The problem with coalition politics is that everything is essentially a negotiation. No one party will get everything they want. For something one party wants they’ll have to give in to something the other party wants. It is pretty simple stuff but of course with there being a Tory for every five Lib Dems (give or take) in the coalition it could easily be argued that the Tories should get more than the Lib Dems. However they shouldn’t just get everything their own way…
Today the Lib Dems didn’t let the Tories rub their bellies whilst blowing raspberries on it and actually stood up against the Tories because of another piece of the electoral reform process got canned. The Lib Dems were willing to go along with boundary changes in exchange for a more elected House of Lords. They were losing on one front to gain on another. That is pretty much the basis of coalition politics. The Tory backbenchers decided they didn’t want this so killed the bill but still expected the Lib Dems to see through their part of the deal. They seem shocked and not just shocked – appalled – that they didn’t get their own way.
I won’t sit here and say this is a great day. I think boundary reform is important as everyone’s vote should be worth the same but also is ensuring that communities aren’t split up. For example locally in Southend there is no rhyme or reason why Leigh and West Leigh wards would be farmed off to Castlepoint for parliamentary elections. The people of Leigh and West Leigh consider themselves linked with Southend and always have done. Moving this boundary would just be about numbers and not just about communities and that isn’t the best way to be.
Former Southend councillor Peter Bone MP has called for all the Lib Dems who voted against this bill to cross the floor and collapse the coalition. I wonder if he wants the Tories who voted against it to leave the Tory party as well? I suspect he doesn’t. He knows that collapsing the coalition would lead to a General Election and the Tories not having power any more. So he is basically saying that he would prefer not to have any power than share power. An interesting position.
The thing is it is on days like these when the Lib Dems stand up and follow through with what they’ve said they’ll do you see that they couldn’t win either way. If they had voted with the Tories then everyone would have just called them Tory stooges. If they voted like they did against the Tories then people say they did so out of spite. People don’t care about the actual deal of House of Lords Reform for boundary changes (I know there was never a ‘formal’ deal on this but everyone knew it was either both or neither). People will just see what they want to see and if they see the Lib Dems as bad they’ll find a way to justify that position.
One day we’ll get to a point where people understand how coalition politics works, the Tories clearly aren’t there yet. They knew they were going to lose this vote but they still went ahead with it as they wanted to make the Lib Dems look bad. That was their plan all along. The thing is the Lib Dems are getting used to it and like most things they do if people ignore the headlines and who screams the loudest and actually listen to their explanations the hostility will not be as fierce.
Is today a good day for democracy in the UK? Maybe, maybe not. However when the Tory backbenchers and Labour decided to gang up to ensure that House of Lords Reform was very much kicked into the long grass then that probably wasn’t a good day either.
Boundaries need to be reformed but communities must not be split up. The Lords needs to be reformed. It is a shame that neither of these will happen in this parliament but it isn’t solely at the feet of the Lib Dems. There is plenty of blame to go around and all three of the parties deserve a large dollop of it at their feet.