Reconciliation and rebuilding?
- 11 July 2012
- From the section UK Politics
I love the smell of napalm in the morning. In last night's Tory apocalypse, David Cameron lost control of his MPs - and he'll have a hard time getting it back.
Today, the smell of burnt-out coalition goodwill pervades Westminster. The rebellion over Lords reform was tactically smart, brilliantly organised and above all thoroughly disciplined - and the government whips were out-whipped. The result was 91 Tories voting against the coalition line - with a number of no-shows as well.
In the absence of a deal with Labour to programme the committee stage of the bill, I suspect it is now doomed. If a committee stage starts in September, the rebels, buoyed by their show of strength, will use every possible procedural tripwire against it… and the whole row will become impossibly divisive, not just between the coalition parties, but also, and - more particularly - with the Tory ranks. I doubt the bill could stagger through to third reading under continual friendly fire.
The high drama of the result, and the reported finger-jabbing row between rebel star Jesse Norman and the prime minister was followed by low farce as a government whip, I'm told, dashed through the corridors like something out of the end credits of the Benny Hill show. There seems to be a bit of an attempt to play down the Norman-Cameron spat, but it's symptomatic of fraying tempers and the erosion of the PM's authority.
Almost all involved now face huge strategic dilemmas. The prime minister has to reconnect with the rebels - a band which includes eminent ex-Cabinet ministers, establishment stalwarts like Sir Alan Hazelhurst, and bright-eyed, upwardly-mobile new intake MPs, as well as the usual suspects - while repairing relations with the Lib Dems.
Nick Clegg has to face the likely defeat of the Lords Reform Bill. And both have to find a way of avoiding the coalition dissolving into sterile squabbling.
As I lurked, coffee in hand, around Portcullis House this morning, nobody had a clue what would happen. Labour MPs had canary feathers in the corner of their grinning mouths. Lib Dem MPs were rumbling ominously about blocking the Conservatives' coveted boundary changes in revenge (but that would require their ministers to vote against a coalition measure). Conservatives openly hanker for a minority government able to pass, or at least propose proper Tory measures - pure fantasy, in my view. The whole place bubbled with a febrile excitement I have not experienced since the heady days of the coalition negotiations in May 2010.
At the moment the most likely result of a snap election - as the ever-acute Conservative Home website points out here - would be a Labour government. So both sides of the coalition have a strong incentive to find a way forward. But it is hard to see what that can be, with Lords reform still on the agenda and poisoning the atmosphere.
Maybe the question now should be this - what is Nick Clegg's price for dropping it?