The Liberal Democrats have spent the past few months building up to yesterday’s announcement that they would trash the boundary reforms following the failure of the House of Lords Reform Bill. As so much of the arguments this morning focus on whether the party is justified in voting down the changes to constituencies, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane to review the key statements from both parties from before the 2010 general election right up to this morning’s Today programme interview with Jeremy Browne. Coffee Housers can judge for themselves whether or not Lords and boundaries are linked.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto:
Change politics and abolish safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs. Our preferred Single Transferable Vote system gives people the choice between candidates as well as parties. Under the new system, we will be able to reduce the number of MPs by 150.
Replace the House of Lords with a full-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.
The Conservative manifesto:
A Conservative government will ensure every vote will have equal value by introducing ‘fair vote’ reforms to equalise the size of constituency electorates, and conduct a boundary review to implement these changes within five years.
We will work to build a consensus for mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.
In the political reform section:
We will bring forward a referendum bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.
We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
Nick Clegg, speaking at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, 26 October 2010:
It is one of the founding principles of any democracy that votes should be valued in the same way, wherever they are cast. Over the years, all sorts of anomalies have developed, such that different people’s votes are simply not worth the same in elections to this place. That surely cannot be right, and it is worth reminding those Opposition Members who object to the rationale that it was one of the founding tenets of the Chartists-one of the predecessor movements to the Labour party-that all votes should be of equal value.
Lord Oakeshott on the Sunday Politics on BBC 1, 26 February 2012:
If Philip [Davies] and his friends persist in these wrecking tactics it’s going to make it very difficult. We are here to implement the coalition agreement and stick to the coalition agreement and I’m afraid there’s a lot of it we don’t like but we swallow hard and get on with it and I’m afraid the Conservatives have got to do the same. That’s what coalition is about.
We will not be wanting to put [Tory policy] through if they wash on the other half of the deal. No. A deal’s a deal.
Nick Clegg at the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, 27 February 2012:
Eleanor Laing: It is now being reported that the Liberal Democrat party, as part of the coalition, will not continue to support the boundaries legislation unless House of Lords reform is passed in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Is that the case?
Nick Clegg: How can I put it? It just does not work like that. There is no sort of “You do this. I’ll do that. You do this. I’ll do that”. One just has to look at each of these things on their own merits and in their own terms. We legislated as a government very logically on those two issues at the same time, because we felt that we wanted to get on with the issue of the referendum on the electoral system as quickly as possible, so we needed to legislate in the early stages of the Parliament. In order to complete the boundary review and then submit the conclusions of the Boundary Commissions to both Houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in time to make those changes before the General Election, we needed to legislate early as well. That is why they were both decanted into the same Bill.
I have said that I do not recognise this idea that there are links between one bit of what is actually, as I have described earlier, quite a long list of constitutional political changes we are making, and another. We are trying to press forward on all of them, and we are trying to do so-in fact, I think we are successfully doing so-in keeping with the commitments we both made, both coalition parties, in the Coalition Agreement.
Pressed on the issue, Mr Clegg added:
There is no formal link between the two.
[Later in the hearing]
Andrew Turner: I am not very clear, because Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay – who lives in my constituency, he says – says that he wants to ensure that, if the House of Lords reform does not proceed, then it will be much less likely that we will have the Boundary Commission. I am not quoting him directly; I am quoting reported speech, but I saw him say it on television.
Nick Clegg: Two things. Firstly, Lord Oakeshott is not a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. He is a Liberal Democrat peer, but he is not a spokesperson on constitutional affairs. He does not hold any formal office. I lead a political party. I do not run a sect. I can’t impose a Trappist vow of silence on people in a free society, so if you are asking me to somehow ask Lib Dem peers, or any other member of the Liberal Democrat party, not to speak in public I am afraid that is beyond either my wish or remit.
The second point I would make is this. As I said earlier to Mrs Laing, of course there are no formal links between one bit of the constitutional reform agenda and the other, but there is a commitment, a shared political commitment on behalf of both of the coalition parties to proceed on a broad waterfront of issues, all of which are spelt out in the Coalition Agreement and many of which, like House of Lords reform, are spelt out in both of our manifestos. Of course, there is no formal link, but there is an understanding that we are going to proceed on all of these things. We are not going to start picking and choosing the bits we like and the bits we don’t like. We have made a commitment in this Government to proceed on House of Lords reform, on individual voter registration, on party funding and so on and so forth.
Baroness Warsi, 9 May 2012:
There’s no link between boundary changes and the House of Lords reform; I think in terms of legislation that went through Parliament in the last session, the Liberal Democrats very much wanted a referendum on AV; we felt that it was also important to use this opportunity to equalise boundaries across the United Kingdom. Those two things were linked. Now we’ve had the boundary changes already being announced; there are proposals still to come forward. We had the AV referendum, which was won by the no campaign. Those things were linked – I don’t understand the link between boundary changes and the House of Lords reform.
Simon Hughes, speaking on the Today programme, 11 July 2012:
We haven’t reflected on that [the consequences] at all, but the one thing that is obvious that the Tories desperately want is Boundary Commission proposals to go through which is an advantage to them.
It’s not blackmail. We signed up to a deal, and we have honoured our deal, they have to honour their deal. It’s a matter for them how they do it.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman, 6 August 2012:
‘It’s something the Commons has already taken a view on, and the process is that it will come back later this year.’
Asked whether the vote on the boundary reforms would be whipped, he said:
‘Look, we are still waiting for the commission’s proposals to come back, so I do not think we have said anything about the timetable for that vote.’
‘It’s government policy, it’s in the coalition agreement.’
Nick Clegg’s statement on Lords reform, 6 August 2012:
Lords reform and boundaries are two, separate parliamentary bills. But they are both part of a package of overall political reform. Delivering one but not the other would create an imbalance – not just in the Coalition Agreement, but also in our political system. Lords reform leads to a smaller, more legitimate House of Lords. Boundary changes lead to a smaller House of Commons, by cutting the number of MPs. If you cut the number of MPs without enhancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Lords, all you have done is weaken parliament as a whole. Strengthen the executive, and it’s overmighty government that wins. So, for these reasons, I have decided, reluctantly, to push the pause button on these controversial parliamentary reforms.
Jeremy Browne, speaking on the Today programme, 7 August 2012:
The whole of the Coalition Agreement is one rich tapestry. It’s not like a sort of DNA code where everything is linked.
They’re clearly part of the same constitutional package. One of them is about reforming one end of the Houses of Parliament and the other is about reforming the other end of the Houses of Parliament. They’re about the legislature, the nature of the legislature.