The Lib Dems are sending warning noises. They are telling Conservatives that Conservative MPs have to vote for their House of Lords reform if we are to have their continued support for reducing the Commons to 600 seats as proposed and promised. Some are hinting that if Conservatives do not support them on Tuesday they will want to walk away from the Coalition.
This is proving counter productive with some Conservative MPs. They argue that given the current state of the polls the Lib Dems are not going to want an early election. Conservative MPs remember the agreement to give the Lib Dems a referendum on the AV voting system in return for agreement to cut the number of MPs. Conservatives delivered on that promise. The 2010 in take of Conservative MPs are tiring of whips’ threats if they fail to get into line on government votes. They take even stronger exception if the Lib Dems use the same arguments as the whips, but do it in public.
The rebellion planned for tomorrow night is a rebellion led by and planned by the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs. Jesse Norman and Nadhim Zahawi have set out a clear case against the current Lords reform proposals and have kept pressure up on the government throughout the planning stages of this measure, warning them of the strong Conservative opposition to it. The Bill should pass its second reading easily because Labour, of course, are on the side of the Coalition government. Whether the guillotine motion to limit debate also passes is more doubtful, as presumably Labour will be with the Conservative rebels on that motion.
I do not expect this vote to end the Coalition. I do expect the Bill for Lords reform to have a troubled passage. The government has the votes to clear the Commons all the time Labour helps them, but the Lords will be another matter. There was wisdom in saying we would only proceed with Lords reform once there is a wide consensus on what reform is needed. The government has procedural devices it can use to prevent the debates on the Bill going on for ever. They can move closures, and order all night sittings if necessary. In effect Labour will decide on when and how the Bill gets through the Commons, if the Conservative rebels stick to their view and are there in the strength their leaders say they enjoy.
I do think we need a “use it or lose it rule” when granting people the right to sit in the Upper House. It would be good to have a limit on how long people enjoy the privilege, or at least introduce a suitably high retirement age. For those with party affiliations, there could be a ban on appointing anyone who had given large sums of money to their party.