Just when it was thought that there could be a hiatus in domestic politics until the conclusion of the Olympics the tensions in the Coalition once again come to the fore.
It has always been an uneasy alliance between the Tories and the Liberals as much as, by all accounts, the leadership of both parties are really close. Going into the Coalition Nick Clegg sold the deal to his party with the promise of real constitutional reform – changes in the voting system for Westminster and reform of the House of Lords.
On the first count the compromise of a referendum on the Alternative Vote was no real compromise at all. It was the least hated option of all the ones available and the option that no side actually wanted. Now I will admit to voting yes to AV in the Referendum but you will forgive me if I wasn’t overly exorcised about the issue either way. Quite predictably neither were the British public at large and the referendum wasn’t just lost, it disappeared into the ether never to be heard from again.
That was ok for Clegg though because he still had the major promise of reform of the Lords, apparent agreement in the UK Government for a majority elected second chamber. At this point I suppose we are meant to conveniently forget that one of the first acts of the Coalition Government when taking office was to stuff the House of Lords with political appointees (123 up to June 2012) in order to balance out the stuffing of the Lords by the previous Labour Government. 422 new peerages were created in the Labour years, 386 of them under Tony Blair’s premiership. The result of all of this is that the House of Lords has expanded and expanded to a mammoth 775 members.
In contrast it is the mission of Cameron’s Government to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600, a reduction of 10%. Now that the proposals to reform the House of Lords have collapsed, due to the inability to get sufficient agreement from the Tory members, it appears the Liberal Democrats have decided to go tit-for-tat in withdrawing their support for the boundary changes with Simon Hughes MP displaying a distinct lack of subtlety in arguing the case.
Now I am not against the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons in and of itself. There may very well be a case to be made for bringing forward the proposals, although I do question the motivations of the Conservatives where the net effect appears to be making it easier for them to secure a majority in the future. Ever one for a pithy and apropos cartoon Steve Bell in the Guardian has provided this offering.
The current situation does raise two prominent questions though. Firstly, is the Westminster system reformable at all? Lords reform is not a new topic of discussion. Indeed the Labour Government had consultation after consultation on the issue and, other than a reduction in the number of hereditary peers that were able to sit in the House, intended only as a temporary measure, a starting point, very little has changed.
The second question is one predominantly for Scotland. The Scottish Government is planning to introduce the Referendum Bill to the Scottish Parliament early in 2013. It will contain a lot more detail about the look of an Independent Scotland. What model of Government would you like to see outlined in it given the opportunity to start afresh?