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Nick Clegg bombshell casts fresh uncertainty over coalition

By Oliver Wright

Nick Clegg has moved the Government into uncharted political waters by vowing to vote against agreed coalition policy in revenge for David Cameron's failure to deliver on House of Lords reform.

Mr Clegg confirmed that he and all other Liberal Democrat ministers would vote down legislation to cut the number of MPs in the House of Commons to 600 — a move that makes it significantly less likely that the Tories will be able to win an outright majority at the next election.

Normally if a minister defied the Government whip they would be forced to resign. The mass resignation of Liberal Democrat ministers would cause the collapse of the Government and likely spark an early election. Downing Street last night appeared to accept the boundary change rebellion to avoid such a prospect.

Privately, some senior Liberal Democrats are not unhappy at the outcome — even if it means losing Lords reform. The party stood to lose up to 14 of their 57 MPs as a result of the boundary changes and feared that a protracted and acrimonious row over House of Lords reform at time of economic crisis would play badly with voters.

Conservative backbenchers — whose rebellion over Lords reform led to yesterday's announcement and would proportionally lose far fewer seats as a consequence of boundary changes — were less sanguine than some Liberal Democrats.

“Apart from keeping ministers in office, what is the coalition now for?” asked the Tory MP Douglas Carswell. “What we need is a new coalition agreement which is not done in a rush by a clique and that can be democratically agreed by our party conferences.”

Another Tory MP added: “Nick Clegg is on the record supporting boundary changes and now he's suddenly changed his mind because he hasn't got House of Lords Reform. He's basically throwing his toys out of the pram.”

But Mr Clegg insisted that the move did not put the coalition under threat as both parties were committed to the wider Programme of Government.

“The lodestar in a coalition is an ability to work professionally with each other, whatever the bumps and scrapes,” he said.

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