With 57 Lib Dems siding with Labour, vote on constituency boundaries before next election may prove vital to outcome
Labour is predicting a close result next Tuesday when MPs will vote on whether to introduce constituency boundary changes before the general election, a vote that could prove vital to the outcome.
The 57 Liberal Democrats will be voting with Labour, a move that has infuriated Conservatives, and also bled into other coalition discussions on unrelated issues such as reform of press regulation and even childcare.
In an interview with the House magazine Nick Clegg said he hoped Tuesday’s vote would draw a line under the issue that has been one of the most vexed of the coalition. He also conceded that the cross-party talks on the future of press regulation are in danger of gridlock.
The boundary changes are seen as likely to help the Conservatives and boost David Cameron’s chances of winning an overall majority in 2015.
A fortnight ago peers voted to delay the reforms until after the election – a move supported by both Liberal Democrats and Labour. David Cameron and his whips are working hard on the Democratic Unionists MPs to get them to back overturning the Lords decision. A DUP-Tory alliance would probably give Cameron a fighting chance of winning the vote.
DUP sources denied they were about to strike a deal with Tories, but history has shown Unionists have been willing to trade with the government in return for specific concessions.
The Welsh Nationalists and Scottish Nationalists, as well as the single Green MP, all look set to oppose the reforms.
It is understood Labour has been talking to nationalists about their intentions, and have not detected any sign of a shift.
The reforms reduce the number of MPs at Westminster to 600 and broadly equalise the size of constituencies in terms of electorate size.
Clegg withdrew his support for the boundary reforms after he said the Tories had broken their contract by failing to support Lords reform.
Discussing the boundary vote Clegg, in an interview published on Thursday, said: “Clearly this is not something where the parties in the coalition government agree. I’ve always been very open about the fact that a coalition, by definition, is a package deal. When one side doesn’t honour their side of the deal, then I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the other side to say they are adjusting the terms of that deal. So the Liberal Democrats have said that boundary changes shouldn’t then come in until after 2015. I think Tuesday’s vote will draw a line under it and we can all move on.”
The vote is inevitably intertwined with other live issues, including whether the Liberal Democrats will support a royal charter as a way of overseeing press regulation, or instead support the Labour proposal set out by Lord Leveson for statutory intervention.
The government is due to publish its royal charter plans in the middle of next week.
Clegg clearly hints he was likely to see compromise: “I think we’re in a real danger now on Leveson of seeing a combination of backtracking by the press, many of whom in my view still just don’t get it, just don’t get that the terms of trade have changed, and gridlock amongst the politicians. [There is] a real danger of seeing backsliding and gridlock culminate in inaction, and I think that would be an absolute tragedy.”
His remarks suggest he is not in a mood to defeat the government on the floor of the House on the issue, so making it more difficult for Ed Miliband to table a motion backing the statutory legal underpinning proposed by Lord Leveson.