++ Clegg to announce Lords reform sunk; Tory rebels defeat Cameron; first breach of Coalition Agreement.

by Stephen Tall on August 3, 2012

The Guardian reports tonight:

Nick Clegg is expected to announce next week he has been forced to abandon Lords reform in the face of implacable Conservative backbench opposition that David Cameron has been unable to overcome. … Clegg has to decide whether to respond to the Lords rebuff by insisting legislation designed to cut the number of MPs to 600 should be abandoned. The change is being promoted by Cameron as a way of cutting the cost of politics and equalising the electoral size of constituencies.

Lord Rennard, the Liberal Democrat peer and former party chief executive, denied the reverse on Lords reform would threaten the coalition’s existence, but said the case for reducing boundaries had been weakened. Writing on the Guardian website, he suggests: “If the Lords is not to be given more legitimacy, then the case for reducing the number of MPs (and increasing the proportion of the payroll vote in the Commons) will also be weakened.” …

It was being stressed by Lib Dems that they had stuck to their guns in negotiations with Cameron and refused to accept a diluted alternative such as reducing the number of hereditary peers.

Lib Dem sources underscored the importance of Cameron’s failure to deliver, saying it would be the first time the two parties had totally failed to implement a central commitment of the coalition agreement.

David Laws, the former Treasury chief secretary, has already said there would be a chain reaction if Lords reform was not delivered by Cameron.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. Though the Tories have been publicly committed to Lords reform for the past three elections, it is clear few of their MPs share their leader’s view.

Meanwhile, Labour — who have been officially committed to Lords reform for decades but consistently failed to vote for it, whether in government or opposition — have, inevitably if perversely, preferred watching the Coalition squirm rather than trying to drive a wedge between the two parties while securing progressive reform.

This is the first time either one of the Coalition parties has blocked a key policy within the Coalition Agreement. David Laws’ warning of a ‘chain reaction’ is real. The Coalition won’t fall as a result of Lords reform ending, as I explained here. But it is likely now to become more transactional, with Lib Dem MPs able to turn around and tell Tory MPs “You started it” if there are any Coalition Agreement measures they now wish to vote against.

That will be entirely understandable. But it won’t make for good government, and it won’t do anything for the reputation of pluralist politics either.

This is a critical time both for the Government and the Lib Dems. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it is crucial we re-boot and find a common cause we can unite behind in the weeks and months ahead. We must now re-focus on the economy, reforming capitalism to work for the people, and providing effective economic leadership for the rest of this parliament.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.