Nick Clegg yesterday exacted the price his ministers and advisers had long warned would be paid for the Tories scuppering Lord reform: the Lib Dem leader in turn killed off the boundary changes, which are important to his coalition partners’ chances of a 2015 majority.
Most Westminster watchers saw it for what it was: a piece of tit-for-tat politics that was not particularly edifying, but probably important for the Lib Dems to show they were willing to use their muscle to get what they want.
Clegg attempted to appeal to principle when giving his rationale for the move yesterday. He said:
Lords reform and boundaries are two, separate parliamentary bills but they are both part of a package of overall political reform. Delivering one but not the other would create an imbalance – not just in the Coalition Agreement, but also in our political system.
In trying to get the House of Lords reformed Nick Clegg has always been aware of the ominous lesson of history; that others have tried for a century and failed.
The only real example of Lords reform was the removal of (most) hereditary peers soon after the New Labour election of 1997 – and this was by Tony Blair with an enormous majority.
For Clegg to try to set up a mostly-elected chamber was always going to be difficult, even with supposed cross-party support. The Tory leadership was signed up to the programme; its backbenchers were obstinately opposed – leading to a major showdown in July and a “pause” in the plans.
Today the news is breaking that senior ministers could announce as early as next week that they are not pressing ahead with a Lords reform bill in the next legislative session. All sides had been braced for months of trench warfare in both houses over the issue, with Tory MPs adamant that the changes would damage the primacy of the Commons and were an irrelevance during the deepest recession for decades.
Ministers will instead declare that they will stuff the legislative programme for 2012/13
Prime ministers aren’t supposed to engage in reshuffle speculation. Once they answer one question about a reshuffle, not only have they admitted it is going to happen, they invite a whole load of others.
But David Cameron seems to have been sufficiently spooked by recent speculation surrounding his chancellor that he felt moved to say the following to Sky’s Kay Burley:
KB: The economy will pick up, and George Osborne, his job will be safe?
DC: George Osborne is doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances and he has my full support in going on and doing that job.
KB: And he’ll still be the chancellor at the next election?
Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS
We reported this morning on high-level discussions in the government about the possibility of buying out the remaining 18 per cent of RBS that taxpayers do not already own.
The argument for doing so runs like this: we are already exposed to the vast majority of the bank’s hugely damaged balance sheet, and the losses only look like getting worse as we find out more about its distressed debt.
Given that, would it not be better to take advantage of our holding and actually use the bank to pump some credit into our stagnating economy?
At the moment, the problem with doing this is that it means making loans the bank does not currently consider commercially viable. That would be a dereliction of duty to the remaining private shareholders, who would have every reason to sue. The answer therefore is simply to buy them out, and actually use the government’s stake to achieve what it is trying to do.