by Peter Watt
Relations have been strained for some time now, but events on Tuesday in the House of Commons have now made it personal. In essence, as far as the Tories are going to be concerned, the Lib Dems have increased the chances of them losing their seats at the next election. And the numbers of Tories on the government benches assuming that the next election is now lost will rise further.
But think back. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories had proposals to reduce the size of the House of Commons in their manifestos. The Lib Dems linked this to a change in the voting system. For the Tories though it wasn’t just about principle it was also a matter of pragmatism. For election after election they had been screwed by the electoral arithmetic of uneven constituency boundaries. The result was that it took far fewer Labour votes to get a Labour MP than Tory ones. It made winning elections even harder for the Tories and it made them pretty cross. To be fair, from their point of view you can see why!
So unsurprisingly the Coalition agreement contained a commitment to introduce a referendum on AV, a commitment to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 members and to equalise the size so that there were approximately 76,640 voters in each one. It also contained a commitment to reform the House of Lords. And the stated assumption was that both sides in the coalition would support all of the measures it contained.
To risk incurring the wrath of John Rentoul and his ‘banned list’ – the coalition agreement wasn’t a pick-n-mix.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 duly introduced the referendum on AV and also the aim of reducing the number of constituencies to 600. It all started to go a little wrong when the Lib Dems felt let down by the way that the Tories campaigned against AV in the referendum. The referendum was lost but at that point the Lib Dems could still point to House of Lords reform as a sign that their constitutional reforming zeal was far from being finished.