There has been lots of excited talk about whether the stand off on Lords reform spells the end of the coalition. It doesn’t. It suits the media to talk it up as a crisis, but people need to keep things in perspective. What this episode demonstrates, as we argued in our book The Politics of Coalition, is that we have a coalition government, but not a coalition Parliament. The coalition government remains remarkably solid; but from time to time it will encounter difficulties in Parliament, as all governments do.
Clegg and Cameron remain strongly united within the government. Cameron did his best to deliver on Lords reform, showing his solidarity and support for the Lib Dems. The Cabinet remains united and supportive of both leaders. Our interviews for the book showed that this is a far more co-operative and consultative Cabinet than it was under Blair or Brown. There is no credible challenger to Cameron or Clegg within the Cabinet or outside it. Neither party is about to split, and neither is going to leave the coalition over this kind of issue. The Lib Dems in particular have nowhere to go. They will conclude, as previous governments have done, that it is far better to hang together than to hang separately.
In Parliament the rebellion was big, with 91 Conservative MPs voting against Second Reading of the bill, and a further 20 abstaining. But it was a backbench rebellion, supported by few senior figures in the party, and no leadership challengers. It was more of a defeat for the Lib Dems than for Cameron. The upset will create bad feeling between the parties in Parliament: but again, our interviews for the book showed that there was already little love lost between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in Parliament, so this is not new. On future votes in Parliament the government will continue to rely on its comfortable majority of around 80 MPs, and on the fact that when there are rebellions, the Conservatives and Lib Dems tend to revolt over different issues.
The Politics of Coalition: How the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government Works, by Robert Hazell and Ben Yong, was published by Hart Publishing in June 2012.