When the coalition returns from the summer recess, don’t expect a relaxed, post-holiday spirit. David Cameron has failed to convince his backbenchers to support the House of Lords Reform Bill and The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister will announce that these reforms are to be shelved in the coming days.
This triggers that new phase of coalition that Nick Clegg and his colleagues have been warning about: the era of ‘consequences’. Although Conservative ministers have been considering other policies that they could hand to their coalition partners, these will not be enough to appease them: it’s Lords reform or nothing.
How this will play out is fascinating: the main threat is that the Lib Dems will scupper the boundary reforms, but to truly block their passage through parliament would require ministers in Clegg’s party to vote against the legislation. Would those ministers then be sacked? If they were, that’s curtains for the coalition. I’ve asked Number 10 about this before, and to date the response has been ‘that’s a hypothetical question’. Not for much longer: this new phase of coalition is very much uncharted territory, not simply because it heralds a new pattern of relations, but because it’s very difficult to see how the Lib Dems can carry out their ‘consequences’ threat without walking out of the government too.