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Tuesday, August 07, 2012 

And the winner of the 2015 general election is...

If procrastination was an Olympic event (and if it was, it'd still be more interesting than dressage), it's a sure bet that our politicians would take the gold. Over a century after the passing of the Parliament Act, and come the next election the House of Lords will still look almost exactly the same as it did then. Bearing in mind that it took a slight by comparison 96 years after the Great Reform Act of 1832 for suffrage to be granted to men and women at the same age, this is a pretty sorry state of affairs. The primary reason prior to now for this repeated failure had been a lack of political will; had Labour really wanted to do so, it could have spent the time it wasted "banning" fox hunting on getting rid of peers altogether, instead of just some of the hereditaries.

Under the glorious coalition, the main factor has been the dinosaur tendency in both the Conservatives and Labour. Yes, it's true as Jamie says that the plans were the equivalent of favouring a dog's dinner over a dog's breakfast, but some movement, however small would have been welcome. The Tory opposition it should be pointed out hasn't just been about the loathing of the Liberal Democrats, even if it's thanks to them that the coalition's agenda has up to now been passed, it's also somewhat about the continued ill feeling towards David Cameron. Having had the luck to run against the one of, if not the most unpopular prime ministers of the last half century. against the backdrop of the worst economic climate since since the great depression, he still failed to win his party a majority. Jesse Norman might not be a member of the dinosaur tendency, but his leadership of the rebellion earned him the ire of David Cameron, more than understandably considering what was at stake.

For as was threatened, Nick Clegg has now made clear his party will not support the boundary changes the Tory leadership decided were crucial to their chances of winning the next election outright. Quite apart from the arguments around potential gerrymandering, Clegg is quite right to point out that reducing the size of the Commons to 600 when the number of ministers and their hangers-on seems to keep on increasing is to risk further empowering the executive at the expense of accountability. It wasn't so long back that we were complaining about Tony Blair's effective elective dictatorship, where almost anything he wanted could be passed thanks both to his majority and to the number of ministers and PPSes expected to support government business as a matter of course. Add in how there's always going to be a certain number of MPs either ill or away when crucial votes are held, and it's perfectly legitimate to be worried about the potential for abuse.

The fact of the matter is that Nick continues to sell his party short, although they seem more than happy to go along with it. Consider the best case scenario for the Conservatives come the next election: the economy has at least recovered somewhat, the deficit has been somewhat paid down, although not enough for any giveaways, and the party runs an effective campaign highlighting Ed Miliband's long apprenticeship alongside Gordon Brown and how Labour continues to promise much without being anywhere near specific enough. Even in such ideal conditions, the party's going to find it all but impossible to hold on to the number of seats it currently has, even if it picks some up at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. If as estimated the provisional boundary changes are worth 20 to 40 seats to the Tories, it's possible although still unlikely that they could tip the balance in their favour.

Without them, David Cameron looks destined to be a single term prime minister. That's fine for Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, especially when they look set to achieve nothing other than the worthless pupil premium and the increased income tax threshold, but not for a man who considers himself born to rule. The signs are that some Tory backbenchers are willing to cut off their nose to spite their face: they'd prefer opposition to the coalition, as long as it brings down a leader they believe wasn't right-wing enough to win them power outright. Little wonder then that Cameron is going ahead with bringing the boundary changes to a vote, desperate to reach some sort of deal with the Lib Dems that doesn't involve the Lords. If Clegg wants at least something to be able to crow about come the election, he ought to demand a loosening of austerity, as Simon Jenkins writes. It's something that could staunch the losses come 2015 for both parties, but Clegg seems unlikely to ask for it and Cameron and Osborne appear too far gone to recognise their mistakes now. Which, incidentally, is fine by me. A Labour victory next time round with a small but workable majority seems the least worst of all worlds right now.

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