The drama which unfolded on Tuesday seems like an age ago. Before the events which took place are consigned to the annals of Hansard, however, it is worth noting the implications for the Liberal Democrat party and the long term future of the coalition.
It has been reported that the only Bill Nick Clegg asked to be included in the Queen’s Speech was Lords reform.
Nick Clegg is aware that with only fifty seven seats in Parliament and a large percentage of those who voted LibDem in the 2010 election transferring to Labour and Conservatives, he has to pull a rabbit out of the hat to prevent his party from slipping into oblivion.
Lords reform is that rabbit.
Leading up to last weekend, it became apparent how opposed Conservative MPs were to the proposed Bill and we saw panic set in the LibDem ranks, as the manifestation of how important Lords reform is to Nick Clegg’s party unfolded before our eyes.
Richard Reeves, chief strategist to Nick Clegg, wrote in the Independent that without Lords reform, the LibDems would not vote for boundary changes (changes which would cost the Lib Dems 7 to 10 MPs). David Laws went straight out onto the airwaves to deny this and then on Monday’s Newsnight, Jeremy Browne, gave the very clear impression that what Richard Reeves had said was indeed correct.
Typical LibDems – when in doubt, mislead.
Along with political blackmail, they also deployed two smoke and mirrors tactics. The first being that Lords reform was in the Coalition Agreement. This made Conservative MPs very angry indeed. There is no commitment to bring before the House a Bill which elects Senators by PR for an unaccountable fifteen year term. The second was to give the impression that the original agreement had been that they would agree to boundary changes, in exchange for Lords reform. This was also untrue. The deal was a referendum on AV, which they were given and lost, in exchange for boundary changes.
Even the most Cameroon and loyal of Conservative MPs, could not stomach the impact that a wholly elected Lords, or Senate, would have on the future of the Conservative party.
It is inconceivable that it would be possible to maintain first-past-the-post elections for the Commons when the new second chamber, the Senate, just across the Lobby, is elected by PR.
The final rebellion on Tuesday was against second reading and stood at 91 MPs, however, second reading was always going to pass as it had Labour party support.
It is safe to assume that in order for No10 to withdraw the programme motion vote earlier in the day, which would dictate how much time was spent discussing the Bill, the rebellion was potentially much larger.
So, what happens now? David Cameron is going to try and persuade some of the rebels to agree to a partial number of elected Lords. He has missed the point that for many of us, this is an issue of principle. He is highly unlikely to succeed.
Given that second reading has passed, the bill should now come to committee stage on the floor of the House whereby MPs will lay down amendments. One of those amendments will undoubtedly be for there to be a referendum on the issue. Let the people decide, not Parliament.
This amendment will pass with overwhelming support from all sides of the House.
This is something the Liberal Democrats don’t want. They lost the AV vote heavily. The public have said they don’t want elected Mayors in nine major cities and when asked the question – would they like another 450 paid politicians? they may say no.
This result would kill the issue of Lords reform, stone dead for a generation.
Therefore, will the LibDems allow the Bill to come before the House and risk this scenario?
Unlikely. They no longer have a rabbit.
The best they can do now is accept that all they can take away from this coalition is to go down in history as having governed in coalition for five years, even though it will wipe out their party in the process, oh, and in the meantime we Conservatives can say goodbye to boundary changes. Each Liberal Democrat seat takes twenty five years to win. There is no way they are going to throw seats away without getting something in return to guarantee there will be LibDem bums on seats in at least one House in Parliament.
From here on in, the relationship between our two parties will be strained and a lesson may be about to begin in how coalition governments achieve very little and often end in tears.
The coalition will run until 2015 as neither parties have anywhere else to go, that and the fact that one important joint objective remains, deficit reduction. That will be the glue that binds us. Just.