The Liberal Democrats long term ambition is to be the constant centring force of government. Instead of Thatcher or Blair the UK will in future be governed by Thatcher-light or Diet Blair. When thinking about the Coalition this driver should never be forgotten.
Nick Clegg and Co did not do very well in the Coalition negotiations. Getting a referendum on a voting system that no-one was enthused about was cheap reward for accepting a boundary review that threatens their local power bases. Many Conservatives are now complaining that the Lib Dems are not sticking to the 2010 deal, but the blue benches will not be able to guilt the yellow’s into hacking off their limbs. As Hobbs understood, survival is a human’s primary instinct. Plus fighting mean with the Conservatives will do Nick Clegg no harm with his supporters, many of whom have never been comfortable with the Con-Lib partnership.
The Lib Dems need constitutional change for two reasons:
1) To justify to their supporters to enter into Coalition
2) To give themselves the best chance to survive as a political force.
Should the Conservatives support House of Lords reform just to help out their Coalition partners? Of course not. But there are further compelling reasons for why all Conservatives should work towards a solution –
1) The current structure of the House of Lords is unsustainable. If it is not changed by 2020 we could have an upper chamber made up of over 1,000 unelected legislators.
2) Reform is going to happen, thus it is better if the Conservatives have a big say in it. The electoral maths under the current boundaries point to a Labour-Lib Dem coalition after the next election. (I blogged about this last month).
3) The Lib Dems will not be so unprepared for coalition negotiations next time. I would expect them to make some sort of constitutional change a ‘red-line’ issue for sharing power.
4) The House of Lords is the UK’s biggest quango. For every Robert Winston there are multiple John Prescotts. In the 21st Century a modern state needs to ensure that power is accountable. To quote Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”