It’s Lib Dem MPs, not Labour ones, that Cameron is really trying to cull

by John Underwood

So there we have it. Vince Cable is surprised to discover that the Conservatives are “ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal”. That’s a bit like being surprised that the Pope is a Catholic, that fish swim and that this year Christmas Day will fall on the 25 December. The word “naïve” doesn’t come close.

A man who is surprised that the Conservatives are ruthless would probably be surprised that a couple of young, female “constituents” asking sharp questions at a constituency surgery turned out to be a pair of reporters from the Daily Telegraph.

For years, of course, the Liberal Democrats have been the very embodiment of ruthless calculation, by pretending to be different things to different people in different parts of the country – the “only” alternative to Labour in the north of England and the “only” alternative to the Conservatives in the south.

Last week, they reaped a whirlwind of rewards for years of political duplicity. In the north, they lost votes to Labour because they were seen to be part of a Conservative-led government that is cutting public services; and in the staunch Tory heartlands they lost votes to the Conservatives because die-hard Conservative voters rather like the idea of cutting public services.

Labour supporters can be forgiven a few days of schadenfreude as they reflect on the mire the Liberal Democrats find themselves in. But before long they will need to turn their attention to the Conservatives.

As for the Lib Dems, the question is whether they will learn their lesson and wise up to the need to get tough with their coalition partners.

It won’t be enough to posture and strut over Andrew Lansley’s health service changes and to threaten a “veto”. The current proposals have, in effect, already been vetoed by Conservative back benchers like Charles Walker MP, who is currently leading a particularly vociferous campaign to save an urgent care centre in his Broxbourne constituency. There will be changes to the health and social care bill, but it’s no thanks to the likes of Nick Clegg.

Having been stitched up by the Conservatives on the AV referendum, the question is whether the Liberal Democrats will get tough with their coalition partners in other areas.

Reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 has largely been reported as a barely disguised ruse for reducing the number of Labour MPs. In fact, it could be more accurately described as a ruse for maximising David Cameron’s chances of achieving what he failed to achieve at the last election – an overall majority. Reducing the number of MPs is as much about getting rid of his Liberal Democrat “partners” as it is about hurting Labour.

If, in the aftermath of the AV referendum, the Liberal Democrats really want to prove to their supporters that haven’t been taken for patsies, they could do worse than consider a serious “go slow” on this part of the coalition agreement.

John Underwood is a former director of communications of the Labour party.

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3 Responses to “It’s Lib Dem MPs, not Labour ones, that Cameron is really trying to cull”

  1. eastender says:

    I dont think that the implications of the boundary revisions have really sunk in to either the Lib Dems or the Tories.

    The Lib Dems are going to be struggling whether the next GE is fought on the current boundaries or not, it is difficult to see them being able to regain the trust of the voters who have deserted them. In addition they rely to a greater extent than the other two parties on personal votes, as the boundary commission have already indicated that there will be revisions to most constituencies (even to ones that apparently meet the “quota” simply because the revisions needed elsewhere will have significant knock on effects) a lot of their “voters” will be transferred to other constituencies.

    For those Tories who won their seats last time there is likely to be a significant reduction in the so called “double incumbency effect” simply because of the need to introduce themselves to a new set of voters. Whilst in many areas the tories are likely to do well out of the boundary revisions this is not true everywhere. There will be inevitably cases where the local changes benefit Labour and in London (possibly elsewhere) demographic change is benefiting Labour (decreasing electorate in Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham and increasing electorate in “Labour” areas – pretty much the whole of East London).

    MPs tend to loose all sense of party loyalty when faced with the prospect of loosing their seats. The government will need to muster a majority to approve these changes, finding 320 or so votes in favour might be a rather difficult task.

    The Tories need the Lib Dems to get a significant vote. In the 1980s they won majorities because of a split opposition. Crudely speaking to win a majority the Tories need to win seats in the north and conversely Labour in the south (the whole point of New Labour). If there is a north / south split with the votes being roughly split between Labour & Tories the very probable outcome is that neither side will be able to form a majority government.

  2. Richard says:

    It’s bears that are Catholic; the Pope just shits in woods.

  3. Amber Star says:

    The LibDems definitely do not understand the effect of the boundary changes. As EastEnder mentions, the shape of constituencies will change. And it is the LibDem’s little yellow islands surrounded by blue or red that will suffer most.

    The LibDems should rebel to save the NHS – or they won’t have any voters; & they should vote ‘no’ on the boundary changes or they won’t have any winnable seats.

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