Chris Rennard writes… Restoring balance to the Coalition

Nick Clegg’s statement dropping Lords Reform in this Parliament should come as no surprise following David Cameron’s failure to persuade barely half of his backbench MPs to support the Government’s Bill on this.

Two years ago, Conservative MPs were supporting a Queen’s Speech that made explicit the Coalition agreement to elect members of the House of Lords through Proportional Representation.

The Coalition Agreement is the contract that underwrites this government. In its name many Liberal Democrats have voted for compromises in legislation that we would not on our own have put forward.

So, the question is what to do when one side fails to honour its side of the contract?

You act swiftly and decisively, even ruthlessly, as Nick Clegg has done, to redress the balance. Hence, the boundary changes are no more.

When I challenged a Conservative Minister about the detailed operation of the boundary reviews, this was explained to me as a ‘quid pro quo’ for electing the Lords using the Lib Dem preferred system of Proportional Representation. That balanced approach to constitutional changes has now been derailed by Conservative rebels and the consequences were inevitable.

As I suggested in the Guardian last week, careful analysis shows that perhaps half the rebels may have been motivated to block a reform that could have prevented their own appointment to the Lords in the near future. Others may be willing to oppose David Cameron as recklessly as the “Maastricht rebels” undermined the last Conservative Government under John Major.

Tory rebels on Lords reform will have known what they were doing to the plans for boundary changes. Those trying to win them round in David Cameron’s ‘final push’ for Lords Reform will have discovered that some were actually motivated by blocking the boundary changes.

Nick Clegg certainly went as far as he could in being patient about when elections to the Lords might take place and allowing a substantial non-elected element to remain. These were concessions to a party whose own policy for the last decade has been in favour of Lords Reform (including at the last General Election), and whose leadership agreed the principle of electing the Lords in the Coalition Agreement and the details of it in the Bill that is now being dropped.

Many Conservatives argued against reform because they feared for the supremacy of the House of Commons. As I have argued before there is a clear link between the two reforms on this issue. Fewer MPs means the government ‘pay-roll vote’ is a bigger proportion of the Commons. Couple this with the continuation of patronage in the Lords, it would be the power of the executive, not parliament, that wins if one reform is blocked and the other passed.

Some Conservatives have argued that the Coalition Agreement does not commit them to legislate for Lords reform, merely to bring forward proposals.

It is true there is ambiguity in the wording, although there can be no doubt about the intention or spirit.

But to take the argument at face value, I hope that those Conservatives who make this argument would agree that the section on boundary changes is similarly ambiguous. As Stephen Tall has pointed out, all it committed us to was to bring forward a Bill.

The issues of Lords Reform and boundary changes will not play a significant part in the arguments at the next General Election.

The key tests for the Liberal Democrats will be difference we make in terms of economic recovery, making the tax system fairer, increasing investment in education for the youngest and the most disadvantaged, preventing a repetition of the banking scandals and making serious commitments to environmental sustainability. We will also need to ensure that peoples’ fears about what the Conservatives might have wanted to do to the NHS are not realised.

Of course, some Conservatives will be furious that it may now be harder for them to win a majority at the next election (if they can maintain their 36% of the vote). Some of them have forgotten that ‘politics is the art of compromise’ and need to be reminded that all three ‘major parties’ only enjoy minority support.

They cannot therefore expect to get all their own way and they cannot pick and choose which parts of an agreed constitutional package they will actually vote for.

* Chris Rennard is a former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. He has led for the Party in the House of Lords on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill

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  • Kevin White 6th Aug '12 - 2:58pm

    couldn’t agree more Chris. Perhaps Labour and the Tory Right would now like to get together and form their own coalition.

  • “When I challenged a Conservative Minister about the detailed operation of the boundary reviews, this was explained to me as a ‘quid pro quo’ for electing the Lords using the Lib Dem preferred system of Proportional Representation.”

    Is this an on the record quote? It doesn’t appear to be in Hansard. What’s its provenance?

  • Another sad day for the Libdems, once again our efforts to reform the Constitution have come to nought. I am not sure I can agree that removing the boundary changes is a true pro quo as clearly the whole process of changing boundaries has been fraught with difficulties. It seems abandoning the boundary changes may suit many Conservatives who are more concerned about losing their seat than the prospect of a Conservative majority. Reforming the HoL thus abandoning one more bastion of privilege is far more important

  • Ron Stafford 6th Aug '12 - 3:21pm

    Nick Clegg has done the right thing.
    Lib Dems have in the past two years been obliged to support the Tories on issues that they do not agree with.
    Such is the nature of the coalition agreement.
    This is two-way agreement and if Cameron is incapable of delivering, for whatever reasons, his side of it, then the Tory party should not expect support on issues that are close to their hearts but not particularly relevant to the Lib Dems.

    What odds now on a conservative majority in 2015? Now where is that article about Boris for Tory Leader….

  • No AV. No HoL reform. Obscene tuition fees. NHS being privatised.

    Not what I hoped a coalition would accomplish.

  • Well done Nick Clegg. The Tories were in breach of contract and there had to be consequences.

    We need to publicise as much as we can that the Tories rejected a referendum on the issue in favour of breaking the Coalition agreement. However could the reforms have not been packaged together? A single constitutional bill for boundary reviews and Lords Reform? Labour would vote against, Lib Dems for, and the Tories would then have been responsible for bringing the boundary reviews down themselves.

  • Not exactly unexpected but I’m glad Nick has made it official. Absolutely the right thing to do.

    Clegg has given notice that he will have ‘one last try’ at Lords reform in September. He has been firm about not pressing ahead with boundary changes and maybe the prospect of losing Commons seats will concentrate Tory minds.

    @ Amanda – good point, but there might be another possibility as well. If the Tory rebels refuse to change their minds, we would still have complete justification in declining to vote the boundary changes through, in which case might Labour be prepared to support the Lords bill?

  • James Sandbach 6th Aug '12 - 3:51pm

    Analogy of coalition agreement to “contract law” is misleading as the basic weakness with the structure of the coalition agreement from the start was that has/had no legal standing – an interesting (but now academic) question as had the parties involved constitional lawyers in drafting the agreement with cabinet office faciltation, the heads of agreement could have been made binding and thus judicially reviewable (eg by Supreme Court) and enforceable in policy terms as a matter of constitutional (not contractual) law

    .. so in the absence of any formal legal standing or obligation, consequently the CA is really an ongoing political horse trade subject to widely differing interpretations – except when it comes to the Gov’s legislative agenda our party has seemed to think it was “bound” to push through Welfare Reform act, Legal Aid Act, Public Bodies Act, Health Act and many more disasterous Bills which were legislative spin from the tories on how to deliver the CA’s underlying priorities on defecit reduction – not actually products or subclauses of the ageement itself..

    Lords reform has simply highlighted the extent to which lib dem faith in the Coalition Agreement as the foundational document for 5 year Government has been misplaced – there are many policies from Tory Ministers which have quite blatently flown in the face of the coalition agreement (too many to list here)…why we put so much faith and expended so much depleted political capital on delivering lords reform from undertakings in the coalition agreement beats me (ditto AV/PR) as constitutional reform has always been blood out of stone for the tories.

  • Am I the only one amused by the fact that the advert half-way down thread on reform of our deomocracy is from an organisation claiming to improve your chances of getting into the House of Lords? Is Lib Dem Voice taking paid for adverts from a lobbyist claiming to, for a fee, improve your chances of getting into the Lords really a positive argument for increasing the influence of either the House of Lords or the Lib Dems?

  • The boundary changes contained many nasty surprises. My constituency is Bradford East: this would have been shoved into a Leeds / Pudsey constituency had the changes gone through: there is a practical argument about having an MP who straddles two very different cities and how that representation works out. For that reason, I was completely against it.

    Clegg has done the right thing here anyway: Coalition agreements only work if there is trust and fair dealing between the parties. Can anyone genuinely say that the Tories have been fair or trustworthy? Allowing such a breach to go unpunished wouldn’t be “coalition”, it would be servitude. Forget it.

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 3:53pm

    Can somebody please clarify the situation on boundary changes for me, please.
    I might have this wrong, but didn’t Nick Clegg introduce the bill which called for the AV referendum and the reduction in the number of MPs to 600 (our manifesto wanted 500), but it did not include House of Lords reform. Our Liberal Democrat MPs then voted for this bill against Labour opposition. As I understand it, all that is left is to vote on the details of how the Electoral Commission has divided up the country based upon the legislation our MPs voted for because they supported the principles.
    And now they’ve changed their minds because they forgot to link it to Lords reform in the first place and didn’t actually support in isolation the principles of the bill they forced through.
    Have I missed something, or do we just look really lame here?

  • Liberal Neil 6th Aug '12 - 3:55pm

    Spot on Chris.

  • It’s a good thing. There was no huge public clamour for it and it would have further marginalised the smaller political Parties in the interest of giving the big two the illusion of majorities they don’t actually have.
    It also means that in the age of growing political pluralism the war for meaningful electoral reform is far from over.

  • If it is said that House of Lords reform is not a priority now and that voters have other issues on their minds, these issues will not be whether to reduce the number of MPs. If there are to be no elected representatives for the HoL then automatically there are fewer representatives than envisaged. If the reduction in the number of constituencies made any sense (and under FPTP, I do not think it could be sensibly achieved*), it only made sense in the context of reform to the House of Lords.

    *because the numbers actually voting for a representative would vary considerably – at least 50% for a 2 horse race, but half that with 4 or 5 candidates and parliamentary representation of political parties would be likely to be more distorted than at present. In theory I suppose that the electoral commission could come up with equitable proposals, but in practice impossible.

  • James Sandbach 6th Aug '12 - 4:19pm

    @Peter Watson. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 contains a statutory formula (numbers, equalisation etc) for outcome of the boundary review but not the detail which will be passed by regulations laid under the Act, once the boundary commission has reported – so interesting conundrum of whether our Parliamentarians can actually vote down regulations under a Bill which voted for (and indeed the DPM introduced on the floor of the House,.,

    Right now the Party urgently needs the services of a constitutional lawyer,,

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Aug '12 - 4:21pm

    According to Clegg, “Lords reform has always been two steps forward, one step back.”

    I think he may be miscounting this time.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Aug '12 - 4:23pm

    @James Sandbach
    I’m baffled by your references to constitutional law and lawyers. Do you imagine there is any legal process which can constrain a member of parliament to vote in a particular way? (Hint: answer begins with “N”.)

  • Bit curious to see how this is reconciled with remarks like “by making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut” – which is of course something Nick Clegg had to say about the boundary reform.

    If the Lib Dems will be whipping against that Bill now, does this mean the party is explicitly supporting voters’ votes having different values depending on where they live? How do you square that with commitments to equality?

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 4:33pm

    @James Sandbach
    I am sure there is no legal reason to vote against the changes that will come before parliament, but unless new legislation is passed I think the Boundary Commission is obliged to go away and keep coming back every 5 years with a new set of recommendations based upon 600 MPs.

    I am sure that plenty of quotes will come back to haunt our parliamentarians who forced the Bill through a long and fractious process. How about Clegg’s “by making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut”?

    Lib Dem MPs supported boundary changes in principle but will vote against it in practice. Lib Dem MPs opposed tuition fees in principle but voted for them in practice. I find it hard to refer to this incompetent bunch as “we” and “our“. Really, what is the point in being a Liberal Democrat any more?

  • The conservatives attitude to the CA is like a person who sells you their house, then takes all the bulbs, light fittings , doors and garden plants.

    We have (wrongly in my view) supported NHS changes, police commissioners, tuition fees and Free Schools. If Cameron cannot deliver on his side, we are now almost in confidence and supply+ territory

  • James Sandbach 6th Aug '12 - 4:40pm

    I never said there was any legal process which can constrain a member of parliament to vote in a particular way – there are however constitional frameworks which constrain Governments (and therefore parties to the Government) from acting in certain ways; of course we don’t have a written constitional code in the UK but rather “conventions”, Nearest thing to a written constitional document is Human Rights Act which legally requires all other legislation to be compatible with it..

    Our Party’s approach in the past has always been to argue for a full written constitution (ie the full doctrine of liberal constitutionalism), and to make this a bottom line bargain in negotiations over Government formation. Coalitions can get into mess without a clear constitutional framework.

  • Firstly, we shouldn’t have agreed to the reduction in MPs anyway. This was a policy created by the Tories in a knee-jerk response to the expenses issue, which firstly made no sense at all on a democratic basis and secondly – once the constituencies were drawn up – were simply idiotic geographically once you were outside the big cities.

    Secondly, the AV referendum was something offered by the Conservatives to draw the Lib Dems in. You will all remember the announcement by William Hague – up to that point, it hadn’t been part of the the discussions. Lords reform – which was in both parties’ manifestos – and the reduction in MPs had been, and from what I’ve seen it was always the case that these were linked as the quid-pro-quos.

    The AV referendum had to go in with the constituency changes. Had the referendum voted “yes” then AV would have been introduced for 2015 alongside the larger constituencies, so from an administrative point the two were tied together – that doesn’t mean that they were linked in the coalition discussions, though, and to me all the evidence from the time – news coverage and subsequent articles about the coalition – suggests that they weren’t.

  • Alison Monk 6th Aug '12 - 4:54pm

    Not a surprise that this has gone away. Much as we do need Lords Reform it does not feel much of a priority in the current economic climate and certainly does not chime with people on the doorstep. Also in Scotland the Boundary changes would lose the Lib Dems at least two MPs and possibly a third so glad it has gone away.

  • Alwyas Integrity 6th Aug '12 - 5:23pm

    I quote directly from Nick – with reference to the reduction in number and equalisation of size, of constituencies;

    ‘Together, these proposals help correct the deep unfairness in the way we hold elections in this country. Under the current set-up, votes count more in some parts of the country than others, and millions feel that their votes don’t count at all. Elections are won and lost in a small minority of seats. We have a fractured democracy, where some people’s votes count and other people’s votes don’t count.’

    Which part of the above does he no longer believe?

  • Keith, the coalition agreement itself contains this paragraph:

    “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 also, after another unrelated paragraph about recall elections, contains

    “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.”

    They don’t appear linked in the agreement!

    As to the reduction in MPs – it was Lib Dem policy too! From (an article on Lib Dem policies in 2010, of course) “Introduce single transferrable vote system, cut number of MPs by 150 and introduce fixed-term parliaments”; indeed, the cut of 150 has been watered down!

  • To Keith Legg: under PR (which was in the manifesto and I hope will continue to be so as this is for me the most important reason to vote Lib Dem) or even AV, a reduction in the number of MPs is not so absurd if more representatives are elected for the House of Lords. In fact a greater plurality of representatives would be a good thing. It would make yet more sense if local government were strengthened, but that is not on the table.

    However the proposals were or were not linked, what matters is the overall effect and without elections to the House of Lords, without a more equitable voting system a reduction of the number of constituencies would leave the UK even less democratic. No one can expect Liberal Democrats to do that. This was never put forward as a worst case scenario and would never have been accepted as such.

  • Euan – my point is that AV and boundary changes had to be linked for administrative reasons and ease. The House of Lords reform was always going to have to be a separate piece of legislation because although it comes under the banner of “reform” it’s a completely different beast. The Coalition Agreement as published reflects the outcome of the discussions between the parties – what it doesn’t necessarily reflect is the horse-trading which is an inevitable part of any coalition discussion at any level of government.

    As for the reduction in MPs – it wasn’t a key policy, and it certainly wasn’t something I supported, so I’m glad to see it dropped. As it stood in the Coalition Agreement, it didn’t make sense and would have led to MPs representing larger areas with the risk that MPs would become even more distant from areas of their constituencies. I can see Martin’s point in the context of PR and local government reform – there’s a precedent with the reduction of the number of MPs in Scotland after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament – but it’s still not something I’m hugely supportive of.

  • The LD are beginning to look ridiculous now thanks to your ‘Calamity’ Clegg leader.

    I just do not understand this.

    Firstly, there was the linking of AV referendum to the boundary changes. This led to Labour being less than enthusiastic about AV as they were warning throughout the bill’s progress.

    Secondly, there was the nonsensical, in my view, idea of reducing the number of MPs at the same time as the equalisation. The equalising of the constituency sizes was not itself that contentious – the ‘how’ was messy and seemed biased (IoW anyone?) but that could have been sorted out. I have seen no coherent reasoning for the reducing in MPs numbers rather than it makes FPTP even more unfair and it helps the Tories.

    Finally, there was the HoL reform of which the least said the better

    Now we have the LD arbitrarily no longer supporting a bill that they supported previously (and which I believe has passed into law) just because an unlinked promise has been broken. It looks petulant and self-serving. I am glad this bill has fallen but it is for the wrong reasons.

    We now have a case of the BC coming forward with a plan based on the law which one of the Government parties will reject, not because it is flawed but because of petulance. What do the BC do now, come back in 5 years time with another idea that the next Government will again reject. We will in essence have a law that says we should have 600 MPs but we are left with 650 because of useless Government.

    The only coherent thing to do is to repeal the law for 600 MPs and go back to the drawing board

    What a useless bunch!

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 6:26pm

    Here is an LDV discussion about what Clegg said in August 2010 with a link to his piece in the Evening Standard ( Nothing about the House of Lords.
    Searching this site for more references to the Boundary Commission, etc. throws up a number of things, such as the reduction in MPs numbers being linked to regional assemblies rather than an elected HoL, and a number or prescient comments by people who no longer seem to post on LDV. Here’s a couple:
    Could somebody please provide links and/or quotes that shows how back in 2010/11 the Lib Dem leadership was as adamant as it is now that reform of the House of Lords was a prerequisite for supporting the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, and then explain why they forced through the Act and waited 18 months before attempting to move forwards with HoL reform.
    The words with which I’d love to describe Clegg and our MPs on this and so many other issues would keep this post in moderation until eternity, so I shall resist the temptation.

  • Interesting that Clegg first blames Labour for a government bill failing….

    If a bill needs opposition support then common sense means that the opposition will demand something in return. It is no good Clegg stating that he asked how much time Labour wanted in the programme motion. He knows that that was not the point. I also took the time to look at how often he voted against program motions when in opposition, he knows that they are rarely about the motion itself. My understanding is that Labour wanted a higher proportion elected and a referendum. Unless we can see evidence to the contrary he never offered either to them. It could not even be said that there was an objection in principle to a referendum as he went on to offer one to the Tories.

    I’m beginning to think that, like some of the Tory MP’s and many more Labour ones, Clegg had a different goal, that of halting the boundary changes that would have a negative impact on MP numbers after 2015. If so he has played a blinder, if not then his tactics on Lords reform were all wrong. As soon as it was clear boundary changes were in play both those Tories affected and Labour in general had more reason to see the measures fail…

    The big trouble is that Labour were not publically tested. If they had been publically offered the referendum and still refused to play ball then Clegg would have been the winner. They can now say that they managed some reforms (albeit in my view pathetic halfhearted) when the Lib Dems failed to do so, and failed to negotiate with them when the Tories let them down.

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 7:27pm

    Flushed with success that my post made it through, wasn’t there talk recently of making it a criminal offence to lie to a parliamentary committee?

  • Steve Way

    If you are correct then Clegg is a true Machiavelli. Equally, it would also make him unfit to be the leader of the LD party and would immediately stop the ‘holier than thou’ attitude we see far too often on these boards when comparing with the two main parties.

    I just think he is rubbish though

  • Tony Dawson 6th Aug '12 - 9:14pm

    The trouble with a Coalition based upon horse trading becomes worse when you realise that the Marshall’s posse is full of rotten rustlers.

  • Paul Haydon 6th Aug '12 - 9:37pm

    @Bazzasc “Just because an unlinked promise has been broken” It was not an unlinked promise-it was in the Coalition agreement. Coalition was meant to be based on a single legislative programme, not a series of quid pro pro swaps.

  • For most of my lifetime the most objectionable aspect of the HoL was its hereditary nature. It was actually the Labour Party that finally ended that situation. In my opinion that put right 80% of what was wrong with our second chamber. Superficially it is difficult to disagree with the argument that a democratically elected HoL is preferable to an appointed one, however I have genuine concerns about the extra legitimacy that an elected 2nd Chamber would soon start claiming for itself. On balance I think that the scrutiny function of the HoL is worth retaining but I am not sure that another directly-elected, party political chamber is the most effective way of exercising that function.

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 10:28pm

    I think my earlier post(s) quoting Nick Clegg’s statement to a parliamentary committee have disappeared, but I’ll try again.
    How does Clegg reconcile today’s statement with a very direct reply to a very direct question in April:
    “Mrs Laing: Therefore, is it the case that the reports that your party’s support for further progress on boundaries legislation is dependent upon progress on House of Lords reform legislation are wrong?
    Nick Clegg: Of course, there is no reliance on our support for a Coalition Agreement commitment for progress on unrelated or other significant parallel constitutional formations. I have said that. There is no link; of course, there is no link.”

  • What a facile argument. There is no link between Lords Reform and boundary changes, except that the latter is what Clegg has chosen to ditch in retaliation. His absolute right, imo. It is revealing that he chose to retaliate with insignificant boundaries, rather than blocking, say, the destruction of public, locally accountable education or health services. I will remain a member, bu may well abstain at the next election if he is still leader.

  • Chris Rennard 6th Aug '12 - 11:38pm

    I am sure that there are some angry Conservatives here….they will know why David Cameron was so angry with his MPs who wouldn’t back him on Lords Reform….Jesse Norman confronted in the Commons chamber and forced to leave the Palace of Westminster. Anger was not about Lords reform but about the consequences of blocking it of which he and they were well aware….

  • Peter Watson 6th Aug '12 - 11:51pm

    @Chris Rennard
    In February 2011 you posted here on LibDemVoice (
    “Of course, the referendum on electoral reform only came about in return for Lib Dem support for a fundamental review of constituency boundaries. Labour strongly opposed the plan to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. But with over 300 more directly elected full-time parliamentarians in the Scottish Parliament, the European Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Greater London Authority and the Northern Ireland Assembly than we had only a few decades ago it is harder to justify the figure of 650 MPs. In any event, I doubt if Labour will seriously want to go in to the next General Election as the only major party promising that “if you vote for us we will give you 50 more MPs”.”
    You also added, “Much of the recent parliamentary battle was in my view based on a massive misapprehension by both the Conservative and Labour Parties about the likely consequences of the new review of constituency boundaries. ”
    There was no mention of Lords reform or any quid pro quo apart from the AV referendum.
    Having trawled through various bits of LibDemVoice today, I’d like to tip my hat to Steve Way who was commenting back then on this issue and is still here to see what is happening today.
    Wonder if this post will survive the regular cull on this thread …

  • Paul McKeown 7th Aug '12 - 1:56am

    I would suggest that, as many of the Tory rebels were more concerned to stop the boundary changes for personal reasons than for any other consideration, Nick Clegg ought to find a piece of legislation to drop that Tory backbenchers will find much less palatable to do without.

  • On matters of electoral reform there has to be a bottom line: the Lib Dems must not leave the electoral system in a less democratic, less equitable and less representative state than it was before they entered into government. This has to be the priority consideration.

    Fewer constituencies with attendant boundary changes, in the absence of other changes, are very likely to make this the case.

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 10:07am

    I agree that the House of Commons must not be weakened in the absence of more proportional representation within it and without an elected element in the House of Lords.
    But I despair at the way we have ended up in this situation.
    Regardless of the coalition agreement, the original bill (introduced to parliament by Clegg and supported by our MPs) did not make an explicit link to Lords reform. Clegg and our MPs argued and voted against those who opposed the ‘constituencies’ part of the bill, or who wanted to reduce the size of cabinet within the commons. Clegg and others argued separately for the virtues of a fairer allocation of constituencies and for the cost savings associated with fewer MPs. Clegg even told a parliamentary committee that there was no link between Lords Reform and Lib Dem support for the other changes. And just how likely was a result to be achieved by the recent behind-the-scenes discussions at a time when parliament is in recess, MPs are on holiday, and the world is watching the Olympics? The timing of the announcement merely seems to be a crude attempt at news management, not the result of hard-fought negotiation.
    It is these displays of a leadership and parliamentary party lacking in competence and principles that makes the current position of our party look so appalling.

  • Could anyone tell me, why a rebellion of slightly under 30% of Tory MPs (Lords reform) results in accusations of “one side fails to honour its side of the contract” and tit for tat threats to oppose other, unrelated legislation… yet a rebellion of slightly more than 35% of Lib Dem MPs (tuition fees) did not?

  • @Euan
    The Lib Dem rebels(who I had complete agreement with) were not enough to stop the Government programme being completed. The Tory rebels meant that for the Bill to succeed it needed opposition support. Clearly therefore the Tory rebellion is the more significant.

  • I agree with the ‘retaliation’ but for different reasons.. The process of electoral and democratic reform needs to start with getting the voting system right, then determining what positions will be elected, before you then look at the electorate and then the constituencies. The voting system changes were blocked, we have accepted elected mayors and police commissioners, the next step was the Lords. You can’t skip that one and move on down the list, to boundary changes, votes at 16, votes for prisoners, etc…. with any constitutional Bill being scrutinised by an unconstitutional Lords, it would make no sense atall.
    The next step for Clegg is to start work on our manifesto for 2015, with each component being publicised on a regular drip feed to the public. By 2015 they will have no doubt what we stand for, and we can start with our policies for creating Democracy UK. A shopping list in order of introduction, set firmly in place so that if we are not able to form the next Government then the other parties will know who and what they are dealing with.
    a) voting reform
    b) Lords reform
    c) votes at 16
    d) votes for all
    e) election funding reform
    f) boundary changes based on communities
    – and alongside all of this must come the reforms to be recommended by Leveson, to stop the interference in our democratic process of the vested interests of the media and the betting world.

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 10:22am

    ” yet a rebellion of slightly more than 35% of Lib Dem MPs (tuition fees) did not”
    I believe the coalition agreement explicitly gave Lib Dems permission to abstain on the issue.
    Though to be honest I lost even more respect for those who did so than those who voted for the tuition fees. After all, abstention was still breaking the pre-election pledge but without the courage or integrity to take any position at all.

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 11:03am

    At the time of the CA, Lord Browne had not published his report so the relevant wording is, “If the response of the government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 11:05am

    But let’s not get started on tuition fees again.
    I’m depressed enough by the latest chapter of u-turns and “we said this but meant that … “.

  • @Peter – “I believe the coalition agreement explicitly gave Lib Dems permission to abstain on the issue.” and later “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”

    But we’re not talking about the five Lib Dem MPs who abstained per the agreement – I’m pointing to the 21 who actively voted against!

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 1:21pm

    I forgot the numbers, but I certainly don’t disagree with you on the principle. Arguably the first – maybe only – clear breach of the coalition agreement was by the Lib Dem MPs who honoured their pre-election pledge to vote against increasing tuition fees, and I don’t support justifying it on the grounds that it made no difference to the outcome or that the numbers were smaller because we are the junior party. I would be the last person to argue that an agreement cobbled together quickly after the election should supercede promises made to the electorate in the full-glare of public debate and scrutiny. And while I disagree with the tory MPs, if they voted and acted in the interests of their constituents and consistently with their publicly-held positions, then I respect their right to do so. I only wish our own MPs had done the same on so many issues.

  • Peter Watson 7th Aug '12 - 3:51pm

    @Dave Page
    Strictly speaking they didn’t get the opportunity to vote for or against the programme motion. The government withdrew it because it could not find enough MPs from its own majority benches to vote for it in the expectation that the opposition would vote against.

    Labour backed the bill (unlike the tory rebels) and I am not aware that there was any expectation that Labour would fillibuster without a programme motion: I thought that was what we expected the tories to do. From a party political perspective, I’m sure that Labour would have been just as happy to see splits within the tory ranks as it would between the coalition partners.

    Many of us on this site want democratic reform of the House of Lords, but it is apparent that there is a range of opinions on the details, especially the proportion of elected and appointed representatives, the frequency and nature of any elections, etc. I would welcome any links or information about Labour’s input into the Bill that was presented to Parliament. If they had a lot of influence in shaping it, then I would agree that they were playing games with voting. However, if the Bill was presented to them as a done-deal, then I have a lot of sympathy for them wanting to debate the detail in parliament (and needing the time to do so properly) and wanting to uphold a manifesto commitment to a referendum on the issue.

  • Paul McKeown 8th Aug '12 - 11:51pm


    “Agreed Paul, the fact that the advantage from the changes is not as big as previously assumed, as well as the delight from many Tory MP’s under threat from the changes, makes this a poor target for it will not produce a sting likely to spur future compliance.”

    Don’t be agreeing with me at all, my dear girl!

    I’m saying that not only should the constituency boundary changes be dropped, as they don’t suit the Liberal Democrats, I’m saying that AS WELL AS THAT, that something that the Conservative backbenchers don’t want to see dropped, should be dropped. No point rewarding the beggars for their ill faith, hit them where it hurts. Let the Tory Irreconcilables face a General Election if they object, or see the rest of the Parliament out with Ed M as Prime M.

    Time to call their bluff. All mouth, no chips.

  • Paul McKeown 9th Aug '12 - 1:38pm


    This is the whole thing isn’t it? The Tory backbenchers and their fanbois in the press have the idea that the Lib Dem MPs won’t stand up to them, so they can demand anything they want in the expectation of getting it. Easy to fix.

  • Peter Watson 10th Aug '12 - 9:34am

    @Paul McKeown
    “The Tory backbenchers and their fanbois in the press have the idea that the Lib Dem MPs won’t stand up to them”
    Whatever could have given them that idea?

  • Peter Watson 10th Aug '12 - 10:18am

    Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, enthusiastically supporting the boundary change measures in the first place was the big mistake. Whatever the party does now it is doomed to look weak and unprincipled.
    Even withdrawing support is complicated because the damage is done and the Boundary Commission is forced to work with 600 seats until the legislation is changed, so simply voting repeatedly against the detailed implementation of something we enthusiastically imposed in the first place is a silly option that makes us look like sulky toddlers. Hence, all that Clegg has done is “press the pause button”.
    The party needs to find the least bad way forward. That might simply be to insist the whole thing is dropped if that minimises the risk of losing our seats. It might be that we link it to the tories giving us something else, no matter how unrelated, but then we look manipulative and unprincipled. It might be that we press the pause button again and let the measures quietly proceed anyway, but then we look like, well, the way we’ve looked for the last two years.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '12 - 2:48pm

    @judy beatrix

    You are a Conservative supporter, no harm in that, and one who would like to influence the LDs to follow a Conservative line, with an appeal to a perceived 19th century laissez faire economics. Fair enough. It does rather prompt one to take your advice with a barrow load of salt, though, when it concerns what the LDs should do when they have been shafted once more by the Tories, particularly when it comes down to “Oh don’t do it, don’t make it more difficult for the Tories to gain seats in an election”. LOL.

  • Peter Watson 10th Aug '12 - 3:32pm

    @Paul McKeown
    I don’t think we’ve been “shafted once more by the Tories”. Our current situation is pretty much self-inflicted; the result of some pretty inept leadership since May 2010. More cock-up than stitch-up.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Aug '12 - 4:13pm

    @Peter Watson
    “Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, enthusiastically supporting the boundary change measures in the first place was the big mistake. ”
    Oh god, that sounds awfully familiar — conscious irony? “We know we’re going against what we said before, but you can’t blame us for that, because we shouldn’t have said it in the first place.” Perhaps that should do as complete text of the next manifesto. 😥

  • Peter Watson 10th Aug '12 - 4:31pm

    @Malcolm Todd
    We might be safest if the next manifesto is blank.
    Or just say, “It’s complicated.”.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '12 - 8:57pm

    “sandal wearing crowd”

    The old stereotypes die hard.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '12 - 9:41pm

    @Judy B

    I don’t generally call Tories “wicked”, only the Bufton Tuftons and the wreckers. I am happy enough to see the Lib Dems in coalition with them, I just don’t want to see the Lib Dem MPs allowing themselves to be made scapegoats for unpopular Tory policies or allowing the Tories to escape from their commitments scot free. The Conservative parliamentary party freely entered into this bargain, they must accept responsibility for their several acts of ill faith. If the Lib Dems were to fail yet again to react strongly in response to broken commitments, then they would be making themselves hopeless fools in the eyes of the wreckers (who would demand further concessions), their own party and its wider support and the general public. As it is, the general public clearly lay the blame for this mess at the door of the Conservative backbenchers, and are hardly likely to think badly of the Lib Dems for hitting back hard.

    Frankly, I don’t like the philosophy or generally cynical ways of either the Labour or the Conservative parties, but I do like many individual MPs of both, and am happy to see the Lib Dems work with either or both. I don’t, however, like to see the Lib Dems looking like simple saps in their eagerness to show their own good faith.

    I certainly don’t see the need for the Lib Dems to “replace Labour as the left-of-centre alternative to Tory politics”. I think Labour has its natural constituency and I don’t see the views of those voters as being a good fit for the LDs brand of liberalism. Actually its a foolish mission from which none will return. Let Labour have its voters, let the Conservatives have theirs.

    The Lib Dems need a clearer definition of what they are about and then they must connect better with those voters who think the same way. They must also continue to press for equal votes for all, however hopeless that task might currently seem. Letting the Tories pull one over Labour is no part of that and the Lib Dems should remain aloof from such absurd exercises, especially when the Conservative leadership has failed to fulfil its side of the bargain by which it sought support from the Lib Dems in that absurd exercise.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '12 - 10:29pm

    “In an adversarial system the Lib-Dem’s need to do more than be the squeezed middle, they need to define a pole in british politics.”

    There is no point in the Lib Dems replacing Labour “as the left-of-centre alternative to Tory politics” as you put it. To take Labour’s committed core voters would require the Lib Dems to become a clone of Labour, futile. It is quite possible to appeal to floating voters and to disillusioned voters with leanings to either Labour or Conservative, without replacing either. The Lib Dems are distinct and shouldn’t attempt to adopt the clothing of either of their bigger rivals, but should certainly clarify their message and renew it where necessary.

    To permanently change politics it needs perhaps one hundred MPs, sufficient to be guaranteed to prevent either of its bigger rivals from forming a majority on their own, probably for three consecutive parliaments, in order to break down resistance to reform of the electoral system. That’s the task, certainly not one of aping another party.

    Establishing credibility is part of that – and displays of weakness only serve to undermine that credibility.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '12 - 10:43pm

    And frankly, JB, if you were entirely ruthless about the matter, which of the two parties, Labour or Conservative would you choose to pick of as a third party?

    Clearly Labour is stronger, with a much more clearly defined and loyal constituency than the Conservatives, and this has been the case since the mid ’90s. The Conservatives are rather in the place that Labour was in in the ’70s and ’80s, too many factions, lots of infighting, indiscipline and internecine blood-letting. It is rather further from the centre ground of British politics than its main rival. So clearly a cynical third party which wished merely to surplant one of its two larger rivals would target the Conservatives.

    I don’t see the Lib Dems as wanting to do anything as entirely pointless, though.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Aug '12 - 1:04am

    “i simply have no use for socialism”

    Socialism is just a word; it means a million different things to a million different people. The fact is that Britain’s three largest political parties all accept the need for extensive levels of social provision within a thriving market based economy, they just place slightly different emphases on the importance of one above the other. The fact that voters can float bears witness to the existence of such a political settlement. Much of the noise in British politics is the narcissism of small differences. Whatever you might think and whatever the Conservative party – or its opponents – might say, it accepts a considerable degree of “socialism”.

    “so i would be happy with a sane left-wing and a useful right-wing”

    Perhaps it might be better the other way around, a sane right-wing and useful left-wing? Reading Conservative Home, or the Mail or the Telegraph, one might question the sanity of large parts of the British right wing, and considering the present economic wreck that has been left to this government one might question the utility of the British left wing!

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