Q: What links the AV referendum, boundary changes & Lords reform? A: The Coalition Agreement

by Stephen Tall on March 15, 2012

It appears the Tories are attempting a sneaky re-write of some very recent, and well-documented, history. What prompts me to say this? Let’s look at the FT’s Kiran Stacey’s report of Nick Clegg’s feisty performance at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

[Peter Lilley] asked why he was so focused on House of Lords reform when there were so many other more important issues to tackle. Clegg’s response was very telling:

There are other issues like changing the boundaries which I know are close to his party’s heart…

The Tories will absolutely hate that. They say the original agreement between the two parties was that they would agree to an AV referendum if the Lib Dems agreed to change constituency boundaries in a way that would benefit the Conservatives. Now the AV referendum has been lost, they complain, Clegg is trying to make supporting the boundary changes contingent on the Tories backing House of Lords reform (which many do not like at all).

As I noted in the comments to Kiron’s post, though, Tory ‘backwoodsmen’ are backsliding from the original agreement: The Coalition Agreement. Here’s why:

First, the Lib Dems agreed to change constituency boundaries not to ‘benefit the Tories’ but (1) to equalise constituency sizes to ensure each individual’s vote is worth more or less the same no matter where they live (whether in dense inner-city or sprawling countryside), and (2) to reduce the size of the House of Commons, something which has been Lib Dem policy for years.

Secondly, the original agreement is the Coalition Agreement — and that provides for an AV referendum AND a change of consitituency boundaries AND House of Lords reform. All 3 were and are individually integral parts of the Coalition Agreement signed up to by both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

Thirdly, House of Lords reform was in both parties’ manifestos too, however much Tory MPs might resent the fact now.

The Tories may well ‘hate all that’. But it’s there in black-and-white, in the Coalition Agreement. If they’ve got complaints now, they’re best pursued with the Tory leadership which signed it on their behalf, not Nick Clegg.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.