Two of the key bargaining chips emerging from the Coalition Government as it struggles to adjust to life after the honeymoon period are Lords reform and constituency boundary changes.
Under the terms of David Cameron’s original deal with Nick Clegg, it’s believed that Tory MPs promised to facilitate the AV referendum in return for Lib Dems enabling the review of constituency boundaries. It now appears that the serpentine Lib Dems, unhappy with the size of their bit of cake following the referendum debacle, are linking boundary review with the delivery of an elected House of Lords.
The Lords reform bill was squeezed into the Queen’s Speech but Labour MPs are planning to align themselves with Tory rebels in disrupting its progress. And if the bill does not go through, the Lib Dems are likely to sabotage boundary review. When Cameron arrives at the table for his slice of cake, he may well find Nick Clegg sitting on it!
Such an outcome would be disastrous for Cameron as the existing system of constituency electorates is severely biased against the Conservatives. At the 2005 general election, Tony Blair was returned as Prime Minister, with Labour commanding 36 per cent of the popular vote compared to the Conservatives’ 33 per cent. This translated into 355 Labour seats and 198 Tory! In fact, in England the Tories won the popular vote but still ended up with 91 fewer MPs than Labour!
We may never get to a point where each vote has equal weight, but democracy should look fairer than this. In negotiations between the Coalition partners, David Cameron should regard boundary review as much more than a mere bargaining chip. It should be a showstopper.