'Get tough on Tories' urge Clegg activists

Tensions rise as party rank-and-file is enraged by failure of Lords reform

Liberal Democrat activists are to urge Nick Clegg to "divorce" their coalition partners in revenge for Tory backbenchers forcing him to ditch flagship plans for Lords reform.

Constituency parties are preparing critical motions to put before the Lib Dem conference next month demanding an uncompromising response to the political chicanery that killed off one of the central elements of their constitutional reform programme.

At least three local parties are expected to call for a complete split from the Tories, while several more will demand that Mr Clegg take a tougher line in defence of Lib Dem policies, a senior party source said.

He added: "We have been warned that a few will want a split, meaning the end of the coalition. We have heard that sort of thing before, but the past week has given people another reason to advertise their concerns."

"My [constituency] party has already drafted a resolution saying they want us to unhook ourselves from the Conservatives," said one MP yesterday. "It wouldn't be my choice, but they're fizzing about us losing Lords reform. There is a lot of talk about divorce, but at the very least they want Nick to start playing hardball."

Details of the growing grass-roots pressure for reprisals against the Tories came as a Lib Dem MP claimed the party should go further with its retaliation, and block a key Conservative policy. "Members and activists are clearly annoyed that the Tories have broken their contract with us," the Torbay MP Adrian Sanders said. "We should respond by withdrawing support for the council tax benefit changes that are going to hurt hundreds of low-income working families in my constituency and others where there are large numbers of pensioners whose council tax benefit will be protected at the expense of non-pensioner claimants."

The simmering tensions at the heart of the coalition came to the boil last week when Mr Clegg abandoned his Lords reform ambitions, claiming the Conservatives "broke the coalition contract".

A commitment to reform the upper house was included in the coalition agreement, signed by Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron after the general election in May 2010. The Lib Dems set out plans to halve the total number of peers to 450, and require 80 per cent of them to be elected.

However, the programme was opposed by many Tory MPs, and more than 90 of them defied the Government when the issue was put to a vote in July. After it became clear that the Prime Minister could not force his MPs to toe the line, Mr Clegg chose to drop his cherished Lords blueprint, claiming he would rather shelve the plans than allow them to die a "slow death".

However, in retaliation for the disappointment, Mr Clegg also announced that his MPs could not now support Conservative-driven changes to Commons boundaries in 2015 – a move that raises the prospect of Lib Dem ministers lining up to vote against their own Government.

MPs and party officials claim the robust approach has won Mr Clegg renewed support among Lib Dems who had previously feared he was being dominated. But a number of party figures warned that the leadership must show greater resolve in pursuing a Lib Dem agenda.

Mathew Hulbert, a Liberal Democrat borough councillor and member of the Liberal Left group, said he was pleased the leadership had "finally shown that it has some balls and will not be messed around with".

But he added: "It looks now as though we will be going through a term in government with no form of constitutional reform to show at the end of it. People like me have never made any secret of the fact that we didn't want a coalition with the Conservatives, but there will be more complaints and motions about it at conference this year. It will be very difficult for the leadership."

Julian Lewis, a Tory MP and long-standing opponent of the coalition, said he had no sympathy with Lib Dems whose plans for constitutional reform were dashed. He said: "I fully understand their frustration that their schemes to strengthen their position in the Commons and the Lords have come to nothing, but I am delighted that this has happened. I am no supporter of coalition, but if a party enters such an arrangement, it has to accept that it cannot get its way all the time and not complain. If they want to go their separate way to oblivion, that is their choice."

But the Lib Dem MP John Pugh urged his leader not to become distracted by constitutional questions and instead to "muster every sinew in an effort to kick-start the economy". He added: "Strains in the coalition will only become seriously problematic if sharp differences on economic policy emerge.

"It has to be remembered that the original pre-coalition preference of the Lib Dems was for a slower rate of deficit reduction. With the blessing of hindsight it is hard to argue that Vince Cable's original judgment was wrong."

A Lib Dem spokesman said yesterday that the party faced complaints from the ranks before every conference.

He said: "The bottom line is that some people would prefer to be in opposition but not get things done. For those who think we are not getting anything out of coalition, they should look at our manifesto promise to give the poorest people a fairer tax deal and see what we've achieved."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power