Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron’s weakness

The Lords reform/boundary change debacle shows, after just two years in (shared) power, David Cameron is on the ropes when it comes to his own party.

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Neil Coyle is a Labour councillor in Southwark and tweets at @coyleneil

The announcement that Lib Dem demands for Lords reform have been dumped is a revealing insight into the now unhappy marriage of inconvenience between David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Nick-Clegg-looking-painedIt shows the coalition is not the sum of equal parts. Clegg’s MPs have, by and large, backed the entire governmentt agenda without too much public complaining (the most noticeable exception being Andrew George).

Even where Lib Dems have spoken out, the government’s whipping operation has prevented serious problems developing for the legislative programme.

Lib Dems rebelled on initial NHS plans and party conference votes demanded changes in tack on key policies like benefit cuts for people with cancer. But even these high profile demands and votes have been overturned in the Commons when Lib Dem MPs have had whips ensure the need for coalition stability trumps other concerns.

Tory MPs clearly feel they don’t owe their coalition partners the same solidarity – and campaigned vigorously against AV and provided a record rebellion on Lords reform.

The decision will resound in Cowley Street where Lib Dem HQ staffers are having to deal with (or perhaps, more literally, not) the massive drop in members revealed by the Electoral Commission recently. To lose a few members may be unfortunate; to lose one in four in a year is beyond careless and demonstrates the widening chasm between Lib Dem activists (and former supporters) and the Clegg/Hughes leadership team.

But even the Lib Dem members who gave the coalition a chance to begin with in 2010 have reached breaking point with the economy stalling, increasingly fractious government relations and a failure to secure key party aspirations. With the decimation of the party’s membership and councillor base in local elections, things cannot only get better for the yellow team – and increasingly uppity Tories are not helping.


See also:

Reality dawns for Lib Dems who’ll lose out under seat cull plans 5 Sep 2011

The problem with the constituency redrawing and AV Bill and how to solve it 20 Jan 2011

The AV referendum bill should stand alone – not shoehorned in with boundary changes 5 Aug 2010

Clegg’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is undemocratic and partisan 23 Jul 2010

Boundary review: Lib Dem turkeys vote for Christmas 8 Jul 2010


The volume from Tory backbenchers is rising despite the lack of experience of government, a lack of humility for not winning in 2010, a lack of respect for the tough votes Lib Dem MPs have taken (often ignoring constituency demands and needs) – and a distinct lack of commitment to assisting the party that gifted them government after 13 years of significant Labour majorities.

But for Cameron the climbdown marks a far more important point in this government. It shows, after just two years in (shared) power, the PM is on the ropes when it comes to his own party.

Perhaps it’s the higher borrowing and faltering economy that has lost him and George Osborne the faith of his own backbenchers. Maybe some MPs recognise their chance on the ministerial ladder is disadvantaged by the need to ensure Lib Dem representation as well as Cameron’s (arguably tokenistic) attempts at gender/ethnicity balance.

Either way, to refuse to fight his backbenchers on an issue which is viewed as a trivial aside by most people – and to deny his deputy his one remaining flagship policy – speaks volumes about the leadership skills of the man who was supposed to have detoxified the Tory brand and managed their transformation into a modern party of government.

It is a marked transformation from the smooth PR man of dog-sledding, hoodie-hugging times. It is a new, marked man period more akin to John Major – and with the same fixation with newspaper headlines (hence the pasty and caravan tax u-turns of the omnishambles budget) – we now see him stalking the Olympics Stadium hoping to bathe in others’ glory.

Given Cameron hasn’t had to fight for much in life, including jobs apparently, this was perhaps predictable. But, following the conception of the economic crisis that (ahem) swept the coalition into power sharing, there is something of a bittersweet irony to have ended up with a sub-prime minister.


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17 Responses to “Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron’s weakness”

  1. Shamik Das

    Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron's weakness, writes @coyleneil:

  2. Political Planet

    Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron’s weakness: The Lords reform/boundary change debacle sh…

  3. Andrew Rice

    Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron's weakness, writes @coyleneil:

  4. NewsatLeft

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  5. NewsatLeft

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  8. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron’s weakness

  9. Darren Hughes

    Comment: Lords reform reveals sub-prime minister Cameron's weakness, writes @coyleneil:

  10. juniperific

    This lovely picture of Nick Clegg has made my birthday!

  11. Ed's Talking Balls

    Where to start!

    Portraying the Lib Dems as somehow loyal supporters of the government is utterly ridiculous. Gobshites like Campbell, Williams, Ashdown, Cable, Oakeshott, Hughes, Farron et al have been mouthing off for the entirety of this coalition’s lifespan (in Cable’s case, from his cosy seat in Cabinet). And a greater proportion of Lib Dem MPs have rebelled than have Tories.

    Clegg supported tuition fees but could not prevent backbench rebellion. This is Cameron’s present situation on Lords reform on all fours. Completely indistinguishable.

    The one thing we can agree on is Cameron’s weak leadership. While he couldn’t have prevented this (it was impossible to polish this particular turd), he sure as hell can sack any Lib Dem member of the government who has the audacity to flout ministerial responsibility. He should push ahead with the boundary change proposal, to correct a long-standing imbalance in Labour’s favour, and force the Lib Dems’ hand.

    I imagine Labour is watching events with understandable glee, but presumably also some trepidation. It might be them entering a coalition with the yellows (an appropriate colour, incidentally) next time. Miliband et al would need to be very careful drawing up that contract, because the Lib Dems demonstrably don’t respect agreements.

  12. Newsbot9

    Ah yes, gotta push forward the gerrymandering at all costs. Typical totalitarian sentiment from one of the standard far right trolls on here.

    If it wasn’t gerrymandering, then why did they reject the proposal which had slightly more flexibility built in, which would of achieved a similar result, but respected natural boundaries more, and which would have had cross-party support? (And hence Labour would have made the LibDem’s temper tantrum irrelevant).

    You’re desperately trying to wish that Labour’s polling lead vanished, that they’ll need a party which is being wiped out, and I and many others are watching for the vote fixing and other tactics which your type of totalitarian is sure to try to employ.

    That you try labelling OTHERS as cowards, when you’re running scared of the centralists…

    (Shame most of the left will still be sitting at home, but there we go…)

  13. Mr. Sensible

    What a complete mess this government is in. I don’t know where the way out is…

  14. median23

    Sorry to be my usual cynical self, but nick legg, having already established himself as a Tory, may be colluding with Cameron to engineer an early general election on Nov 15.

  15. Newsbot9

    Eh, that’s not a bad thing median23. Most of the Tory gerrymandering is still a few years out…

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    Whether posting as Leon Wolfson or Newsbot9, you still post bizarre ramblings. I have less time to joust nowadays and in any case have learned my lesson. Best not to engage at all but, as I tend to give in to temptation… Nonetheless, I’ll keep it brief.

    1) Look up the definition of ‘totalitarian’
    2) While the dictionary is still open, do the same for ‘gerrymandering’
    3) Glad that you at least have the sense to see this as a temper tantrum
    4) Clearly I can’t and don’t dispute Labour’s poll lead
    5) People clearly have short memories, but there’s no election tomorrow
    6) Not scared of centralists; happy to embrace them
    7) I don’t care if the handful of Trotskyites in this country stay at home
    8) Yes, Clegg is slimy: agreed
    9) Some Lib Dem MPs didn’t support tuition fees (fair play); Some Tories didn’t support half-baked Lords reform (again, fair play)

  17. Newsbot9

    That’s right, I dare disagree your Dear Leader. You keep calling that bizarre, and then posting lists of his views.

    1) Right. You’re still pushing it.
    2) See 1.
    3) Yes, you’re having one. And?
    5) No, there’s this fixed-term election thing. I routinely need to point that out to people.
    6) Well sure, Labour are also paternalists, and of course you have to try to con their voters as well…
    7) Trots lol. You’re disenfranchising millions and ignoring a hard minimum of 5 million left wingers who Labour lost to “not voting”.
    9) And AV was also half-baked voting reform, for that matter.

    Only thing is…you don’t have an oven in the first place. It’s an open fire, and it’s shedding sparks everywhere.

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