Belfast Telegraph

Holiday joy can't hide the depth of coalition division

By Tom Moseley

For our elected members, school is pretty much out for summer. Today they scurry back off to their constituencies (or their Tuscan villas, for all you cynics) until September 3, when the House returns.

The last day of term should be a time for burying differences with classmates, ending bad blood that has built up over the school year, before returning in the Autumn with the slate wiped clean. Don't count on it.

The split over Lords reform is a long way from being resolved, with senior Lib Dems like Ming Campbell and Chris Huhne vowing that there will be 'consequences' if the Tories manage to frustrate moves towards an elected second chamber.

These 'consequences' relate to sabotaging the controversial redrawing of parliamentary boundaries, of which one effect will be a reduction from 18 to 16 in the number of MPs representing Northern Ireland.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, whose South Belfast seat is wiped out by the reorganisation, might be hoping this latest spat does not fade away over the summer.

Fear not, Alasdair. We now have a stand-off.

Unless David Cameron can persuade his backbenchers to fall into line and back Lords reform, Nick Clegg will be unable to sell the rest of the package to his MPs.

Even a compromise that has been mooted - kicking out just the 92 hereditary peers who somehow still sit in the Lords by virtue of their surname and electing peers in their place - would not pacify the Tories, for whom any elected element would fatally undermine the primacy of the House of Commons. Yesterday David Cameron and Nick Clegg chose a joint visit to Birmingham to proclaim their unity and the strength of the coalition, offering the public the sweetener of £9bn of new rail investment (Northern Ireland not included, though if this is genuinely new money, the block grant will be increased in compensation).

Mr Cameron declared himself "now even more committed" to the coalition than in the famous rose garden Press conference of 2010.

He wasn't quite so convincing when asked what odds he would give on the survival of the coalition, replying: "I am not a big betting man, but I wouldn't bet against it."

Mr Clegg, meanwhile, tried to dismiss the Lords row as "a bump in the road in the Westminster village".

This may well be an accurate assessment, but, unfortunately, this is the same Westminster village inhabited by his MPs, who care very much about House of Lords reform.

When school returns in September, in the run-up to party conference season, the challenge for both men will be to regain control of their unruly classes.

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