Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Could corporation tax be price of Commons reform?

So the DUP are not, contrary to reports, holding clandestine talks with David Cameron to thwart the Liberal Democrats and Labour. It had been claimed that Nigel Dodds and Co were being lined up to get the Tories over the line on the Prime Minister's cherished boundary changes.

Mr Dodds poured cold water on this yesterday, telling me: "I have no idea who planted this story."

That is the nub of it, because there appears to be precious little chance of these changes ever seeing the light of day.

To recap, the Lib Dems have vowed to vote against the Bill, as they are furious at Tory behaviour over House of Lords reform.

Assuming Labour vote against the Government, this leaves Mr Cameron well short of an overall majority in the Commons and chasing the support of the DUP and other smaller parties.

Mr Dodds was reluctant yesterday to commit to supporting, or not supporting, the changes if they ever come to the vote.

But his party has previously been publicly opposed to the reforms, so Mr Cameron would need some serious bargaining tools (corporation tax, anyone?) to change their minds.

But even with the DUP on side, the Tories would not have the numbers to win outright, so other parties, like the SNP and Independents like Sylvia Hermon (she says nobody has bothered to persuade her so far), would also need to be won over. Back then to Nigel Dodds and his reference to the story being "planted", which seems the most likely explanation for the sudden rash of boundary review stories.

This has become a defining point for both coalition partners. The Conservatives do not want to be seen to give up on an issue that most backbenchers believe is critical to the party. Many believe there is no chance of a Tory majority without the shake-up, which would have the effect of wiping out some of the inherent advantage that the current electoral map gives to Labour.

They are piling the pressure on Mr Cameron to make it happen.

Perhaps the reason for the story being "planted" in this way is to ramp up the review's significance.

This gives the Lib Dems the impression that they have scored a major victory over their Tory partners and have used up a big chunk of their bargaining chips.

Perhaps this would weaken their hand when talks take place next time the coalition is divided.

With the House of Lords threatening to put the whole thing back to 2018, it seems unlikely the DUP will be cast in the role of kingmaker on this issue anytime soon.

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