By Peter Hoskin
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One of the most curious aspects of this latest intra-Coalition spat is David Cameron’s decision to take the boundary changes to a vote. On the surface, this could cause all sorts of agony for him. With the Lib Dems opposing the changes, and the minor parties unlikely to be persuaded in their favour in sufficient quantity, the vote will almost certainly be lost. And, what’s more, it could provide us with a new emblem of Coalition dysfunction: Lib Dem ministers lining up with Labour MPs to defeat the proposals, and then keeping their jobs afterwards.
So why is the Prime Minister doing it? The official explanation is that No.10 is fighting the good fight, and still thinks it can prevail. And that must be predicated on the idea that the minor parties (and others?) can actually be swayed in the heat of Parliamentary debate, or perhaps — more intriguingly — that another grand bargain can be struck with the Lib Dems. Both of these seem like distant possibilities, but that’s probably just how it is: Mr Cameron recognises how important these boundary changes are to the Conservative cause, so he’s willing to take chances.
But there is a more sinister theory scratching around in my head, one that fits in more with the Coalition’s current mood. And that theory goes like this: Mr Cameron knows he’s going to lose, but he wouldn’t mind seeing the Lib Dems align themselves with Labour against these boundary changes anyway. After all, both Coalition parties are itching to differentiate themselves from each other as the next election approaches — and this could be sold as Nick Clegg & Co. standing in the way of a bid to reduce the number of MPs, a policy that was mentioned, almost pledged outright, in the Lib Dem manifesto. In that way, pushing ahead with the vote would be a form of revenge. It would sour the situation further, but it would be revenge.
Like I say, it’s just a theory — a weird, improbable theory. But I just thought I’d commit it to my keyboard for your consideration.