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Coffee House

Boundaries vote: what next for the Coalition parties?

29 January 2013

6:26 PM

29 January 2013

6:26 PM

So the Lib Dems got their way in the end, teaming up with Labour and minor parties to delay the changes to constituency boundaries until 2018 by 334 votes to 292. There were Tory rebels, too, and here, thanks to the Press Association, are their names:

John Baron
Philip Davies
David Davis
Sir Richard Shepherd

The minor parties also voted with the Lib Dems and Labour: only the Alliance’s Naomi Long voted with the Tories. Nadine Dorries, who remains suspended from the party, also supported the Conservatives.

Tempers ran high in the debate itself, with Tory Penny Mordaunt MP accusing the Libs of casting ‘flirtatious glances’ across the Chamber at Labour and of exchanging their sandals for flip flops. She didn’t mention whether they’d also ditched their socks with the sandals. But she’s right: a Lib-Lab coalition in 2015 is seen as more likely than a Tory majority government, especially after today.

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What does this mean? Well, the Lib Dems are insistent that even though their ministers voted against their own government, this isn’t the end of collective responsibility or coalition. A Lib Dem source said after the vote: ‘Since then we’ve had a mid-term review and we will continue to work together.’

They believe this revenge was important as it showed that Nick Clegg’s dark threat of ‘consequences’ for the failure of Lords reform was not an empty threat but a powerful one. They had to take their ministers into the rebel lobby today to have the same effect that a group of naughty Tory backbenchers could have on Lords reform. And actually, their main worry is not that this means a broken coalition relationship, but that today’s vote will make party management more difficult, with backbenchers and angry activists demanding that it set a precedent for other contentious issues.

But for the Tories, there’s firstly the obvious problem that they don’t get the electoral rebalancing they had hoped for, making it that much harder to win in 2015. It’s just as well they have such a Tiggerish chairman in Grant Shapps, who will now have to work even harder, but there are few others who aren’t thinking about coalition rather than majority. This will mean pressure builds on Cameron from backbenchers to do something sufficiently Tory in the next couple of years that shows he’s not aiming for another coalition.

There might even be a hint of regret that the whips and the Tory leadership hadn’t been more effective in nipping the Lords rebellion in the bud. And the Tories have the same management problem on their hands as their partners: the next vote on a ‘Lib Dem win’ issue will be a difficult one to sell to Tory backbenchers.

But even though this was about the bad bits of the Coalition, today’s vote should also remind Conservative MPs of the good bits. For those yearning for a single-party government, they should remember today’s vote as an example of what relying on the minor parties in the Commons would have been like, with each vote resting on a knife edge.

UPDATE, 18.35: William Hill has shortened the odds on Labour to win an overall majority in 2015 from 5/4 to 6/5 following this afternoon’s vote. The odds for the Tories to win have lengthened from 11/4 to 7/2. The odds  for no overall majority have been shortened, too, from 13/8 to 11/8, with the odds for a Lib-Lab coalition 6/1, and a Tory/Lib coalition 8/1.

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