While the country is basking in Olympic glory, this week seemed like a good time for the Deputy Prime Minister to announce that his wish for Lords reform is dead. Unsurprisingly, he wanted to blame everyone but his own party.
Nick Clegg said Lords reform was finished. Simon Hughes said the Tories had to deliver. They must have forgotten that when it comes to constitutional reform, the Tories did keep to their word. They gritted their teeth, and agreed to a referendum on the Alternative Vote. Hughes liked to reference the Coalition Agreement, and Nick Clegg told his supporters that the 'contract' had been broken. It hadn't, and they're wrong. The Coalition Agreement actually says:
We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.
The referendum happened. The boundary changes will not. Remind me, who needs to deliver?
The document also states:
We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office.
Rather than drop-kicking Lords reform into the long grass as a third-term issue, progress was actually made. The problem was this progress came in the form of a bill that was unacceptable. And this was what put many Tory MPs off.
This isn't an issue of the 'same old Tories.' There are some Conservative MPs who support Lords reform, and I'm sure many more would have voted with the Government if its proposals were sensible. But what was offered was rushed through, and understandably far too much for some to stomach.
So, the Conservatives kept their word. The Liberal Democrats broke theirs. Which makes their 2010 election broadcast about broken promises all the more interesting to watch two years on. Remarkably, Nick Clegg said earlier this year there was no link between Lords reform and boundary changes.
Paul Goodman has written an interesting piece on Conservative Home about how the Prime Minister is now in trouble. There is a question that needs answering. What does it say about the dynamic of the Coalition that after Cameron's 'big, open and comprehensive offer' to the Lib Dems on the referendum, they in return throw Lords reform back in his face?
I still think the Coalition will run until 2015. We may see a gradual separation at the 2014 conference season, possibly with the Liberal Democrats electing a new leader while allowing Nick Clegg to remain as Deputy PM.
Until then, we have a Deputy Prime Minister criticising his partners in government for reasons which just aren't true. But in spite of these tantrums, Nick Clegg's party has nowhere to go. Time for David Cameron to remind everyone who's the boss.