David Cameron and Nick Clegg came under ferocious attack from Labour last night for attempting to "fix" Parliament in the favour of the coalition parties.
As constitutional reform moves to the fore at Westminster, the Opposition delivered its most stinging critique of the reform programme.
Its criticism sets the scene for bitter battles in both the Commons and the Lords over plans to alter constituency boundaries and hold a referendum on changing the voting system.
Early research has discovered that coalition MPs – mainly Conservatives – defied their party whip in more than half of the 110 votes held in the Commons since the general election. If that continues, it will be the most rebellious Parliament since 1945.
The air of uncertainty has been intensified by the knowledge that 50 sitting MPs will lose their seats under proposals going through Parliament. There is no sign of the Government attempting to cut a similar proportion of ministerial posts.
Labour claimed that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg had responded to the growing dissent by attempting to tighten their grip on both houses of Parliament. It accused them of trying to "lock in" the loyalty of their potentially fractious backbenchers by offering them posts on the first rung of government.
A total of 46 parliamentary private secretaries – MPs who liaise between ministers and backbenchers – were named this week. Their appointments effectively buy their support, as they are obliged to resign – and lose all prospect of promotion – if they vote against the government. Adding them to the existing 94 frontbench posts, the Coalition leaders can count on a "payroll vote" of 140, more than one-third of the combined numbers of Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs.
Chris Bryant, the shadow constitutional affairs minister, said plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 would tilt the balance of power towards the executive.
He claimed that the number of new peers announced yesterday was further evidence of plans to create "artificial majorities" in both the Commons and the Lords. Mr Bryant said: "This government can only win by fixing the rules of the game in its favour. It is playing politics with constituency boundaries and reducing the scrutiny capacity of the Commons by 50 MPs.
"It is facing both ways in the Lords, simultaneously creating a majority through appointment and keeping up the pretence of support for reform. And it is manufacturing loyalty with jobs for backbenchers." He claimed: "When these measures are taken as a whole, the legacy of this government will be a more centralised executive, less accountable to the representatives of the people."
Mr Bryant added: "That Cameron had resorted to buying the loyalty of well over one-third of Tory and Lib Dem MPs shows how desperate things have become." Ministers faced embarrassment yesterday after their attempt to display their commitment to transparent government backfired.
Every item of Whitehall spending was published on the web yesterday. But Downing Street faced angry protests when the data was released days in advance to selected media outlets; the publication date was also brought forward by 24 hours with little warning. Yesterday it blamed the Cabinet Office headed by Francis Maude for the confusion.
But insiders believe it was caused by tensions between Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister's director of strategy, and Andy Coulson, his director of communications. Mr Hilton is understood to have sanctioned the handling of the release without clearing it with Mr Coulson.
New faces in The Lords
Tariq Ahmad Financial company director and Tory party vice-chairman.
Sir Robert Balchin Pro-chancellor of Brunel University, education adviser.
Elizabeth Berridge Director of Conservative Christian Fellowship.
Sir Michael Bishop Former director of the airline BMI, and has been a regular Tory donor.
Alistair Cooke Political historianand party worker. Interviewed ayoung David Cameron for job in Conservative HQ.
Sir Patrick Cormack Stepped down as an MP in May.
Michael Dobbs Author, whose books include House of Cards. Tory chief of staff under Margaret Thatcher. Deputy party chairman under John Major.
Robert Edmiston Donor who made his money from car importing and property.
Sir Reg Empey Has just stood down as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Andrew Feldman Chief fundraiser for David Cameron's leadership campaign. Runs family textile company.
Stanley Fink Tory party treasurer and donor whose wealth comes from hedge funds.
Howard Flight Dropped as an MP in 2005 after being taped saying the Tories secretly planned cuts.
David Gold Senior litigation lawyer.
Michael Grade Former chief executive of Channel 4, chairman of the BBC and executive chairman of ITV.
Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Ex-captain of England women's cricket team. Works in public relations.
Anne Jenkin Wife of MP Bernard Jenkin, she is a charity fundraiser.
Sir Michael Lord Suffolk MP for 27 years and a Deputy Commons Speaker for 13 years.
David Maclean Former Tory chief whip and minister, stood down as MP because of multiple sclerosis.
George Magan A financier and former Tory treasurer, and party donor.
Sir Bernard Ribeiro Former president of the Royal College of Surgeons. Has dual British-Ghanaian nationality.
Fiona Shackleton Divorce lawyer who acted for the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and Sir Paul McCartney.
Richard Spring Former Tory frontbencher and party vice-chairman who retired as an MP this year.
Tina Stowell Former deputy chief of staff to William Hague and former head of corporate affairs at the BBC.
Nicholas True Ex-official in the House of Lords, who quit in May to become leader of Richmond Council.
Patience Wheatcroft Editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.
Gordon Wasserman Former civil servant, an expert in police management.
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt Former head of the armed services who advised Tories on procurement.
Sal Brinton Ran for parliament in Watford, but failed to beat the Tories.
Dee Doocey Chair of the London Assembly and member of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Qurban Hussain Beat Esther Rantzen in Luton South seat, but finished third. Deputy leader of Liberal Democrats on Luton council.
Judith Jolly Chair of Liberal Democrats in Devon and Cornwall, and policy adviser.
Susan Kramer Former MP for Richmond. Lost seat at election.Failed in bid for Liberal Democrat presidency.
Raj Loomba Businessman and chairman of charity for the welfare of children of widows in India.
Jonathan Marks Lawyer, former councillor and parliamentarycandidate.
Monroe Palmer Councillor, former parliamentary candidate and chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.
Jenny Randerson Former Culture minister and acting deputy First Minister of the Welsh Assembly.
John Sharkey Mastermind of 2010 election campaign and a former managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi.
Nicol Stephen Former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Also served as deputy First Minister.
Ben Stoneham Adviser. Runs the Liberal Democrat HQ in Westminster.
Mike Storey Primary school head and former Liverpool council leader.
Paul Strasburger Lib Dem donor. With wife, has given £765,600.
Claire Tyler Chief executive of Relate.
Joan Bakewell Writer, broadcaster.
Ray Collins Stepping down as party's general secretary.
Maurice Glasman Senior figure in London Citizens community group.
Jonathan Kestenbaum Businessman and head of National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
Oona King Defeated MP and London mayoral candidate. Head of diversity at Channel 4.
Ruth Lister Emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University.
Eluned Morgan Became youngest MEP when she took up her seat in 1994, aged 27.
Sir Gulam Noon Food company tycoon and Labour donor. Nomination had previously been rejected by Lords authorities. Caught up in "cash-for-honours" row but cleared.
Stewart Wood Ran Ed Miliband's leadership campaign. Previously an adviser to Gordon Brown at No 10.
Bryony Worthington Director of the carbon-trading think tank Sandbag.
Dafydd Wigley Former leader and honorary president of Plaid Cymru.Reuse content