This seems to have been a real howler and could well be the fatal error which sinks the boat. What went wrong? We have never had an adequate explanation. Here’s a bash at an one below.
Boundary change was the biggest thing on the Conservative wish list – and rightly so. And in the all-night session during which the Coalition Agreement was thrashed out, Cameron very reasonably seems to have traded it for the biggest item on Clegg’s wish list- a vote on changing our electoral system to the alternative vote.
This was a huge gamble. AV (PR lite) could have meant the Conservatives never again getting into power, given that the two socialist parties’ supporters would vote for each other. That is a measure of how important boundary change was to Cameron.
The two measures were therefore very sensibly tied to each other in clause 24, which said that they would both be contained in a single ” Constitutional” Bill.
Clearly, neither side could trust the other to vote for the second measure if two sequential bills were used.
Note that House of Lords reform was not part of this deal.
And what happened!
A single Bill was duly brought forward and voted through.
Phew, so far, so good.
But…….. so far as one can make out, with a fatal drafting error.
The referendum on AV was unconditional. But boundary change was made conditional upon a further vote once the boundary commission had dealt with the detail. In other words the two measures were separated – Clegg was given his AV vote but left with the ability to vote down boundary change – if and when something upset him.
Which it later did.
You can’t blame the Lib Dems. That’s like blaming a snake for biting you. It’s what they do. Give the Lib Dems an opportunity to rat on a deal? Of course they will. Particularly with those cunning old hands, Paddy Ashdown and Shirley Williams behind Clegg.
If this interpretation is correct, What should have been done?
Surely, it would have been perfectly simple to word the Bill so that the AV vote could only take place after boundary change had also become unconditional? Legal agreements are often drafted so that clauses are interconditional. The whole purpose of having the two measures in a single Bill was precisely so they were interconditonal. Or are we missing something here?
The only explanation one hears is that no one thought Clegg would not vote it through at the second stage (with the implication that no one focused on the possibility of betrayal and therefore the instructions given to the draftsmen to produce something watertight!!)
Is this the real story? It is difficult to understand how this degree of trust could have been placed on Clegg. After all, there is an old saying “ when dealing with s**t, have paper in hand ! “
But ultimately, surely, Cameron should have picked up the point. Margaret Thatcher would have read the Bill and got someone out of bed when she saw the error. Wouldn’t she? What about the Cabinet Secretary? Aren’t they supposed to pick up these things?
One can only imagine Cameron’s sinking feeling when he realised. Like finding your broker put all your money with Lehman Brothers! It’s amazing he was even able to sit in the same room as Clegg afterwards, if this really is the story.
But this is twenty seats to Labour straight off the top of the pack – maybe more depending upon how the Ukip cards fall
Oh dear, oh dear! One wonders who got the blame!
If anyone has another, less appalling explanation- lets hear it!