when the specific proposals were launched and analysed – most notably by Lewis Baston, that it was realised how damaging it could be.

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