By Tim Montgomerie
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We voted for a referendum on AV and the Liberal Democrats supported the boundaries review.
Do you remember that deal?
The Lib Dems are now arguing – ever more loudly – that, actually, it's not quite so simple.
They are denying that there ever was a simple AV-for-new-boundaries deal. The AV vote and the boundaries review were both part of the Coalition Agreement and the Coalition Agreement – including, for example, Lords reform – must be observed in its entirety.
It seems that the Tory leadership has decided to press on with Lords reform. Tom Strathclyde, the Leader of the Lords, reiterated his support for an elected Upper House on Sunday. The view in Numbers 10 and 11 is that the extra twenty seats that the Conservative Party might* gain as part of equal-sized seats are worth it. Moreover, says Team Cameron, if we don't win the next election we may get an elected Lords anyway as part of a Lib/Lab deal and it will be elected in a way that is more threatening to the supremacy of the Commons than the model proposed by the Coalition.
Tory members disagree, however. In the latest ConHome poll we gave the grassroots three options.
- 23% agreed with the frontbench line that "we should accept an elected Lords in order to get the boundaries review. Without the up to 20 extra Conservative MPs that will come from equal-sized seats a majority in the Commons will be VERY difficult."
- 32%, however, said "we should reject an elected Lords as too high a price for securing changes to the boundaries and a reduction in the number of House of Commons seats".
- Members' favoured option was to bring down the Coalition if Nick Clegg insisted on connecting the two constitutional changes. 44% agreed that "if Lib Dems insist on tying Lords reform to the boundary review Cameron should find an excuse for an early election and possibly blame Liberal Democrat opposition to strong policies on immigration and Europe for that early election."
My own view is that the Conservative Party is in no position to fight an early election. It might be worth giving the Liberal Democrats the impression that an early election is a possibility but Cameron would be acting wildly out of character if he attempted to end this parliament ahead of time. I guess Clegg knows that.
* Some Tory MPs (not least those whose boundaries are changed substantially) don't think the gain will be anything like 20 especially when the loss of the 'double incumbency factor' is considered. Double incumbency benefit involves a first-term Tory MP for a former Labour seat, for example, developing his or her own personal following because of constituency profile and facing an opponent who has yet to build up a personal vote of their own. When boundaries change that double incumbency effect is confused.
1,742 Tory members took part in the poll on 28th to 30th June 2012.