At the top of the coalition there’s a concerted effort to calm tensions, to de-escalate after its ‘Cuban missile crisis’. As part of that, I understand that David Cameron has indicated privately that if the Lib Dems do not get their elected peers, he won’t push the matter of the boundary reforms. I’m told he has no desire to end up in a situation where he’s sacking Lib Dem ministers en masse for voting against the government. Although, officially Number 10 is still stressing that it expects government ministers to vote for them when they come back to the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister is, I’m told, currently considering a compromise; offering Nick Clegg a House of Lords where 25 per cent of the members are elected—down from 80 per cent in the original coalition proposal. But any elected element in the Lords will not be acceptable to the Tory rebels without a referendum, and the Liberal Democrats — still bruised by their defeat in the AV vote — remain opposed to that.
But if the boundaries don’t happen, it will destabilise the coalition in a different way. It will — in essence — bring forward the date at which the Tories will want to move to confidence and supply.
Once boundary changes are off the agenda, then confidence and supply becomes more appealing to the Tory side of the coalition. It would allow Cameron to appoint about twenty more Tory ministers, which would help reunite his parliamentary party, and to lay down Commons motions on the EU and the ECHR and dare the other parties to vote them down. As Isabel pointed out earlier, the EU and the ECHR are two of the things on which Cameron is keen even now to differentiate himself from the Liberal Democrats.
There is now a common view among Tories at the heart of government that this move to confidence and supply will take place in 2014. The question is, whether the next big coalition row will bring it even closer than that.