Do the maths: Why Lib Dem threats might not add up

House of Lords at work

As the Lib Dems threaten to take down the government's plan to introduce a right to buy for housing association tenants, tearing up the House of Lords' hallowed "Salisbury Convention" in the process, it's worth remembering one key point; they can't do it alone.

Do the maths.

In the Lords, the Government has just under 30% of peers, with Labour about the same.

The Libs have 13% and the Crossbenchers just under a quarter. So a government defeat will pretty much always require Labour peers to turn out. (You can spin a scenario involving a massive Tory rebellion topped up by Crossbenchers and Libs, which could succeed without Labour, but it's hard to imagine what issue would produce such an alignment. Labour are the necessary keystone of any government defeat in the upper House.)

This ever-helpful site provided by UCL's Constitution Unit anatomises each government defeat - and rather underlines the point.

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Look familiar?

Portrait Sergeant Keble Image copyright PARLIAMENTARY ART COLLECTION
Image caption Sergeant Keble, Junior Commissioner of the Great Seal 1649 -54. Oil painting by Robert Walker. Copyright Parliamentary Art Collection. WOA 2710

There are so many portraits of parliamentary titans of the past on the walls of the Palace of Westminster, that MPs and Peers almost tune them out.

But there is something about this picture of Richard Keble - the Keeper of the Great Seal under Cromwell - that has recently led to a few MPs performing double takes when they pass it in the Smoking Room.

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The week ahead in Westminster

Word leadership highlighted in pink pen

With a new Labour leader taking over, the second week of Parliament's short September sitting will see a series of new duelling partners for Government ministers in the Commons, especially if Jeremy Corbyn is elected. A number of leading Labour figures have said they would not serve in his team.

On which subject, it appears the Parliamentary Labour Party's rules provide a possible mechanism for an alternative Shadow Cabinet to operate - through departmental groups shadowing each department of Government, which must be chaired by backbench MPs.... here's the rule which piqued my interest:

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A very big NO

protestors outside Parliament
Image caption Both sides of the argument turned out in force for the assisted dying debate.

In the end it was a massive defeat; the Commons voted by two to one (330 votes to 118) against the Labour MP Rob Marris's Assisted Dying Bill - a decisive result, which destroys any chance of a measure of this kind getting through this Parliament.

As the debate unfolded, and it was a huge turnout for a Friday private members bill debate, it became increasingly obvious that the balance of opinion was strongly against the Marris Bill, with plenty of MPs clearly worried that it would take the country across a moral Rubicon. And even though there's a parallel Bill being reintroduced into the Lords by is progenitor, Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, something big has to change - some dramatic case has to come to public notice, and swing opinion - to make it more than a token effort.

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A very German question?

Old fashioned red phone with dial

An elegant example at PMQs this week of what's known in the trade as "The German Question." This is not some intractable geopolitical issue, but a smart parliamentary technique.

The German bit relates to grammar; in German, the verb mostly comes at the end of a sentence - in a German Parliamentary Question, the sting comes at the very end, minimising the chance for a minister to come up with an answer.

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From purdah to assisted dying

EU flag Image copyright EU commission

Behind the headlines about David Cameron's first Commons defeat off the new Parliament, there was something a little odd about the handling of the contentious "Purdah" amendments to the European Union Referendum Bill; it was all very relaxed.

Tory MPs, used to intensive (parliamentary) whipping, and at the very least a due diligence phone call to double check their position, were surprised to be left alone. The Government didn't seem to be trying very hard.

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No appetite for Lords reform?

House of Lords Image copyright PA

The combination of Lord Sewell's unorthodox choice of underwear, and the latest nominations to the peerage may have re-energised calls to abolish or democratise the House of Lords...but don't hold your breath.

There is a very simple reason why big ticket reform of the Upper House - elections, or even outright abolition - is not going to happen; it would require a good two years of a Parliament.

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Week ahead

Houses of Parliament Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Commons returns after the summer break for two weeks

First it's the euro-referendum, then assisted dying: Parliament's back for a brief pre conference-season thrash - with some very big-ticket legislating at both ends of the week.

So what's on?

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Plots, devices and stratagems

Summer time, and the plotting is easy. The phones of the politterati will be glowing red hot, with everything from full-on leadership plotting to legislative scheming.

And there's even plenty of jockeying for position on the committee corridor.

Read full article Plots, devices and stratagems

Week ahead

It's the final two and a half days before MPs and peers head off for their summer break...but they're cramming a lot of action in. There's some high politics around the Work and Welfare Bill, and it may be that the new Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron will make his debut before the summer.

And watch out for moves in the Lords to set up a Joint Committee on EVEL, which would add a significant complication to what is already turning into a rather fraught saga for the government.

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