Philip Stephens, writing in today’s FT, suggests:
With trust gone, the coalition is now much more a transactional affair. Anything beyond the shared goal of reducing the deficit is the subject of intense negotiation.
Clegg, when asked today in the Commons, said that the main reason to form the coalition, and to stay in it now, was to bring down the deficit. But if there is one issue that might seem distinctively Lib Dem, and on which Clegg might be able to score a victory, not least to placate his own backbenches, it is on reforming the House of Lords.
The problem Clegg has, as Labour found on multiple occasions when they were in government, is that peers themselves are very resistant to any kind of change.
As per the coalition agreement, a committee has been set up to investigate how the upper chamber can be reformed. But Clegg’s impatience to get the process moving can be seen by the fact he has already brought forward his own proposals, which are to have an 80 per cent elected chamber.
Today he put more pressure on reluctant peers, telling the Commons he would like to see a fully elected chamber in the long run, and that 80 per cent would only be the start. More significantly, he said that if the Lords continued to resist the will of the Commons, he would use the ultimate power available to him and invoke the Parliament Act.
This power to override the Lords and pass a bill straight from the Commons to recieve royal assent is very rarely used. Since the act weas modified in 1949, it has only been used four times, recently to ban hunting and to equalise the age of consent for homosexual sex.
Clegg added that he hoped such a draconian response would not be needed, but if he is to show his party and voters that the Lib Dems have managed to achieve one of their longest held aims in politics, he may have to use his ace card.
As Clegg admitted during his questions, this is hardly an issue which captures the imagination of the voting public, but it is a Lib Dem aspiration dating from Lloyd George, and could be as useful a party management tool as the hunting ban was for Tony Blair.