Is the Coalition actually coming to an end this time?

It’s something that’s been asked almost daily since this government was formed in 2010 but could we actually be looking at the beginning of the end for the Con-Lib Coalition? Both parties are fully aware that distancing themselves from each other in time for 2015 is in their respective best interests but with nearly three years still to go before the next general election, is now the time to start parting ways?

As a party member, I got an email today from Clegg’s office with the subject header: “The contract is broken”. Following the recent announcement that the Conservatives are going to back-out of their commitment to Lords Reform, the email starts by saying:

Reform of the House of Lords is a key commitment in the Coalition Agreement – the contract that keeps the coalition parties working together in the national interest.

The Liberal Democrats have held to that contract even when it meant voting for things that we found difficult.

The Conservative Party is not honouring the commitment to Lords reform and, as a result, for the first time part of our contract has now been broken.

When part of a contract is broken, it is normal and necessary to amend that contract in order to then move on. So that is what we are doing.

I have told the Prime Minister that when Parliament votes on boundary changes for the 2015 election Liberal Democrats in Parliament will oppose them.

Coalition is a two-way street. I cannot permit a situation where Conservative rebels can pick and choose the parts of the contract they like while Liberal Democrats are bound to the entire agreement.”

[Read the rest of the message]

So, is this a genuine stumbling block for The Coalition, or is this the beginning of a carefully-rehearsed split designed to serve the best interests of both parties? I sincerely hope that neither party started down the path of Lords Reform intending to play politics but Clegg’s language certainly seems to imply that he intends to use this dispute to drastically renegotiate the terms of our relationship with the Conservative party.

While I find it quite difficult to believe that this was a genuine shock to senior Liberal Democrats who are now having to react quickly, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes and that both Clegg and Cameron wanted the bill to succeed but, due to Cameron’s lack of control over his MPs, a tactical decision had to be reached quickly.

Of course this is all speculation but it makes sense that the party leaders found themselves in a difficult position that forced them to come up with new tactics. The Liberal Democrat leadership can now use Lords Reform to distance themselves from the Tories while, at the same time, giving Cameron our lack of support for boundary changes to use as his own distancing tool.

So, what now? Well, assuming that this is the start of a long and public fall-out, there are few options for how either party can advance. There’s far too much time between now and 2015 to see a troubled-partnership act through to the bitter end which means that we could end up with a minority Conservative government some time before 2015.

Labour were as guilty as anybody when it came to ‘playing politics’ with Lords Reform and, following two years of their bitter opposition to all things Liberal Democrat, it would make no sense at all for us to turn to them. That said, all parties will be in big trouble if a GE is called early as Labour still don’t have a full policy book ready and I don’t believe that either the LDs or Tories had prepared for a split quite this early.

With just 4 weeks left of Recess, all three parties are no-doubt planning furiously and the next few months will certainly be interesting to watch.

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