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Coffee House

Tory backbench beats Lib Dems in battle of PM’s priorities

3 August 2012

2:04 PM

3 August 2012

2:04 PM

Let’s forget for a minute about the Lib Dems and their dire threats of ‘consequences’ for the failure of the Lords Reform Bill and focus on the Conservative party. David Cameron has failed to convince his party to support the legislation. He said he needed the summer to try to win the rebels round before he tabled a new programme motion for the Bill, and before the summer is even out, he has decided that he can’t do it.

This isn’t just about a hardcore of Conservative MPs who are viscerally opposed to Lords reform, though. There are those who would always have opposed it, but many others who might have been persuaded. There’s a sense that the Prime Minister tried hard towards the end of the negotiations, but by then it was just too late. Backbenchers are telling me today that it’s as much about Cameron’s party management skills as it is anything else. One backbencher who was not wholly opposed to the changes says: ‘Cameron is terrible on people management – aloof and arrogant.’ Another says the Prime Minister has poor interpersonal skills: though he can switch on the charm in front of a camera, he is very bad at sitting down with an MP, making them feel loved, and selling his position to them.

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The other problem was while the boundary reforms are terrible for the Lib Dems and advantageous for the Conservative party, they are not sufficiently advantageous to tempt them to support changes to the upper chamber.

But Cameron has conceded to his backbench and regardless of what this says about how forceful he is when negotiating, some of the committed rebels are pleased that at least he is pandering to their demands rather than Nick Clegg’s. Perhaps he realised that it was more important to win the rebels round to him as Conservative leader than it was to win them round to supporting Lords reform. Conor Burns, who resigned as a PPS to vote against the second reading of the Bill, says: ‘If this is happening, it’s very welcome news and will be a symbol of his determination to try to foster improved and friendly relations within the Conservative party as well.’

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