By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
The Telegraph is reporting this morning that David Cameron is to abandon the Coalition's plans for an elected House of Lords. The Prime Minister had hoped that the reform could be salvaged by some sort of compromise deal with the 91 Tory rebels. One suggestion had been that the remnant of hereditary peers could be elected but the dissenting Tory MPs remain resolute in their opposition. They want nothing that will challenge the primacy of the House of Commons.
If the Liberal Democrats don't get Lords reform there seems little hope for boundaries reform. Tory MPs will be furious. They supported a referendum on AV on the understanding that the Liberal Democrats would support the boundary review. Since then, however, the Lib Dems have successfully linked delivery of an elected Lords with the boundary issue even though Tories could complain that the Coalition Agreement only committed to proposals for an elected Lords, not certain action. One Tory MP told me that "Clegg has outfoxed Cameron".
Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street were counting on the introduction of equally-sized constituencies to overcome some of the intrinsic anti-Tory disavantage in Britain's electoral system. Conservatives need a 10.5% lead to win an outright majority on existing boundaries but a much more modest 7.6% on what had been expected to be the new, fairer boundaries. Winning the next election has just got a whole lot harder. The only upside is that Cameron and Osborne may now be forced to consider game changing shifts of strategy and tactics.
If The Telegraph is right and Lords reform is gone it leaves a hole in the Coalition's legislative programme. John Redwood blogs that that hole should be filled with a Coalitious Great Repeal Bill which would restore civil liberties and cut red tape. I would hope that the Coalition might pick up the David Steel bill and its ideas for addressing some of the Upper House's weaknesses. Lord Steel had proposed a retirement scheme for ageing peers, an independent appointments system and expulsion of convicted peers*. Unbelievably Nick Clegg only recently met Lord Steel for talks about the Lords. The Deputy PM never bothered to consult his predecessor as Lib Dem leader when he was attempting to introduce senators elected to hugely unaccountable fifteen year terms.
* Lord Hanningfield who was jailed for nine months for abuse of expenses has said that peers jailed for a year should be expelled from the Upper House.
10.45am: Nathan Gamester reports that the Coalition HAS accepted the Steel Bill.