Dropped Lords reforms, no boundary changes and government turns inward?

There was a little spat last week, in the midst of Britain’s gold rush at the Olympics, the two men at the heart of government abandoned their attempt to reform the House of Lords (a Tory redline). In revenge, the LibDems cut their commitment to cut the number of seats in the Commons

The Economist thinks it was a mistake both may come to rue:

…the coalition is now far weaker. By trying to defuse rebellions in their own parties, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders have primed a much bigger bomb under the government. The coalition was once bound together by affinity, with the two parties discovering they agreed on a good deal, including school reform, localism and paying off the deficit. It is now held together more by a fear of what would happen if it dissolved: the Tories trail Labour in the polls, and the Liberal Democrats are floundering. This week may come to be seen as the point at which their pact began to fall apart. By describing the coalition agreement as a purely contractual affair, Mr Clegg inaugurated a new era of tit-for-tat politicking. The project looks less like a marriage and more like a bad-tempered game of chess. That is not in Britain’s interests.

As The Economist also notes, they would have been useful reforms that would hardly have rocked the nation (although the question of whether this new ‘Senate’ would have challenged the authority of the Commons, had no convincing LibDem answer).

It’s the turning inward to meet internal audiences that may make Labour’s task easier… In the meantime, if the Westminster boundaries are not change, what does that mean for Northern Ireland?

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  • caseydog

    The coalition will be desperate to hold on as long as possible because both parties recognise that they face losses if a general election was called. Both will be hoping that the economy will improve before 2015, as it is this issue which will determine their fate.

    As the signs of recovery fail to materialise, the Liberals have begun to move slowly away from the austerity agenda pursued by Osborne/Cameron….see recent statements by Danny Alexander.

    However NI is suffering more than England, Scotland and Wales, but there is no one in Stormont consistently articulating an alternative to the failed austerity agenda. One would expect NI Sinn Fein politicians to have something to say, but they are silent, leaving it to their Southern counterparts to promote an alternative.

    And it appears that the SF grass roots are unconcerned about this silence. Interestingly, there was virtually no discussion about the economy at the Feile in West Belfast last week. The big issues were Palestine and Marion Price.

  • Brian Walker

    Is there an alternative agenda beyond a cut in corporation tax and a boost to infrastructure spending which are not in Stormont’s gift?

  • Mick,
    “what does that mean for Northern Ireland?”
    If no change occurs, the immediate effect is that Gregory Campbell and Alasdair McDonnell are saved!
    The secondary effect is to make Nigel Dodds very nervous about his majority in North Belfast

  • caseydog

    Brian : you are right in drawing attention to the limitations which are imposed on our devolved power sharing executive. However the political parties which represent us should be vigourously promoting policies which could make the economy better not worse, as is happening with the austerity programme of the coalition government.

    As a left wing party, I would expect Sinn Fein to turn up the volume and explain that cutting spending and raising taxes is making things worse. I would like to hear more criticism of of the coalition’s failed policy, and advocacy of a stimulus package which could jumpstart economic growth and save jobs. I am talking about job creation using government contracts, grants and loans. There is a need to provide extended unemployment benefit, and investment in education and healthcare.This could soften the recession.

    The UU and DUP, essentially conservative parties, support the coalitions policies. The SDLP appears to be in a muddle about where it stands on most issues. It’s up to SF to lead the opposition.

  • Reader

    caseydog: The UU and DUP, essentially conservative parties, support the coalitions policies. The SDLP appears to be in a muddle about where it stands on most issues. It’s up to SF to lead the opposition.
    In the Assembly as it currently exists, there are neither left wing nor right wing parties, nor is there an opposition. All of the parties are populist (and therefore parasitic). Some are marginally less likely to bite the hand that feeds.

  • andnowwhat

    I heard the briefest of mentions last Sunday about the coalition agreeing to split in 2014, with the LD’s agreeing not to hinder the tories.

    Anyone got anything on this? I can’t find much on it on the interweb

  • I wonder by which economic measures caseydog determines NI is suffering more than England, Scotland or Wales? The numbers, and a brief tour around the UK, tells a different story.

    NI is doing relatively well at present. Once a Westminster government decides we’re being overprotected and the IRA aren’t likely to plant bombs in the City of London any more, we might be forced to confront the abyss that is NI’s public finances, and then we’ll be in trouble. But.so far, we have relatively little to complain about. I don’t think we’ll be able to count on Owen Paterson as an ally come the next spending review, though, and that might be a big problem.

    As for the coalition parties, the Tories have spent two years makin gejits of the LibDems and getting away with it. Not sure Clegg getting all butch over boundaries at this point will do much to change the dynamic.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Considering contributors continue to state that the parties are less and less interested in Westminster boundaries, we continue to only mention Gregory and Alasdair when assessing what the coalition policy collapse means for them?

    While its true that it means a few of can continue to speculate on trends in this constituency and potential pacts and tactical voting in that constituency, I’m surprised that none of the nationalist parties (particularly SF who claim westminster is a bit meaningless) continue to be happy with the existing boundaries that at assembly level are just about the most pro-unionist that can be drawn, short of giving west belfast one more shankill ward. Even a cursory glance would tell you that if the constituencies lost 1MLA each, the UUP would be down about 7 seats and the DUP about 5 seats, compared with about 2 each for the SDLP and SF. There seem to be many constituencies with unionists sitting on a quota plus a percent or 2 to spare.

    Considering the likely number of unionists and nationalists in the assembly could be one indicator the secreatry of state would use to trigger a border poll I’m surprised the nationalist parties don’t make a bigger deal about it, particularly considering the ongoing review drew allegations of anti-unionist bias as a couple of these bonus seats were to go. I didn’t hear them complaining of pro-unionist bias when the last changes brought about the removal of a few nationalists from unionist constituencies…

  • RyanAdams

    “the existing boundaries that at assembly level are just about the most pro-unionist that can be drawn, short of giving west belfast one more shankill ward. ”


    The last commission added Lagmore and Dunmurry (5,000 potential voters of whom 95% are nationalist) into West Belfast which ensured there would be no return for unionists in West Belfast. Likewise, there should have been a double whammy in Strangford and South Down where nationalists should have gained seats on both sides of the boundary. The North / East Antrim changes counter-acted each other and South Antrim lost a nationalist seat which was the result of two things ;number one; of bits of Belfast being in the constituency that shouldn’t have been and secondly; bad unionist vote management in 2007 election.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Sorry Ryan you miss the point completely,

    Dunmurray and Derryaghy north (what you refer to as lagmore) was almost proportional to the constituency into which it was moving in terms of community breakdown. NIc Whyte has it down as 0.1% more catholic and 0.2% more protestant


    which is proportionally about as small a shift as you can get.

    Unionist support in Dunmurry Cross is not confined to just Seymour Hill, but also Dunmurry itself which is in west Belfast now.

    My point is that just moving one more shankill would add about another 2500 predominantly unionist voters. Which would almost certainly give unionists a guaranteed seat in WB.

    Regarding your other places, you’re right. Pundits DID predict gains in many of those places. The point is they didn’t happen for one reason or another. I’m not saying there was ever a bias one way or the other in the drawing, far from it; but as it turned out unionists kept most of their threatened seats and gained all those that they were expected to gain.

  • RyanAdams

    Charlie Sheens PR guru,

    Apologies – I note the commission actually proposed moving Seymour Hill too which would have made the DUP seat there secure – Interesting considering it was they who shot it down. On the otherhand Lagmore/Mount Eagles is a growing development and I doubt Dunmurry’s demographics have stopped changing since 2001. So the net change from Nic’s figures is likely to be higher. Using the 2011 census figures when they’re released would probably be better as they will account for the development boom there. In fact if you check Nicholas figures for Lagan Valley watch the nationalist vote rocket from 15.5% in 2003 to 19% in 2007.

  • Mister_Joe

    Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

    Attributed to Neils Bohr

  • Allow a moment of naive simplicity to intervene in this high-octane exchange.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if one could vote left-of-centre in most NI constituencies, and know it could make a Westminster difference?

    Meanwhile the Tories are bemoaning the loss of the reduced parliamentary constituencies because it would “cost” them a few possible (and even gerrymandered — Cf: the grief of Emily Thornberry and Owen Smith) seats. They stay remarkably silent that keeping as-now NI boundaries grants them back some of that “lost” advantage. My abstaining enemy is my friend?

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: They stay remarkably silent that keeping as-now NI boundaries grants them back some of that “lost” advantage. My abstaining enemy is my friend?
    How so? SF are absent, and the DUP, SDLP and Hermon are all in opposition. Reducing the NI seats would only reduce the number of non-conservative seats.
    While I strongly favour a reduced number of constituencies, I still think the conservatives deserve their misfortune through their own bad behaviour as coalition partners. I hope that doesn’t make me as dumb as the planks who voted against AV just to punish Clegg.

  • Reader @ 3:30 pm:

    Were there any topic where we might somehow, or in some part concur, I’d have thought it was this one.

    Do the math:

    600 seats minus Speaker and Deputy Speaker = 598 — were a Labour leader in extremis, expect a LibDem and a Tory in these positions. So to form a government either major party needs to corral 299 MPs somehow. Except we can be reasonably assured that, say, four would be SF, and therefore abstainers: the arithmetic is now around the mid-290s. The DUP are, on past experience, to be had for a small “arrangement” (something as easy as lifting the beef ban in the mid-90s), hence on anything beyond 290 one party or the other can at least form a government.

    Similarly, while we are on 650 seats (one or two more in NI — perhaps a small + for SF and/or DUP) that further greases the mill. Let’s not point fingers, but the good Lady for North Down (voting 27% of the time) for one example is not the most assiduous of attenders, either.

    Marginal stuff, I agree, but do we really expect a landslide of 2007 proportions in the near future? Acid test: had the Tories taken 320 seats in 2010 (i.e. 6 short of an absolute majority), would Cameron have looked to the LibDems — or anybody else — for a coalition? On the contrary, the calculation would have been that the other major parties couldn’t afford to provoke an immediate re-run.

    Once in government on a knife-edge, the secret is to look busy, but do as little as possible. Oddly enough, that seems to suit a lot of electors very well.

  • The constitutional spats between the LDs and Tories are over issues about which huge chunks of the population don’t care – the Lords and AV (which wasn’t on the LDs shopping list but they’ve decided to be hurt by). On the other hand, recent research by academics shows that large numbers of English people would like a parliament of their own to create symmetry with the rest of us. Of course, it’s quite reasonable to argue that the English have no right to complain after all their centuries of domination blah blah blah, but the majority of English people who have a single constitutional desire feel this way. The coalition could unite behind the concept which is simultaneously an act of reform and an undercutting of the headbangers of the BNP etc. It could be set up somewhere interesting like York, and elected by PR. But they won’t do it.