28 Jun 2012

Lib Dems worry about Clegg’s Lords push

Like Patrick Wintour in The Guardian, I’ve heard from quite a few Lib Dems who aren’t thrilled with the push for Lords reform. I find them in the Commons as well as the Lords, and on the right as well as the Labour-leaning side of the party.

“It would be nice if we stopped backing lost causes,” one minister said. “We seem to pander to the left, like we desperately need their endorsement,” the minister went on. One Labour-leaning Lib Dem MP said: “We look daft, disconnected.”

Yesterday, Nick Clegg was refusing to go down the route of “what if?” But talk to senior Lib Dems and they talk of “very, very serious” consequences if the Tories don’t dig out enough MPs to back the timetable motion.

Senior No. 10 figures say the threat on the table from the Lib Dems is still that they would withdraw support for the boundary review – the key, Mr Cameron’s numbers men believe, to having any chance at all of outright power at the next general election.

But if David Cameron looks like he sweated, threatened, menaced his own backbenchers but failed to get the right numbers by a whisker, isn’t Nick Clegg’s room for manoeuvre in retaliation a bit limited? That’s what one Lib Dem minister worried out loud about to me. Could he whip ministers over boundaries but leave the backbenchers to go their own way?

Ever since the tuition fees vote, Lib Dems have tried to avoid splitting off in different directions, hence the mass abstention of the Jeremy Hunt vote. I’m not sure the DPM himself quite knows right now what exactly he’ll do in the event of a defeat on Lords reform.

Anyway, just pulling in to Brussels station – more later from here. Nick Clegg has a spy in the PM’s camp to avoid a repetition of the December veto or any other kind of nasty surprise. Privately some close to the DPM speak of real despair at the lack of alliance building by Team Cameron in the EU. Here’s yesterday’s Nick Clegg interview.

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