Q: What links the AV referendum, boundary changes & Lords reform? A: The Coalition Agreement

It appears the Tories are attempting a sneaky re-write of some very recent, and well-documented, history. What prompts me to say this? Let’s look at the FT’s Kiran Stacey’s report of Nick Clegg’s feisty performance at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

[Peter Lilley] asked why he was so focused on House of Lords reform when there were so many other more important issues to tackle. Clegg’s response was very telling:

There are other issues like changing the boundaries which I know are close to his party’s heart…

The Tories will absolutely hate that. They say the original agreement between the two parties was that they would agree to an AV referendum if the Lib Dems agreed to change constituency boundaries in a way that would benefit the Conservatives. Now the AV referendum has been lost, they complain, Clegg is trying to make supporting the boundary changes contingent on the Tories backing House of Lords reform (which many do not like at all).

As I noted in the comments to Kiron’s post, though, Tory ‘backwoodsmen’ are backsliding from the original agreement: The Coalition Agreement. Here’s why:

First, the Lib Dems agreed to change constituency boundaries not to ‘benefit the Tories’ but (1) to equalise constituency sizes to ensure each individual’s vote is worth more or less the same no matter where they live (whether in dense inner-city or sprawling countryside), and (2) to reduce the size of the House of Commons, something which has been Lib Dem policy for years.

Secondly, the original agreement is the Coalition Agreement — and that provides for an AV referendum AND a change of consitituency boundaries AND House of Lords reform. All 3 were and are individually integral parts of the Coalition Agreement signed up to by both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

Thirdly, House of Lords reform was in both parties’ manifestos too, however much Tory MPs might resent the fact now.

The Tories may well ‘hate all that’. But it’s there in black-and-white, in the Coalition Agreement. If they’ve got complaints now, they’re best pursued with the Tory leadership which signed it on their behalf, not Nick Clegg.

* 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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6 Comments

  • I could never understand why boundary review was not clearly linked to a yes vote on AV. Might not have affected the outcome, but it would have given the public a clear rationale for voting for AV

  • Stephen, I think the idea of reducing the size of the HoC has been around for quite a while in Lib Dem leaders’ pronouncements for quite a while, but it is somewhere in my memory that it has always struggled as an idea to gain popularity in Lib Dem circles. This is for various reasons, but important among them that being a much more active campaigning party than Tories or Labour, our MPs collect an enormous amount of casework, and the salience of that direct link between representative and elector (rather than a big group of amorphous admin people). IIRC, Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown have been the two leaders given to sounding off about reducing MP numbers most vociferously.

  • LondonLiberal 15th Mar '12 - 1:04pm

    Extremely well said Stephen, hear hear.

  • Don Lawrence 15th Mar '12 - 3:52pm

    What links the AV referendum, boundary changes & Lords reform? A: The Coalition Agreement

    AV referendum, disaster for the Lib Dems;
    Boundary changes, bad for the Lib Dems;
    The Coalition Agreement, bad for the Lib Dems;
    Lords reform? Soon to be portrayed as a last resting place for lost Lib Dems?

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th Mar '12 - 10:52pm

    “Secondly, the original agreement is the Coalition Agreement — and that provides for an AV referendum AND a change of consitituency boundaries AND House of Lords reform. All 3 were and are individually integral parts of the Coalition Agreement ”

    The first two certainly were, but the coalition agreement is not nearly so clear cut on HoL reform. What it actually says is :-

    “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.”

    Establishing a committee is not the same as a guarantee of reform, or even a guarantee of a vote on reform.

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Mar '12 - 11:11pm

    The Coalition agreement also said no subsidy of nuclear energy, that Lib Dem ministers could abstain on tuition fees and no top down reorganisation of the NHS. It is at best a quaint document.

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