Lords reform: Now it's handbags

Jesse Norman
Hereford and Herefordshire South MP Jesse Norman, angered the PM

Thanks to the High Court and the cameras we now know how footballers talk to each other on the pitch - it consists largely of four letter words which occasionally have "-ing" or "-head" attached to them. Now, thanks to MPs' gossip, we have a glimpse of how the prime minister speaks to his party rebels.

Last night David Cameron was very angry indeed with Jesse Norman - once seen as a Tory rising star and now as one of the ringleaders of the Lords reform rebels.

When the two met the conversation was, I'm told, heated, involved some prime ministerial finger pointing but not, apparently, shouting. The cause of the prime minister's fury was an email Norman had sent to fellow Tory MPs which began:

"Dear friends,

We have the chance at 10pm tonight to help the PM by voting against this Bill."

Having claimed to be helping the PM the letter went on to urge Tory MPs to defy him.

"One single decisive action now will kill this Bill outright. It will be a vital blow for the authority and strength of the back benches. Then we will have the recess, and a chance to reset the compass and allow our government to govern this country again.

Please join me, and dozens of your colleagues, by voting AGAINST this Bill tonight.

All best,

Jesse"

The reason this case of parliamentary "handbags" matters is that Norman was just the sort of MP David Cameron would have expected to promote at his next reshuffle.

Now the PM finds himself caught between rebel Tory MPs - around 100 of them - and the Lib Dems who are making increasingly overt threats of "consequences" (see my last post) if he fails to confront them.

This morning Simon Hughes made explicit the thus far implied threat that if his party don't get Lords reform they will vote against the boundary changes which offer the Tories the prospect of a dozen or more MPs at the next election.

Mr Cameron will be pointing out to Nick Clegg that the coalition agreement does not, in fact, link Lords reform and boundaries. He will, no doubt, do so in a calm and cool manner.

...all we need now is for the cameras and microphones which have shed a light on behaviour on the football pitch to be moved into the Commons tea rooms and the prime minister's study.

Update 10am: In case I wasn't clear enough... David Cameron's anger with Jesse Norrman was because he was claiming to help the prime minister when, in fact, he was doing him real damage. An ally of the PM's tells me there was absolutely no chance of him being promoted in the reshuffle before and now...