UK Politics

Clegg's Bluff Needs To Be Called

6 Aug 2012 at 16:45

What follows is written more in sorrow than anger. I was a cheerleader for the coalition in the days it took for it to be negotiated. I take little pleasure in seeing it start to fracture. It was right for the country then, and it is now. But it can only work if both sides act like adults instead of indulging in petty posturing and point scoring.

So, this afternoon Nick Clegg laid the law down to David Cameron and told him in no uncertain terms that the terms of trade for the coalition are about to change. With David Cameron having failed to deliver Lords reform, which was (sort of) in the coalition agreement, Nick Clegg says he will now instruct his MPs to refuse to support another part of the coalition agreement – cutting the number of MPs and equalising constituency boundaries. It’s as if he’s saying nah, nah nah nah nah. Has Nick Clegg finally discovered his fangs, or is this further evidence of duplicity by the Liberal Democrats?

But it goes further than that. I believe that in 2015 political commentators will look back on today and say this was the day that set Ed Miliband on course for Downing Street. Because he is the politician who has most to gain from today’s outburst by Nick Clegg. Why? Because Labour has an inbuilt electoral advantage from the current boundaries and if the next election is fought on them, the Tories need to be 10% ahead of Labour even to win a majority of one. But this is also about the LibDems differentiating themselves from the Conservatives and saying to the electorate – hey look, we’re not the same as them. But to do it over an issue that very few people care about? Was that wise? Voters might have even respected Clegg and the LibDems if they had vetoed the NHS Bill. But they didn’t.

A senior Conservative minister has told yesterday that if the LibDems don’t vote for the boundary changes David Cameron should end the coalition and govern as a minority government and dare the LibDems to vote him down. Powerful stuff. Who said politics was boring?

Nick Clegg is, however, getting away with blue murder by claiming the Conservatives have broken the Coalition Agreement. They have done nothing of the sort. It might pay for him to actually read the text of the Coalition Agreement. This is what it says about Lords Reform…

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. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

I can see no part of that which David Cameron hasn’t delivered on.

Clegg has now said that LibDem MPs will now vote against the implementation of the Boundary Review. It can only be down to petulance for reducing the number of MPs was in the LibDem manifesto and surely no one can disagree with the equalisation of constituency sizes. In any case, this was always seen as a quid pro quo for the Conservatives allowing a referendum on AV. But even then, the LibDems attemped to insinuate that Cameron had broken the Coalition Agreement for campaigning against AV during the referendum campaign. This despite the text of the Agreement being quite clear…

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.

And if we want to play games about breaking the Agreement, what about this little gem…

We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

Unless I am very much mistaken, both parties have conveniently forgotten about this one. And what about this…

We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years. These funds will be allocated to all political parties with seats in Parliament that they take up, in proportion to their share of the total vote in the last general election.

Again, ignored by both parties.

It is not only Liberal Democrat MPs who will vote against the implementation of the Boundary Review, apparently Clegg is telling all 19 ministers to do so too. If Cameron has got the balls, he should tell Clegg that if he does that, all 19 will be required to tender their resignations from office. Because Nick Clegg seems to have forgotten a key clause in the coalition agreement. Let me remind him…

2.1 The principle of collective responsibility, save where it is explicitly set aside, continues to apply to all Government Ministers. This requires:

2. Collective Responsibility

(a) an appropriate degree of consultation and discussion among Ministers to provide the opportunity for them to express their views frankly as decisions are reached, and to ensure the support of all Ministers;

(b) the opinions expressed and advice offered within Government to remain private;

© decisions of the Cabinet to be binding on and supported by all Ministers;

Note the wording “binding on and supported by all ministers”. And the consequence of not supporting an agreed government policy? The sack. At least that’s what would happen in any normal government. Perhaps David Cameron should entertain Nick Clegg to a meeting without coffee and tell him some harsh political facts. Shape up or ship out and face a general election. Clegg is massively overplaying his hand and his bluff needs to be called.

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