After the Liberal Democrats abstained from last week’s vote on referring Jeremy Hunt over breaches of the Ministerial Code, the Tories prepare to strike back.
As The Observer reported yesterday, the Liberal Democrats’ abstention from Wednesday’s Commons vote on whether Jeremy Hunt, the embattled Culture Secretary, should be referred to Sir Alex Allan (the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the ministerial code) stemmed from Nick Clegg’s failed attempt to convince Hunt to refer himself.
When Hunt declined the advice, Clegg saw abstention as the only available option for his party. David Cameron, at least overtly, appeared to understand: when challenged on the matter at Prime Ministers Question’s that day, he merely replied that “it’s politics”.
In the days since, his backbenchers have proven less sympathetic to their coalition partners.
Today, the Telegraph reports:
Tory MPs are furious at the way Mr Clegg failed to back Mr Hunt in a Labour debate on whether he should be investigated for his handling of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB, and have decided to wreak revenge.
Specifically, the Tories are going after Clegg’s prize: an elected second chamber.
• Labour must get back to its principles on Lords reform 23 Apr 2012
• A coalition at war over Lords reform 23 Apr 2012
• Tories threaten to ignore their mandate on Lords reform 20 Apr 2012
• Lords big beasts turn up the heat on reform 27 Jun 2011
The deputy prime minister wants the House of Lords reduced by around two thirds to 300 members, roughly 80 per cent of whom would be elected. His reforms are reportedly being watered down after a “stormy” meeting of the 1922 committee at which Tory backbenchers inveighed against the plans.
Suggested alterations include legislation which enshrines the primacy of the Commons, and peers being elected from regions rather than the extant parliamentary constituencies.
We have, of course, been here before; even so, in this case, the Tories’ arrogant petulance – beautifully captured by this gem from Eleanor Laing MP – is quite incredible:
“I have not voted against my party or its leader for 15 years. But many of us are now examining our consciences about how we can support these ill-thought through proposals to reform our whole parliamentary system.
“Why are we supposed to bend over backwards to support Nick Clegg over something that only matters to Lib Dems when his party cannot support a fellow minister who has done nothing wrong?”
Never mind that Lords reform was a Conservative manifesto commitment in 2010 too: the myopia on display is staggering. It is bizarre enough that Hunt – widely referred to as the ‘Minister for Murdoch’, strongly suspected of innumerable breaches of the ministerial code and openly accused of having lied to the Commons – is still in his job.
The Liberal Democrats, at least, can see that he is a divisive figure, utterly devoid of credibility; that the Tories can’t speaks volumes about them.