Exclusive: Reform Lords – or it will cost you 20 MPs, David Cameron told

Coalition tensions rise as Lib Dems threaten to derail boundary changes

The Liberal Democrats will block boundary changes that would help the Conservatives' election prospects if Nick Clegg's plan for an elected House of Lords is killed off by a Tory revolt.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, a senior aide to Mr Clegg warned there would be "consequences" if up to 100 rebel Tory MPs defeat a motion to cut short debate on the House of Lords Reform Bill so it can make progress through Parliament. A knife-edge vote is expected on Tuesday next week.

"It is a very serious moment for the Government," said Richard Reeves, who stood down yesterday as the Deputy Prime Minister's director of strategy. "The vote is hugely significant. It is the critical moment for Lords reform, a once-in-a-generation chance to secure it."

Mr Reeves warned that the Bill's prospects of becoming law would be "vanishingly small" if the timetable motion was lost. Tory opponents of an 80 per cent elected Lords would then make marathon speeches in the hope of killing the measure.

"There would be broader consequences for the Government's programme, particularly around political and parliamentary reform," he said. "The idea that failure to deliver a government commitment on Lords reform would be consequence-free is for the birds." The other main measure in this area will be a Bill to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and bring in new parliamentary boundaries, which experts believe would benefit the Tories by up to 20 seats at the 2015 general election. Tory chiefs are desperate to bring in the new constituencies, which could make the difference between outright victory and a hung parliament.

Mr Reeves suggested the Liberal Democrats would also retaliate if Tory rebels joined with Labour to make the Lords shake-up subject to a referendum. That would scupper Mr Clegg's plan for the first elected peers to be chosen at the 2015 poll. In that event, the Liberal Democrats would delay the boundary changes so they did not take effect until after the 2015 election.

But Mr Reeves said the Liberal Democrats would not walk out of the Coalition, which would be "crazy", or block Tory public service reforms.

The outgoing adviser said the Lords Bill "goes to the heart of what coalition is about – making and keeping deals". He added: "Anyone who thinks Nick Clegg will shrug his shoulders [after a defeat], say 'never mind' and 'everyone tried our best', will be in for a rude awakening. That is not going to happen." Reflecting Mr Clegg's message to David Cameron in their private talks about the Lords vote, Mr Reeves said: "A deal is a deal."

The Liberal Democrats claim there is a Coalition trade-off under which they back the boundary changes, in return for the Tories securing reforms that would see peers elected under proportional representation.

Although Tory whips are working overtime to try to head off a government defeat next week, senior Conservatives deny there is such a deal. They insist the trade-off was between the new boundaries and a referendum on the voting system, which was lost last year.

The Government's majority is at risk next Tuesday because Labour will oppose the timetable motion, even though it supports the Bill. Mr Reeves accused Labour of "acting like teenage boys who want to torture the cat for as long as possible, before killing it."

Mr Reeves admitted that defeat on Mr Clegg's flagship measure would be "damaging" for the Liberal Democrat leader's credibility. He said his party's MPs had had to "hold their noses" in Commons votes for the sake of the Coalition on many more occasions than the Tories.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence