The government’s apparent decision to pull the programme motion on the Lords Reform Bill is an admission that it would have lost the vote tonight, and heavily. The rebel numbers have more than held up today and by mid-afternoon even previously loyal MPs were contemplating jumping in to the rebel camp. The question now is what the coalition does next, does it plough on with the bill and try to guillotine it at a later date or quietly drop it.
Certainly, the Tory opponents of the bill are in no mood to back down. They are making clear that even if the government comes back offering twenty days of debate they’ll still oppose it. Indeed, those close to Cameron are indicating that the only hope of progress is if Labour decides to back a programme motion or guillotine at a later date.
I suspect, though, that Number 10 is now just keen for this bill to go away. It is acutely aware that it is corroding the relationship between Cameron and his MPs and that few things could be worse for that than a war of attrition to try and grind the rebels down.
The Liberal Democrats might try and insist on the government pushing on. But judging by past performance, Cameron will — albeit after a considerable delay — pick his party over his coalition.