Nik Darlington 1.12pm
I was on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland show this morning (listen here, approx 1hr30 in), talking House of Lords reform and the coalition with the affable Mark Thompson, a Liberal Democrat blogger.
Politics has nudged itself into the newspapers today amid all the Olympics wonderment because the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made a speech yesterday declaring House of Lords reform dead in the water - with the vengeful quid pro quo that the Tories don’t get their prized constituency boundary review.
Where does this leave the coalition? Nowhere farther nor closer. Nor anything, really. As the Corby by-election in November shall presumably demonstrate, neither party is in a position to split up and go to the country. It will muddle on, though as Mark Thompson said on the radio this morning, government will become more transactional.
Any sensible person knows that Tory MPs have not broken the Coalition Agreement by opposing the House of Lords Reform Bill. Many items in that agreement contain promises to legislate - the bit about House of Lords reform does not.
"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 in office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers."
A committee was formed, a Draft Bill was presented, and it advocated a number of things, including PR and 15-year terms, not to everyone’s tastes (including some senior Liberals). These reforms’ becoming law was only a presumption. It was not explicit.
So the Coalition Agreement has indeed been broken in spirit. But it takes some political naivety not to have seen it coming, nor to accept that these things happen in politics. Clauses couched in language such as “it is likely that…” are hardly copper-bottomed guarantees either.
This is, of course, disappointing. It all could have been done differently, more politely perhaps, such as Lib Dem quarrels behind the scenes about the NHS or planning reforms.
Yet coalition has become a colder environment. I still believe in it - in theory and practice. The two governing parties, however, seem now just to be going through the motions.
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