The Libdems now have no choice but to kill the Boundary Review


8:58 am - August 3rd 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Telegraph reports today that David Cameron is to abandon plans to reform the House of Lords after failing to win over Conservative rebels.

They may as well have written, Pope admits Catholicism is the best path to salvation given how surprising this is. I said just a few weeks ago that Lords Reform was dead (until 2015 at least).

The question now is how Libdems retaliate. And they must, or else they’ll have no political bargaining power left whatsoever.

As the Telegraph points out:

In an email to Lib Dem activists, Mr Clegg said: “When we return in the autumn to vote on this again, we fully expect the Conservatives to deliver this crucial part of the Coalition deal – as we have delivered other Coalition policies.” David Laws, a Lib Dem MP and former Treasury minister, said the stand-off over reform could lead to a “chain reaction” which threatened the rest of the Coalition’s programme.

Will the Libdems carry through their threat? They have no choice – even lobby journalists admit as much.

If the Libdems don’t carry out the threat to kill Boundary Review, or exact a significant concession in return, they’ll have lost all leverage. It would spell pure humiliation.

The Telegraph suggests they might be offered party funding reform or more support for green energy, but that seems optimistic. The Conservatives will never agree to significant party funding reform in the way Libdems might like, nor will they significantly increase support for green energy. And both will invite more Tory backbench backlash.

And anyway, can you imagine Nick Clegg going back to his activists and saying: Hey, we lost Lords Reform but at least we got a bit more money for green energy! Woo! — Vince Cable would become a shoo-in for leader.

Nick Clegg is in a lose-lose situation but he has to flex some muscle, if only to stay as leader of his own party.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Libdems ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Killing the boundary changes means Nadine Dorries remains an MP for another 5 years.

Thus, for the good of the country, the Lib Dems should take one for the team!

“can you imagine Nick Clegg going back to his activists and saying: Hey, we lost Lords Reform but at least we got a bit more money for green energy!”

Yes.

“And anyway, can you imagine Nick Clegg going back to his activists and saying: Hey, we lost Lords Reform but at least we got a bit more money for green energy!”

He’ll probably add the personal allowance stuff to that.

I think the article’s right that boundary reform is in trouble (which is something I don’t have any great problem with – if we’re not moving away from FPTP having fewer MPs would probably make parliament even less representative).

In addition to the obstacle of consent from angry Lib Dems, although the Tories could probably count on coming out of the process ahead as a party, a certain number of Conservative turkeys would be required to vote for Christmas. I don’t think many of them are the sort of people to do that.

5. margin4error

If the lib dems to take a stand (and my instinct is that they are incapable of doing so in any meaningful way and will be bought off with some more jam tomorrow stuff from the tories) – what is really sad is just how far out of touch with the world the Lib Dems are.

That they might finally take a stand not on the economy, the environment, on liberty or the NHS – but on some technical process to change voting boundaries – is would be the most pathetic indictment of the party would it not?

“And anyway, can you imagine Nick Clegg going back to his activists and saying: Hey, we lost Lords Reform but at least we got a bit more money for green energy!”

Yes. He’ll sell it as helping British butterflies and call it the ‘pupa premium.’

Because of the boundary changes if they go through, mean that the Lib Dems will have already lost a number of their seats?

You are right. However, you miss the point that Liberal Democrats really do *believe* that coalition government is a good thing and they will do anything to keep their big idea alive. After all, they voted for tripling of tuition fees (against party policy) to keep the Coalition alive. They voted for the Health and Social Care Act which their activists rejected at the 2011 Spring Conference (and was largely unchanged by the Future Forum “pause”) to keep the Coalition alive. They’ve voted for appalling welfare and legal aid reforms and they voted for the most incompetent budget in living memory: all to keep the Coalition alive.

The LibDems don’t necessarily like the Tories or their policies, but they are obsessed with coalition government, and if they pull out of the Coalition they will show that they have admitted that coalition does not work. That will be too much for them to sustain. The boundary changes will kill the LibDem Parliamentary party, but rejecting it, and rejecting the Coalition, will destroy the national party. What a difficult life it is, forever sitting on the fence.

“That they might finally take a stand not on the economy, the environment, on liberty or the NHS – but on some technical process to change voting boundaries – is would be the most pathetic indictment of the party would it not?”

That is exactly the point – boundary changes are simply even less of an issue with the public than house of lords reform. Not only do the lib dems need to gain something from the coalition, but they need to gain something that is popular with the public, or at least a political game changer (electoral reform would have been).

8

The only reason that libdems believe that coalition is a good thing is because they know they will never be in power so being in government is a second best option.

11. margin4error

planeshift

I do wonder nowadays whether Clegg was genuinely stupid enough to think AV had wings.

I wrote when the coalittion deal was done that that was the end of electoral reform and that Clegg had sold reform down the river kknowing full well it wouldn’t happen. Only a moron, frankly, could believe that a vote immediately after alienating a large part of the reform support base (left wingers who thought a more proportional system would mean more left wing governments through inevitably left-leaning coalitions) was going to be a yes vote.

But given how little value there is for Clegg in having “won” a referendum in the coalition deal, and given how little else he has “won” on anything – one wonders if he really did believe a yes vote was possible.

If he did that speaks volumes for his political ineptitude.

Several countries in western Europe have managed to get along with a succession of coalition governments without becoming unstable – for example Germany and the Netherlands. Indeed, the prosperity of those countries might even suggest that coalition government is beneficial. Even France has managed to survive periods of “co-habitation”. Why are the British so averse to coalitions? The Blairite governments 1997-2005 were hardly a model of ideological purity and progress to be worth repeating.

Btw given the LibDem position c. 2000 on Britain joining the Euro – “a missed opportunity” as Charles Kennedy put it just before the 2005 election – IMO the LibDems need not be taken too seriously. Try: “Why Britain should join the Euro (2002)” by Richard Layard, Willem Buiter, Christopher Huhne, Will Hutton, Peter Kenen and Adair Turner.
http://cep.lse.ac.uk/layard/RL334D.pdf

13. Keith Reeder

“If he did that speaks volumes for his political ineptitude”

Or of his overweening personal ambitions – “power” at any cost, including the cost to his honour, reputation and integrity.

The LDs will have to block boundary gerrymandering anyway; they are the biggest losers from it by far, and they are going to lose most of their seats anyway. Killing this bill is the only way they are going to have their number of MPs in double figures in the next parliament. So I guess this is a better deal for them than they would like to admit.

15. margin4error

Bob

Thing is – when you have a system that works, there is a risk attached to changing it.

Yes we could end up with a two-coalition system like in Germany that just replicates the two party system we have. And that seems fairly stable and fairly decisive when it needs to be. Everyone in germany knows if they vote Liberal it is a right wing vote for a right wing coalition. Likewise if they vote Green it is a left wing vote for a left wing coalition.

But at the same time we could end up with a situation like Italy’s where coalition government has been incredibly unstable over generations and the various switching of blocks has fostered a great deal of political corruption as people are bought off with little regard for the “side” that people voted for – leading to the collapse in support for parties and the rise of new parties constantly – which fuels yet more voter confusion and thus more corruption in the formation of coalitions.

In the UK it is possible we could end up with either scenario. We have very strong large main parties in Labour and the Tories. So there are instrinctively two blocks, one left and one right. Small parties could thus gravitate to one or other – so a vote for a given small party may well prove to be a vote for a specific part of a prefered coalition like in germany.

Or, as we’ve seen with the Lib Dems, we could get the italian style confusion in which because the party alignment isn’t pre-determined, voters voterd with left wing sentiment for what turned out to be a right whing government. That diminishes voter confidence, sees the collapse of the party deemed to have betrayed their vote, and opens up the potential for parties to be bought off for forming coalitions. So that would be the Italian scenario.

Of course one could argue that even a far more corrupt system in which the public don’t really know what government their vote will support would be better than our rather un-representitive system. But that’s a pretty hard argument to make. And so the public will tend to play safe rather than risk getting something much worse (the Italian experience) in the hope of getting something better (the german experience).

16. margin4error

Keith

I tended to believe your version at the time – and I still do. I generally believe he knew full well he was scrapping any chance of electoral reform by signing the coalition deal – but that he was fine with that because it would secure his deputy prime ministership and an eventual place in the european commission.

17. Shatterface

The question now is how Libdems retaliate. And they must, or else they’ll have no political bargaining power left whatsoever.

I’m not sure that retaliation is the best basis for policy.

Labour allowed Second Reading of the Lords Reform Bill so that the fun could begin, but with a carefully organised “rebellion” tellingly representative of the general diversity of Labour MPs. There was not one real Labour rebel, i.e., a Labour vote in favour.

Labour had always intended to vote against Third Reading, on the grounds that that was signing off the final dog’s breakfast of a Bill, rather than making possible a debate, with the possibility of numerous amendments, on the original dog’s breakfast of a Bill. After a year or two of sitting back and watching the Conservatives tear themselves to shreds, Labour was always planning to vote with their last ditchers and destroy the thing at the last possible moment.

Even this “government” of dilettantes seems finally to have cottoned on, so the Bill is going to be withdrawn. What a pity. But the Lib Dems will never now accept the proposed boundary changes. For that matter, how many Conservative MPs really want them, with their requirement to fight neighbours over a single meal ticket for life where once there were two or more? No one is going to weep over the loss of either of these Bills. And does the end of the gerrymandering scheme mean that Dennis Skinner no longer has to retire in favour of a younger neighbour?

What does David Cameron have to do before he is required to resign? What, exactly?

So, if the coalition collapses, will there be an early general election? According to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a vote of no confidence dissolved parliament unless there is a subsequent vote of confidence within 14 days. So Labour and the Lib Dems would have that amount of time to do a deal.

Would they do so? Labour are ahead in the polls and would welcome an early election. OTOH, the Lib Dems wouldn’t, so would have no particular reason to force one.

20. Planeshift

“Would they do so? Labour are ahead in the polls and would welcome an early election. OTOH, the Lib Dems wouldn’t, so would have no particular reason to force one.”

This only happens once two things happen

1. Labour feel less confident of outright victory.

2. The lib dems feel that breaking the coalition is their only chance of a future

Then a series of events could be set in motion;

1. The coalition faces a big split over an issue of national economic importance. Vince Cable then resigns from the cabinet and states the only hope for the nation is the downfall of the coalition. He then publically says only a unity government with labour for at least 12 months can restore confidence. He uses inside information to bring down several ministers over a short period.

2. He then takes around 15 plus lib dem MPs to back him in a challenge against Clegg. Privately a deal is agreed with labour.

3. The coalition falls and is replaced by a miliband/cable leadership. The deal includes co-operation between the parties to make the subsequent election an anti-tory tactical vote, thus saving the lib dems from oblivion and giving labour a clear run at the tories in marginals.

Now the only way this happens is if labour stop feeling confident of victory, but the coalition also faces massive problems. I can only see one event that would lead to this happening – Scotland voting for independence in 2014.

21. Robert Eve

The Lib Dems had the AV referendum in exchange for the boundaries.

Get over it.

22. margin4error

The lib dems don’t seem to see it that way Robert.

After all, the coalition deal was a lot of stuff for a lot of stuff. Nothing was paired off. As such the Tories welching on the deal means the lib dems can now welch too.

And since they can’t Welch on stuff already gone, something the Tories really want, like a big electoral boost from redrawing boundaries, is a valuable bargaining chip for the lib dems.

Hold the bus, Clegg is still a Tory toff at heart. Sure, he joined the Lib Dems, but when his class called him, he went back to nanny. The Ruling classes have had enough of this ‘democracy’ experiment, what with constituencies they don’t control voting in ways they cannot influence. Clegg is not interested in the Lib Dems, he is more interested in destroying the last of the post War settlement. He and the ruling classes cannot do that if people like me vote people like him out at elections.

Obviously, goes without saying that a good percentage of his cult following see that supporting the Tory gerrymandering boundaries, they are signing their own death warrant.

Lib Dems should stay constant on the simple principle of Lords reform, even if that means going down fighting.

We also agreed to reduce the number of MPs and thus the boundary changes. I am not sure why – it makes our voting system even less fair, but may yet help to undermine it.

Internal divisions along with too many U turns do the most damage to a political party, especially a party of Government.
The public needs to know what we stand for.

@24

The public already know what you stand for, and they don’t appear to like it much. It also appears your former membership don’t like it much either since you managed to lose 25% in a year!

http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/5530-worrying-signs-for-lib-dems-as-uk-membership-numbers-plummet

The boundary changes were designed to stop over-representation of one particular party, given the flight from cities to the suburbs.

The LD’s are history, so it makes little difference what the rump who are left think or do.

What a hypocrite you are SH. If shelved, it will be Labour who destroyed House of Lords reform. Not only that, you wrote a piece two weeks ago supporting Labours opposition for the sake of opposition.

27. margin4error

Tory
Bit tough blaming an opposition for being the opposition. Labour didn’t destroy the finance bill cutting tax for the rich, or destroy the NHS reform bill or any other bill. So what was different about lords reform?

Or are you saying the lib dems are there to pass Tory legislation while the Tories don’t have to pass lib dem legislation as that’s labour’s responsibility?

If so I think you misunderstand what coalition government is.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19149212

As a result, he said Lib Dem MPs could not now support Conservative-driven changes to Commons boundaries in 2015.

29. margin4error

Cylux
No surprise there and seems fair to absolutely everyone. Welch on a deal and you expect to get wretched on.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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