David Cameron’s hopes of winning 2015 general election suffered a big setback tonight when MPs delivered the final death blow to plans to redraw the parliamentary map.
All Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs joined forces with Labour to vote against a government Bill for the first time since the Coalition was formed to scupper the introduction of new constituency boundaries that would have handed the Conservatives about 20 extra seats. The Lib Dems pulled the plug on the shake-up in retaliation at the Tories’ refusal to back Nick Clegg’s plans for a mainly elected House of Lords.
The Commons voted by 334 to 292 not to overturn a decision by the Lords to delay until 2018 the boundary review and plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. The existing map favours Labour and the Tories will now need a much bigger lead over Labour in the share of the vote to secure an overall majority than if the new boundaries had been brought in.
There were bitter recriminations as Tory MPs attacked the Lib Dems for voting against a plan included in the Coalition Agreement. Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough said Lib Dem ministers should do “the honourable thing” and resign from the Government. Penny Mordaunt, another Tory backbencher, said the Lib Dems were motivated by “spite, pettiness and self-interest” and were making “flirtatious glances” to Labour as potential coalition partners.
Lib Dem MPs replied that the Tories had broken their commitments on Lords reform. One said: “Coalition is a two-way street, not a pick-and-mix counter.” A senior Liberal Democrat source insisted: “The Coalition is fine. Both sides of the coalition have known what the position is for months now. There are 101 other things the Government is doing and we will get on with those. This vote now draws a line under this issue.”
Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Leader of the Commons, said after the vote: “ The public are going to, rightly, find it difficult to understand how two years ago Parliament could vote for the number of MPs to be reduced, for the value of votes in each constituency so far as possible to be equalised by making constituencies closer to an equal number of electors, and two years later you get a different result. …The Liberal Democrats in the first instance voted for the reform and today voted for that reform not to take place before the general election.“
The margin of the Government’s defeat was bigger than expected after four rebel Conservatives voted against the boundary review— John Baron (Basildon & Billericay), Philip Davies (Shipley), David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden) and Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills). Minor parties also lined up against the Tories.